Homer Simpson was made for fashion
Applause, whispers, camera slams, questionable music: these are the sounds of a classic fashion show. Laughter ? These are less frequent.
Yet several were heard last Saturday night, circulating in the 19th century Parisian theater where the great and wealthy house of Cristóbal Balenciaga jumped the traditional podium and screened a special 10 minute episode of “The Simpsons”.
It was a surprise lasting over a year, and the result of a sometimes grueling collaboration between two demanding creative entities known for their attention to detail. So far, it has been viewed over five million times on YouTube.
In the episode, Homer writes to Balenciaga (“Dear Balun, Balloon, Baleen, Balenciaga-ga,” he says as he struggles to pronounce the famous fashion name) on Marge’s birthday, explaining that his wife always wanted to own something by the brand.
He asks for the cheapest item, which the Balenciaga team interprets as “one of those American gags that nobody has” and sends him a dress that costs 19,000 euros. After wearing it briefly, Marge returns the dress with a note saying that she will “always remember those 30 minutes of feeling a little bit special”.
Back in Europe, Balenciaga Artistic Director Demna Gvasalia says her rating is “the saddest thing I have ever heard, and I grew up in the Soviet Union.” This is exactly the kind of woman I want to reach! He then goes to Springfield and decides to “save” the “style-less” by inviting them to model his clothes in Paris, explaining that he wants “the world to see real people in my show”.
The 10 minutes are filled with Easter eggs for die-hard “Simpsons” and Balenciaga fans. A Balenciaga private jet has a landing gear that resembles the brand’s famous sock sneakers; Waylon Smithers chooses a dress to wear when given his choice of outfit; Lisa initially recognizes that walking on a track is “superficial”, but then benefits tremendously.
The collaboration began in April 2020, when Mr. Gvasalia sent “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening an email about the collaboration.
Mr Gvasalia, 40, who was born in Georgia and watched the show when he was growing up, said the idea came to him during the first lockdown of 2020. He has a penchant for inserting Balenciaga into the trends of the mass market: Under his leadership, the brand collaborated with other American sensations, such as Crocs and Fortnite.
About the ‘Simpsons,’ he said, ‘I’ve always loved the tongue-in-cheek humor, romance, and charming naivety of this one.’
‘The Simpsons’ executive producer and screenwriter Al Jean said that when he learned of the Balenciaga Project in January, “my response was,’ What is Balenciaga? “” He turned to Wikipedia for answers.
Her first pitch at Balenciaga had a similar setting to the one they ended up going with – Marge’s birthday wish – but diverged with Mr. Gvasalia’s character deciding that the brand’s next show would take place in Springfield. When the Balenciaga plane lands there, its models are not allowed into the United States because they are too thin and beautiful. The people of Springfield become the role models, their nuclear power plant is the trail, and the ghost of Mr. Balenciaga appears.
But Balenciaga preferred that Springfield be brought to Paris, Mr Jean said. From there, the story was revised and edited – to the point that the writers joked about “Draft 52 of the Balenciaga script” – until two days before the screening in Paris.
Mr. Gvasalia made specific contributions to the scenario, Mr. Jean said. For example, the episode ends with Homer kissing and singing “La Mer” at Marge on a party boat after the show on the Seine. But Mr Gvasalia wanted one last joke, so he demanded that Homer’s jacket be set on fire by a Frenchman smoking a cigar. Mr Jean then suggested to Anna Wintour, who had appeared in the front row of the fashion show, to try and put out the fire with expensive champagne, which Homer tries to drink instead.
“She said, ‘Please don’t let me do this,’ so it became Demna,” Mr. Jean said. (Ms. Wintour otherwise approved of her likeness being used but declined to express her character, he said.) And that previous line about Mr. Gvasalia who grew up in the Soviet Union? The “Simpsons” team had decided to cut him, but Mr. Gvasalia demanded that he be reinstated.
He also asked, the day before the show, to change the color of a tear that Ms. Wintour sheds while looking at model Marge. The tear was too light and wouldn’t be readable on screen unless it was a darker blue. Mr. Jean and director David Silverman agreed.
“They were definitely our game in terms of, down to the last detail, making sure everything was perfect,” Mr. Jean said. “The animation team is the hardest thing they’ve had to do since ‘The Simpsons Movie’.”
Mr Silverman, who directed this 2007 film, said the biggest challenge was getting the “necessary precision in clothing,” which involved inventive post-animation effects to capture the distinct textures and movement, for example, from Marge’s runway look: a gold metallic ball gown.
Balenciaga sent the “Simpsons” team 15 looks to choose from for the final show, all based on designs from the past five years. But putting them on the bodies of these universally recognizable cartoon characters wasn’t that simple.
“It was difficult for us to grasp that balance between caricature and the integrity of the clothing,” said Mr. Silverman. “You translate the appearance of real clothes, real designs on these figures that are not exactly human proportions.”
Mr Silverman, who joked, but not really, saying this was how he spent his summer vacation, studied the footage from the parade to determine what the audience should wear and how the lighting should hit the podium.
The script also had to capture the peculiar absurdity of the luxury fashion world and Balenciaga’s stature in this world – something that cannot be absorbed on Wikipedia. Mr Jean said that in addition to the crash course at Balenciaga earlier in the year, watching the Netflix series on Halston, who was a big Balenciaga fan, helped him understand the excessive and evergreen culture of the fashion.
The secondary characters are also based on real people and animals, including Mr. Gvasalia’s husband, Loïck Gomez; their two dogs; Creative Director Martina Tiefenthaler (speaking); and the workers of the Balenciaga workshop who end the collection on the plane by singing “formidable, formidable”.
This is one of Mr. Gvasalia’s favorite scenes in the episode, he said, “It makes me so happy every time I watch it.”
As for Mr. Gvasalia’s voice, “we had to try to convince him to play himself, but he didn’t want to,” Mr. Jean said. He felt this was consistent with Mr Gvasalia’s recent decision to completely hide his face and body during public appearances, creating confusion among observers as to whether it was really him.
When asked why he wanted to align Balenciaga with “The Simpsons” and if he thought the brands had something in common, Mr. Gvasalia replied that “it’s more personal to me”.
“I didn’t want to line anything up or make sense of anything. I just wanted to create an iconic visual story.
While the novelty of the collaboration made it surprising, the brands share a similar philosophy. They appreciate self-referentiality, break the rules of presentation (broadcast of an episode with live animation, turn a red carpet into a parade without telling anyone) and bridge the gap between the intellectual and the intimate. Mr. Jean called Mr. Gvasalia “an excellent collaborator” and Mr. Gvasalia described the experience as “the highest level of collaboration” and “a dream come true”.
“I didn’t realize how complex it was to create a 10 minute episode, so immense respect for that,” he said.
Whether the act is meant to challenge the seriousness of fashion or the public’s notions of luxury – bringing Balenciaga to the suburban masses or bringing the suburban masses to Balenciaga – is something it will let critics debate.
What did he want from that? “A smile and a good dose of pleasure.