Balenciaga turns Los Angeles into its theme park: A weekend among Kardashians, organic juices and palm trees

The firm headed by Demna has blocked streets and taken over Californian hotels and nightclubs to present, among selected celebrities, its collection for next fall, which is clean, commercial and forecasts juicy sales

Cardi B walks the runway down South Windsor Boulevard during the Balenciaga Fall 2024 fashion show
Cardi B, at the Balenciaga brand's fall 2024 collection show, held on Windsor Boulevard in Los Angeles, on December 2, 2023.Taylor Hill (Getty Images)
María Porcel

On Friday afternoon, many Angelinos turned their heads to see if the Hollywood sign was still there on their hill. On any given day the city’s symbol, with its nine white letters, ends up going unnoticed by the locals; however, viral photos from that day showed its supposed replacement by other letters: the 10 that make up the word Balenciaga. It ended up being just a montage for social media, to everyone’s relief. But it was also the only thing that remained untouched by the fashion house captained by Demna (now without a surname) in its takeover of Los Angeles. The brand turned the city into its very own runway and presented its Fall 2024 collection. The fashion house chose for its collection launch a city where celebrities (and their stylists) are eager for novelties, especially if they are designed by and for them. And Demna, who is one of the smartest men on the global fashion scene, knew how to give them exactly what they wanted.

On Saturday the French brand displayed its might: it blocked off a few streets in the luxurious Hancock Park area, with an endless line of perfectly aligned palm trees and the famous Hollywood sign in the background. There, it sat friends, clients, influencers, rappers, models, and the whole who’s who of the city in a very long front row to, for the second time in its history — the previous one was a year and a half ago in New York — take its clothes beyond Paris. In a place where everyone is an actor (or an Uber driver, or often both) and where having party clothes in the closet is a must, the Georgian designer delivered far more ball gowns than on other occasions. But also, in a city that goes from spectacle to streetwear seamlessly, he also included some distinctly Angelino looks. He started the show with a shirtless model: he only wore black sport shorts, sunglasses, giant sneakers and a bottle of water in his hand. In a city where there are cupholders everywhere and where everyone is somehow always carrying a coffee, Demna didn’t want to miss out on the inside joke.

South Windsor Boulevard during the Balenciaga Fall 2024 fashion show
Two models at the Balenciaga show in Los Angeles, California, on December 2, 2023.Taylor Hill (Getty Images)

The city, which has its own rather discreet fashion week, has always been far from the spotlight of the big fashion houses, which were not too interested in presenting their clothes here. But this city spends money, and lots of it, on dressing up. In the U.S., spending on clothing increased by 1% from 2022 to 2023, and according to the consulting firm McKinsey, it will grow by 2% to 4% next year. Spending on luxury items will almost double that. About a year ago, when Gucci took over the Walk of Fame for a runway show, it got the ball rolling. The fashion power houses finally turned their sights to L.A. Versace unveiled its clothes three days before the Oscars. Chanel did the same last May. And, of course, Balenciaga didn’t want to miss out.

Los Angeles culture was very much present at the fashion show: a pink tracksuit à la Paris Hilton, bleached hair, models parading while talking on their cell phones, ever-present sunglasses, people carrying yoga mats, thongs over pants, sports bags, coffee and more coffee… and the Kardashians. Not one, but two, and probably the big prizes in the family. The fashion show was attended by supermodel Kendall Jenner, the fourth of the five sisters, this time as a spectator. And she did so with the superstar of the family, Kim Kardashian, obviously dressed in the brand from head to toe and carrying a bag, from a supermarket? No, obviously it wasn’t. She was the first to unveil the collaboration of the French fashion house with Erewhon, a megaluxury supermarket in Los Angeles ($22 for a kilo of strawberries, for example), with which they have launched some black juices (ingredients: apple, lemon, ginger, maple syrup, activated carbon powder, cinnamon), aprons and jackets that sold out quickly. But also that supposed paper bag, which is actually made out of leather. Kim Kardashian carried flowers in it — for Demna.

