Why Fortnite’s overpriced Balenciaga collection is a W for gaming

Epic Games / Balenciaga

It doesn’t matter if people think gaming is cool or not, because it doesn’t have to be cool. Gaming can just be gaming, and Balenciaga’s Fortnite collection, all thousands upon thousands of dollars of it, is living, luxurious proof of that mantra.

For years, the stereotypical image of a gamer wasn’t a sexy and inspiring one. Doritos fingers, mountains of empty Mountain Dew bottles, maybe some concerns over body odor — encapsulating terms like “nerd,” “geek,” and “dweeb” conjured unceremonious imagery.

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The American gamer was most certainly not seen as someone entrenched in haute couture, let alone represented by foremost luxury fashion houses.

But, against that backdrop of cultural malaise, we now have a $725 hoodie marked with Balenciaga’s logo, Fortnite’s logo, and a Fortnite location (Retail Row). And, somehow, it just makes sense.

Balenciaga x Fortnite

balenciaga x fortnite collection merchBalenciaga
Some of the Fortnite items available from Balenciaga’s collection.

Gamers might react to Balenciaga’s Fortnite collection by clowning the price points. Fashionistas might wonder why such a basic logo has been slapped on, seemingly sans any design work.

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From $395 hats to $1,290 denim jackets, all with Fortnite’s generic branding tossed on, the collection feels like an expensive version of Balenciaga basics. But minimalism is the Balenciaga way, while refusing to dress up the game’s branding is a testament to where gaming culture stands and where it’s going… and, apparently, where it stands is in Paris, France couture studios, and among Twitter’s hottest topics.

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Balenciaga nestled atop Twitter’s trending topics on September 20.

Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and the olden days of luxury gaming

In the past, if a cartoony video game had wanted to collaborate with a luxury fashion house founded in 1919 San Sebastian, Spain — you can be sure it would have cost a lot of money and would not have looked like this. The designers would have begrudgingly taken inspiration from the game and produced odes to it, with the final product screaming “video game, but make it fashion.”

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The League of Legends x Louis Vuitton collection.
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100T founder Matthew ‘Nadeshot’ Haag holding the Gucci x 100T bag.

The over-designed and over-subtle markings of Louis Vuitton’s League of Legends and Gucci’s 100 Thieves collections, respectively, may come to mind here. But that’s not what happened with Balenciaga and Fortnite, because gaming doesn’t need to be designed around or seamlessly hidden to be culturally palatable anymore. It already is.

When asked about the collection, Balenciaga Creative Director Demna Gvasalia said that the relationship was born out of using Unreal Engine to showcase the Fall 2021 collection and that, “from there, we have continued to be inspired by the creativity of Unreal and Fortnite communities.”

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Balenciaga’s respect through brutalism

For Balenciaga, whose ethos has become synonymous with elevated culture, that inspiration doesn’t require manipulation. If you think back to the Bernie Sanders-inspired collection, the brand took a movement and plastered it into couture at face value — without any fluff.

bernie sanders logoYouTube, Bernie Sanders
The Bernie Sanders logo.
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The Balenciaga t-shirt, with a very familiar logo.

Now, they’re doing the same with Fortnite: Imprinting a social phenomenon on high fashion wares, without any concern for subtlety and perceived trendiness. 

Bernie’s brand of discourse started as a niche political movement, Fortnite’s popularity started in the world of teenage gamers. Both gained enough momentum to find a home imprinted on the homepage of the world’s trendiest luxury brand.

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If gamers and the fashionable are on opposite sides of a venn diagram, the brutalist design of this collection proves their intersection has grown too wide to be ignored. Neither pole’s gatekeeping diehards should like this collection. It’s for the people in the middle.

Each day, gaming moves from the outskirts of society toward the center, and this collaboration reflects a moment in time for that trajectory.

You don’t need to think it’s designed well or priced appropriately — it is luxury fashion, after all. Whether ironic, ambitious, or simply an easy cash grab, the rich and the tastemakers are openly embracing Fortnite and that’s a W for the gaming industry.

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