For many of us in the LGBTQ world, Pride is the most exhausting time of the year. What should be a month to celebrate our individuality and the beauty of our community becomes an annual onslaught of empty corporate platitudes and uninformed debate, which is at best disrespectful and at worst callous and dehumanizing. Brands creating Pride collections comprised of vacuous rainbow prints (most of which do not do anything to aid or assist the LGBTQ community) is the lowest form of acknowledgement of queer culture and would be best left unsaid, entirely.
Which is why it was a delicious breath of fresh air to the see the sly homage to one of our foundational queer texts incorporated in Balenciaga’s Spring 2022 runway show. With an already staid history in saucy Pride moments, we should have expected nothing less from the brand, but the no-fuss presentation of its final look was the sort of informed, classy honoring of queer culture that brands should all hope to strive for if they’re going to play the Pride game.
I am referring, of course, to the gag-worthy scarlet mermaid dress, an elevated take on the iconic, climactic outfit worn by Divine in John Waters’ cult classic Pink Flamingos. Not only one of the foremost “celebrity” drag queens, but also one of the most indelible examples of truly post-gender, post-binary drag presentation, Divine’s legend looms large over the queer world for a reason; proudly confrontational, wildly absurdist, and (as so memorably depicted in the 1972 film) constantly striving for the platonic ideal of “filthiness,” she embodies the best of queer subversion.
That Demna Gvasalia would enshrine this landmark lewk in a collection devoted to clones, deep fakery, and irony makes perfect sense. For a fashion house that just unveiled Croc-high heels, riffing on the work of a filmmaker who is synonymous with bad taste is a logical next-step. It also doesn’t get more ironic than the connotations of this dress, worn when Divine’s character Babs Johnson holds a news conference declaring that her political beliefs are “Kill everyone — now!” and proceeds to gun down the throng of reporters. Nearly 50 years after the film’s release, this sort of commentary may never have been more relevant.
Most importantly, this stands as a shining example for how brands should engage with the LGBTQ world if they are going to attempt to hold discourse with it: educate themselves, learn from our history. Make celebrating queer legacies a teachable moment for the uninformed. And do so with purpose and taste — or, in this case, gloriously bad taste.