All it took was a rumour (or a cleverly orchestrated 'leak') and the Internet was abuzz a few days before Gucci premiered its Gucci Aria collection just this April. Articles with headlines along the lines of 'Gucci and Balenciaga to collaborate' made the rounds across social media and search terms grouping both houses surged on Google.
It was a big deal because there had been no precedent for two luxury fashion houses of their statures ever existing in the same collection. Rumours in the fashion circuit hardly have no legs too—especially when it comes to collaborations. So it was pretty much a done deal and all was left to do was to wait for the first sign of confirmation that the rumours were indeed true.
Anyone who stayed glued to their screens during the Gucci Aria short film would probably have missed it the first time around. The runway portion of the short film moved fast with erratic cuts from full runway shots to detailed close-ups. But at the 59-second mark (and lasting for only about half a second), eagle-eyed viewers would have noticed the first peek at Gucci and Balenciaga's The Hacker Project. It's a womenswear look completely drenched in silver and black rhinestones consisting of a thoroughly Balenciaga silhouette—a double-breasted hourglass coat worn over high-heeled boot leggings—splashed with both houses' branding. On the coat, 'Balenciaga' and 'Gucci' ran parallel in the same manner as the former's slanted Allover print, while the latter's GG monogram decorated the iconic Balenciaga footwear creation.
About a minute later, it became crystal clear. A womenswear look that's almost an exact replica of creative director Demna Gvasalia's first womenswear collection for Balenciaga took centre stage but peppered with unmistakably Gucci details: the signature green-red-green webbing stripe and the GG monogram.
Thereafter, we found ourselves keeping our eyes peeled for Balenciaga-infused references. There was a Jackie bag reworked with the Allover print, oversized and structured Balenciaga coats in glittery Gucci treatments, the merging of Gucci's floral prints with the Allover, and many more. It was confusing and chaotic—what's what anymore? Little did we know then that Gucci Aria was just one half of the full picture.
Fast forward to June and it was Balenciaga's turn to riff on Gucci's house codes. True to Gvasalia's modus operandi, his interpretation of The Hacker Project for Balenciaga's spring 2022 collection was more deceptive. Unlike Alessandro Michele of Gucci's outré creations, Gvasalia approached it by taking on familiar Gucci designs and replacing them with Balenciaga's double-B logo.
There was another Jackie bag but this time reimagined with that Balenciaga-fied GG Supreme canvas while retaining every other element of the original design. The same treatment was applied to monogram belts with distinctive double-B belt buckles, silk carrés, a baseball cap, all manner of small leather goods that looked out of place on a Balenciaga runway, and of course, typically Gucci bags. A roomy shopper tote, which also featured the Gucci webbing right across its centre, was splashed with graffiti that read, "This is not a Gucci bag", just in case it would've been mistaken as one.
In many ways, Balenciaga's portion of The Hacker Project appears like counterfeits one would find on the black market or even random goods stalls in open-air bazaars. And that's one of the main reasons why this isn't a collaboration. While a collaboration would mean the coming together of two creative minds to come up with something new and specific to a collection (often with one party holding a majority stake over the other), The Hacker Project was done quite independently with no 'new' pieces created. And like counterfeits, they're—at the most fundamental—simply a merging of two house codes, albeit in two different manners.
Gvasalia explains it best in The Hacker Project podcast: "Of course, brands collaborate and do things together. But first of all, on this kind of level of global brands doing something together… The difference between a collaboration—which [has been] abused and used by the industry for 10 years or so, I mean, it's lost its interest there—but this is more like okay, carte blanche: you do what you want. It's almost like legal appropriation."
It's difficult to find an equivalent to The Hacker Project because nothing of this scale has truly been done before. The often one-sided nature of collaborative capsule collections typically happens between two brands that each has something to gain from collaborating, and most times, they belong to different tiers in the fashion industry. Louis Vuitton's landmark collaboration with Supreme remains the pinnacle of fashion partnerships—one where the former managed to tap into a younger, streetwear-loving crowd and Supreme gained wider mainstream recognition. For Gucci and Balenciaga, both arguably belong to the same echelon of luxury. They may have entirely different aesthetics and appeal to different audiences, but essentially cater to a similar group of consumers. And of course, they are both widely known.
"It's almost like legal appropriation." — Demna Gvasalia.
The intention then is rather genius. It's a clear disruptive move that both Kering-owned houses are already familiar with having decided to release their own individual collections out of traditional fashion calendars. "Everybody plays with everybody's codes; people also play with our codes, but nobody has the guts to assume it," Gvasalia explains how brands on every spectrum references one another at some point. "The whole industry is about 'don't ask, don't tell'; we pretend it never happens but it is like that." The Hacker Project is basically a way both Gvasalia and Michele were able to get free rein to do whatever they want using each other's house codes, and doing so in such openly blatant ways that would've otherwise resulted in intellectual property infringements.
Initiated by Michele, The Hacker Project is a historic moment for Gucci as the house celebrates its centennial this year. Leave it to the two creatives that have both reinvigorated their respective charges to create something unique and disruptive at a time where there's nothing exceptionally new in fashion anymore.
Just based on the history of fashion alone, this could potentially be the beginning of such projects. And sure enough, Fendi and Versace have done something similar during Milan Fashion Week. But let it be known that Gucci and Balenciaga broke the boundary first.
The Hacker Project is now available in Gucci and Balenciaga boutiques. For more stories like this, subscribe to Esquire Singapore.