On Monday, several customers stepped into the Balenciaga store on Madison Avenue thinking they were walking into Gucci. Their mistake was understandable: The front window appeared to have been spray-painted with the word “Gucci.”
The occasion for the faux vandalism was the second installment of the Hacker Project series, with items dropping at 74 Balenciaga locations.
At first glance, the drop looked as if Gucci had set up an accessories pop-up inside the Balenciaga store. The bags, hats, scarves and wallets mimicked Gucci’s tone-on-tone patterns and signature green and red stripe.
But on closer inspection, they were patterned not with Gucci G’s but with Balenciaga B’s. An even closer look revealed that the metal clasp is identical to a Gucci bag, apart from its engraving that reads: “Balenciaga.”
If this is confusing, it’s meant to be. The Hacker Project was created by Balenciaga’s creative director Demna Gvasalia and Gucci’s Alessandro Michele to pose questions about luxury, authenticity and inspiration.
It is at once super-simple and hard to explain. The artist Jack Greer was on hand to customize shopping bags with “THIS IS NOT A GUCCI BAG” in a drippy graffiti font. For customers who wanted a bag with less Magritte and more of themselves, Mr. Greer was also tagging bags with “THIS IS [your name’s] BAG.”
Business was steady in the first few hours after the opening, with a mix of tourists, Balenciaga fans and private couriers buzzing in and out of the store. Some fans rejoiced, some shoppers scratched their heads, and several security guards who worked in the neighborhood stopped to make sure the store window hadn’t actually been vandalized.
Name: Ryan Lee
Lives in: Washington, D.C.
Tell me about your kicks.
They’re Jordan Fours. I used to be an assistant manager at Finish Line, and low-key that turned me into a hypebeast. It got me into the shoes and the culture and everything.
Name: Luis Najera
Lives in: Miami via Mexico City.
You’re obviously a Gucci fan with your frames.
I am. Alessandro Michele has done a fantastic job. And now they’re doing this collaboration with Balenciaga, I think it’s the best collaboration that they’ve done so far. The monogram is over the top. I’m going to go to Gucci now.
Do you work in fashion?
I work for Yamamoto design, an Adidas collaboration.
Tell me about your jacket.
My Commes des Garçons jacket? This is another collaboration as well, with a brand from the U.K.
Name: Carlyn Powell
Occupation: Education administrator
Lives in: Long Island
Could we take your picture?
My Uber’s coming in one minute, but sure.
What did you think of the collaboration?
I’m loving this hacker thing. Being from New York, as soon as I saw the graffiti I was like, “That’s so New York.” And merging the two houses is so smooth.
So you don’t think the graffiti is a blight?
No, I love it. And inside they had the gentleman writing on the bags, doing the graffiti right here. It’s such a dare to do it because when it comes to our bags, we don’t want to get a mark or anything on it. But, again, it’s the graffiti that grabs me.
Where are you heading in this Uber?
I’m heading to Penn Station and then back out to the island. But he’s still a minute away. He must be at the light.
Name: Nick Collins
Lives in: Hell’s Kitchen
Did you rhinestone those pants yourself?
No, these are Y/Project.
I’ve been really abusing them because I can’t get over how obsessed I am with them.
Did anything in the store appeal to you?
I’m a stylist, so I just came to see what they had available. I’m in stores Monday through Friday all day. I see everything, so I’m kind of numb to luxury retail at this point.
What are you looking for when you’re in stores?
Our clients are looking for less widely available items — limited-edition watches, jewelry, exotic handbags. I work for a private personal shopping company based in the Middle East.
Are your clients mostly in the Middle East, too?
No, we’ve been operating for almost seven years so we have clients all over the world now.
Can you say what the name of your company is?
I can’t. Sorry.
Name: Miles DeNiro
Lives in: Harlem
Tell me about this baby Balenciaga bag around your neck.
This is an ode to the old Cristóbal Balenciaga designs and the silhouettes he used to create. So it’s got history, it’s cute, but it’s too small. What can you put in this? Literally, it’s got keys in here.
What’s this shrug you’re wearing?
A dead rabbit. I don’t know. This leather coat is vintage Ralph Lauren.
What are you doing after this?
Terrorizing Bergdorf. I want to scare old ladies.
Name: Shawn Lovejoy
Occupation: See below
Lives in: the Lower East Side
What brought you to Balenciaga today?
I’m looking for boots. ’Tis the season. I wanted something that had a little heft and chunk and funk. But they make things that look like you could destroy Tokyo in them.
So where are you looking next?
I already looked everywhere else. I could tell you where they are, but it’s a long list.
Was Prada too funky for you?
Yeah, just too Lego blocks.
What do you do for a living?
It’s my last day at my job. For the last 10 years I’ve been working as a product and packaging designer for Tom Ford Beauty.
And now what?
Sabbatical. Recenter, rebalance, refresh.
Name: Patrick Pierre
Occupation: Online marketer
Lives in: Portland, Ore.
Did you walk in with that fanny pack?
Yeah, I walked in with it.
So what’d you get?
We got the black and white Balenci-socks. I really went in to try on the sky blue Triple S’s because I wanted to see how they felt. I’m going to buy them in a month. I’m going to budget them out.
What was your thought on the “hack?”
To be honest with you, I didn’t even notice it. My focus was on those sky blue Triple S’s. That is hot.
What’s good about them?
Coming in here, my mentality was to go for the speed trainers. But we were standing in a post office earlier today, and I saw a lady in the speed trainers, and I asked her opinion. She told me that as a New Yorker, the speed trainers work for her. But if I’m from Portland, where it rains all the time, it’s better to go with the Triple S’s.
Name: Mikhaele Ible
Occupation: Account executive
Lives in: East New York
What’s the reaction been wearing the YZY GAP puffer?
Everyone’s asking questions. They want to know if it’s warm, when you got it, that kind of stuff.
So when did you get it?
Sometime last week.
Do you identify as a hypebeast?
I don’t think so. You can’t tell because I’m wearing Kanye. But if it’s not Kanye, I don’t care for it.
What about Kanye do you like so much?
I just like what he represents: A freethinker, going against the grain, speaking truth no matter if it costs you.
Any plans to go to Wyoming like he did?
Name: Vincent Jackson
Lives in: Los Angeles
Name: Nicole Robinson
Lives in: Los Angeles
So you didn’t know anything about the collaboration?
N.R.: No, we were just walking by, and we thought someone had actually sprayed “Gucci” on their store.
V.J.: I was like, “They’re really wilding out here in New York.”
What brought you to New York?
N.R.: We came here for a friend’s birthday party. We’re leaving today.
You didn’t buy anything at Balenciaga?
N.R.: No, I’m not a fan yet. I’m trying to find the Louis store.
Name: Lamart “LJ” James
Lives in: Uptown Manhattan
So, what brought you to Balenciaga today?
I do messenger work. They sent me to the wrong address. I’ve got to go around the corner.
Did you get a look at anything?
Not really. I was going to look at the Gucci/Balenciaga stuff, but I’m working right now.
Tell me about your mask.
This is a great mask. I actually got it from one of the people who does screen printing for Billionaire Boys Club.
What’s this jacket? I love it.
This jacket is actually Zara. Just like a canvas, paint-splattered-all-over-the-place jacket.