If you’ve been caught taking the bins out in crap shoes recently, feel no shame – even if the guy who saw you was a hottie. You’re bang on trend. Trash is in fashion, trash is cool and trash, it turns out, is now really bloody expensive.
Balenciaga had another viral moment recently, when the Parisian house’s luxury bin bags from its AW22 collection hit shelves with a £1700 price tag. Then, when Kanye West’s YZY x Gap collection hit stores, the master troller decided the best way to present his line of mostly black cargo trousers, hoodies and oversized T‑shirts was by shoving them in huge trash bags (or, as he later clarified, “large construction bags”) that were dotted around Gap stores. Bit of a ‘mare for workers, no?
The trash aesthetic is also a bit of a divisivel choice: West was accused of being insensitive to homeless people, while widespread social media scorn was directed at the Balenciaga bag. But designers have been turning trash into fashion for decades now. Take a look John Galliano’s 2000 haute couture collection for Dior, and Galliano’s reference was Paris’ homeless population, which he spotted when jogging up the Seine River. There were dresses made of newspaper print, a model pushing a trolley, another holding a plastic supermarket carrier bag, accessorised with J&B whiskey bottles and bottle caps. And just like the Ye’s bin bag displays, the show was controversial, with some suggesting it was a distasteful spin on poverty.
As for Galliano: “The critics have a slightly bigoted view. One is allowed to have women mincing about in high heels and combat trousers and a scarf around their head, inspired by the war in Bosnia […],” he told The New York Times sometime after the show. “I don’t get why, just because this is on their own doorstep, it’s any different. Because they don’t want to know about these people?”
But it’s not always clothes that do the trash talking. In 2009, a year before his untimely death, Alexander McQueen presented The Horn of Plenty, a hauntingly poignant collection. Wearing extreme, visceral looks that included sharp, black tailoring, houndstooth prints and sculptural headpieces, models walked around a mountain of trash piled onto the middle of the runway, most of it made up of set pieces from McQueen’s earlier shows that had been spray-painted black.
Unlike Galliano’s take, this runway rubbish had nothing to do with homelessness. In the 2018 documentary McQueen, when asked about the collection, a previous designer of the British house smirked and suggested McQueen was taking the piss out of the audience. “The pile of trash was them,” he said.
It’s unsurprising given McQueen’s history. He was the enfant terrible, shocking audiences with high-fashion depictions of golden showers, taking his bow in a pair of US flag-printed boxers and directly mocking fashion’s elitist attitudes in 1997’s collection It’s a Jungle Out There.
In Moschino’s AW17 collection, rubbish fashion got more eco-friendly. The master of high-low fashion, Jeremy Scott gave waste a new lease of life, with models walking on a cardboard runway and stepping out in dresses that looked like bin bags, accessorised with bike parts, shower curtains and patchwork fabrics made of what looked like scrap pieces of archive Moschino.
In the show notes, Scott said: “She is the antidote to the unsustainable cycles of overconsumption. Her cure? To take materials the rest of us reject and wear them with Moschino panache.” A direct response to fashion’s greed, Scott took the “one man’s trash…” school of thought literally – and designers of luxury houses have been following a similar philosophy ever since.
While not necessarily trash, everyday supermarket-buyable items have been on runways a fair few times – long before the bin bag. In 2014, Chanel opened its own grocery store to present its AW collection, rebranding everyday items like bleach, toothpaste and cereal. What did models-cum-shoppers put them in? A shopping basket, like the ones used in Asda, priced at £11k.
Before that, though, those reusable, chequered laundry bags you find at a pound shop and stuff crap into were reimagined by Louis Vuitton in 2007. A decade later, Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia sent oversized market bags down the runway for SS17. Later that year, the house also released a style reminiscent of IKEA’s blue Frakta bag to the sum of £1,365 (a hefty markup compared to Frakta’s 40p retail price). It even prompted the Swedish furniture store to run a “How to identity an original IKEA Frakta bag” advert on its website. Menswear designer Christopher Shannon also got in on the action, reappropriating Sports Direct’s large reusable bag and changing its logo to “Lovers Direct” for a modern approach to brand-obsessed sportswear.
A year later, Phoebe Philo’s Celine released a clear plastic bag in the shape of a supermarket carrier bag, revealing all its contents to the nosy bugger on the bus. And most recently, Westminster menswear graduate Lily Willan was directly influenced by the carrier bag her granddad used to take to work everyday, creating hold-alls that followed a similar slouchy shape and double handle.
Fashion has often giddily swiped normy products from our world and turned them into products of aspiration. Trash is turned into luxury, the bags stuffed under our kitchen sink are flogged for over a grand. And we lap it up.
When Balenciaga initially presented the bin bags back in March, they were planted in the middle of a deeply emotive show that creative director Demna Gvsalia used to highlight the ongoing war in Ukraine. Models battled against wind machines and a man-made snow storm, clutching onto fur coats and holding the bin bags, as though displaced people escaping a war-torn country.
Trash fashion makes a statement. Whether it’s homelessness, elitism, the environment or, indeed, war, it gets us talking. Controversial in most cases, yes, but isn’t that the point? Perhaps the context of rubbish plays a part, too. When Balenciaga’s bin bags are placed on the shelf of a store – compared to the moving runway presentation – they take on a whole different meaning. It becomes funny. An inside joke that, for those observing, is utterly baffling. Who would pay over a grand for a bin bag? Well, loads of people. Fashion is, after all, trash.