I could hear them before I could see them. At Balenciaga’s Spring 23 show, held on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, most of the attendees had taken their seats when a sort of rubbery creaking approached from the other side of a trading terminal. It was Ye, neé Kanye West, wearing the largest boots I’ve ever seen. Which is saying something, considering Ye himself has introduced colossal, OSHA-approved stompers like the Red Wing 3094s into the men’s fashion lexicon. But Ye’s new Balenciagas, which would officially debut on the runway moments later, take his love of exaggerated proportions (and what one writer dubbed “shale country chic”) to even-more-provocative heights.
Balenciaga calls them the Steroid Boots, a conceptual follow-up to the viral galosh-boots the brand released with Crocs earlier this year. Like the Crocs, the rubber ’Roids are made from a single mold—zoom in and you can see a faint seam running up the Ronald McDonald-esque toe box. In a press release, Balenciaga describes the boots as “thick in volume but lightweight.” They look like salvage diver boots, designed to keep a frogman anchored on the seafloor; in reality, they’ll probably float.
The new silhouette begs the question: Has Ye, a top Balenciaga customer and on-off Demna collaborator, become something more like a muse to the house’s creative director? (Demna, in a very Ye-like move, dropped his last name at the end of last year.) Ye wasn’t wearing one of his infamous masks at the Spring 23 show, but the models were sheathed in kinky latex face masks that obscured their identities. He’s also Adidas’s most influential and famous collaborator, and one wonders whether he advised Demna on the Balenciaga x Adidas collection unveiled yesterday.
Ye’s ex-wife Kim Kardashian, of course, is a face of Balenciaga, and has helped Demna pull off some of the brand’s most impactful stunts, like when she and the designer attended the Met Gala in black full-body shrouds. Ye’s role might be less public but even more impactful. His taste for bottom-heavy proportions has already influenced a generation of hypebeasts, and as the models stomped their way through the NYSE, it was hard to imagine the silhouette feeling legible without Ye and his strange public style experiments to show fans how to pull it off. It goes without saying that the general public will likely clown on a pair of boots that look fit for, you know, circus clowns. Not that Demna—or Ye—care. “I am not interested in anything average, including the average consumer,” Gvasalia told GQ about the controversy, if it can be called that, about the Croc-boots. “If someone is personally offended by Crocs,” he said, “there might be a more serious problem within that person than the design of a shoe.”
While everyone was looking at Ye’s new boots, Frank Ocean walked down Wall Street just about unnoticed. Ye might have a legion of lookalike fans these days, but Ocean is a true north star for tasteful dudes who dress for other tasteful dudes. Ocean wore Prada derbies from a few seasons back, slubby denim with a truly universal, unopinionated fit, a vintage-y green Adidas zip-up hoodie (wearing the source material to the collabo unveiling—very cool), and what looks like an obscure minor league baseball team hat. Under the hoodie? A Prada polo shirt. Not many people can wear a security-core polo shirt to a fashion show and look as cool and confident as Ocean. But what’s great about Ye and Demna’s outrageous exaggerations is the amount of space they create for more subtle expression. And when everyone is wearing a pair of Steroids, a blue polo shirt starts looking more than subtle—it looks a little subversive, too.