Late last month French fashion house Balenciaga found itself in an online controversy again. A new product, Utility 2.0 Hair Tie, was ridiculed by netizens for looking like a keyring from lockers in a public bathhouse.
The made-in-Italy hair tie consists of the elastic hair tie itself, a logoed split ring attached to it, and two removable engraved keys. While the materials are simply polyester, zamak, brass and elastane, the hair tie will set you back 4,000 RMB (550 USD, priced 495 USD stateside).
The topic “#巴黎世家4000元发圈像澡堂钥匙扣#” (“Balenciaga’s 4000 RMB hair tie looks like a keyring from a bathhouse)” got 30.82 million views on Twitter-like platform Weibo. Some netizens expressed confusion over how the hair tie can be considered high fashion while looking like an everyday object. Others joked that they, too, must be at the forefront of fashion, having owned the same keychain for years. The often used phrase “luxury brands don’t scam the poor” surfaced again, as people with lower income are priced out of these products.
However, almost at the same time, another topic “#巴黎世家4千元新发呆上海门店已售罄#” (“Balenciaga’s 4k hair tie sold out at Shanghai store”) shot to number 4 on the Hot Search list, with a whopping 160 million views. It seems Balenciaga’s target clientele remained unfazed in face of online derision.
Luxury brands have been facing this type of backlash in China every once in a while. Earlier this year, the Gucci x Adidas co-branded slippers also reminded Chinese netizens of the bathhouse. Last year, Balenciaga’s Trash Bag was ridiculed for looking too much like, you guessed it, a trash bag.
As luxury brands try to reach a younger audience by incorporating street fashion, contemporary art and an ironic sense of humour, it causes further incomprehension and contention from Chinese netizens. For luxury and fashion brands, the combination of unconventional design, cheaper materials and high prices seem to be the recipe for online controversy. But perhaps for post-modern brands like Balenciaga, there is no such thing as bad publicity.