Kendall Jenner and Kim Kardashian attend the Balenciaga Fall 24 Show on December 02, 2023
Kendall Jenner and Kim Kardashian at the Balenciaga show in Los Angeles, California, on December 2, 2023.Stefanie Keenan (Getty Images for Balenciaga)

Kim Kardashian’s attendance supposes the return of the prodigal daughter to the fashion brand she has worn so many times and whose designer she has been personal friends with and whom she decided to turn her back on a little over a year ago. Back then, Balenciaga was involved in a complex controversy after it released an advertising campaign featuring several children posing with bags shaped like teddy bears and wearing harnesses, thereby associating the whole scene with porn and sadomasochism. They effusively apologized after facing backlash. Kim Kardashian then said publicly that she preferred to put the firm on hiatus and give herself some time to rethink her relationship with them.

Now, in her city, at home, Kardashian has shown her public reconciliation with Balenciaga. Previously an ever-present face in the front rows of their fashion shows, she did not attend the last one, held on October 1 in Paris, although at the time it was already confirmed that she had seen the clothes in private, and appeared in one of the photos in their catalog. But now she proves that her relationship with the brand is close and stable. These days, there are no photos of the two together; in fact, there are hardly any photographs of the fashion designer in California. Demna, who maintained a close relationship with Kanye West, after the couple’s divorce was inclined to cut ties with the rapper and designer to position himself at Kardashian’s side… who soon after abandoned him. Now it seems that the waters are back on track.

Nicole Kidman attends the Balenciaga Fall 24 Show on December 02, 2023
Nicole Kidman upon arrival at the Balenciaga show held on December 2, 2023 in Los Angeles, California, where she made her debut as an ambassador for the fashion brand.Stefanie Keenan (Getty Images for Balenciaga)

Although the disgraced West was obviously not present at the fashion show, there were nods to him and his style of dressing; a couple of outfits of crestfallen models seemed to show off looks that matched those of the artist, for whom Demna has made dozens of garments, and was even in charge of the aesthetics of his album Donda. But in the front rows of the fashion show, on Windsor Street, there was no shortage of marijuana-smoking rappers with diamond-studded pendants and even snakes as mascots. Nor celebrities, although not too many. Some prefer to keep their distance from the brand after the controversy of last fall, but the point is, above all, that Balenciaga is very exclusive with their invitations. Of course, the couple formed by actress Salma Hayek and businessman François Henri Pinault, owner of Kering, conglomerate to which the firm belongs, models like Ashley Graham and Carolyn Murphy and actresses like Tracee Ellis Ross, Eva Longoria, Zooey Deschanel or the brand-new ambassador of the house, Nicole Kidman, were there. But in the city with more stars per square meter, Balenciaga could have cut three more streets and filled them with famous faces. However, it decided to remain more distant, more desirable.

The street fashion and Y2K aesthetics so present in Los Angeles went hand in hand with the many outfits designed for the red carpet. Very Balenciaga, but also much less: sharp silhouettes, but not too much; immensely long pants, but desirable; fuchsia teddy boots with heels, but wearable. Demna has signed one of his most commercial collections, more designed for the street and to sell, without affecting any of the milestones that have made him famous but also put him in the spotlight. There were no passports in reference to refugees, no leather garbage bags at 1,400 dollars. There was craft, work, craftsmanship, identity, but a lot of subtlety.

Minttu Vesala walks the runway down South Windsor Boulevard during the Balenciaga Fall 2024 fashion show
Model Minttu Vesala closes the Balenciaga Fall 2024 show held on South Windsor Boulevard in Los Angeles, California, on December 2, 2023.Taylor Hill (Getty Images)

Another double game was that of the more niche celebrities with the super-famous, the ultimate representation of pop culture, which this city knows how to show off like no other. That’s why the brand brought out rapper Cardi B to the runway; she also hosted its second night party, held at Whisky a Go Go, a famous nightclub on the Sunset Strip (where the rapper, like a true star, arrived two and a half hours after the event began).

The first party, in the evening, was at the Sunset Tower Hotel, which perfectly matched the essence of the classic Balenciaga. A hotel in the heart of Hollywood, of old glitz and with a pool overlooking the city. The cocktail party, with canapés served by waiters in white, was in a dimly lit, wood-lined room where the very modern attendees listened to classical music for almost three hours. The champagne was mixed with juices from the Balenciaga-Erewhon collaboration that the brand launched that same day, which people carried in their handbags as heirlooms. The bottle cost $14. On Sunday, there were lines from seven in the morning to buy them in supermarkets, and they sold out quickly. The resale on the Internet multiplied the prices by 10 times. If Cristóbal Balenciaga was told about it, he would not believe it. Wherever she goes, Demna knows how to turn everything she touches into gold.

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