Balmain releases first phygital Unicorn sneaker collection

Past NFTs span a one-of-one “Flame” dress for the launch of Vogue Singapore in August 2021, a collaboration with Barbie and a partnership with celebrity gym Dog Pound, which included three physical B-Bold Sneakers. To launch the Unicorn, artist Jeff Cole created three videos featuring the shoes, sold as NFTs. In October 2022, Balmain announced the launch of what it calls the Balmain Thread, an initiative to weave these projects together by, for example, offering special event access to holders of any of its NFT projects. 

“We have a very engaged and active Web2 community, and little by little we are educating them into Web3, and also building a bridge between Web2 and Web3 communities,” Diz says, and this latest project with Space Runners is another effort to bridge those communities, as its appeal stands to blend sneaker enthusiasts with NFT collectors. “It creates the link between both.” 

Space Runners’s creative director Rohan Chhabra, who previously worked in design at companies including Nike and Ralph Lauren, wanted to maintain Balmain’s visual language while building out the Unicorn storyline as a mythical creature. The digital shoes don’t directly replicate the physical versions — references span fire elements, the Baroque period, “solar punks” and time-travelling “chrononauts”; expect new features for digital Unicorns, including, for example, flying and levitating.

This is the first time Space Runners has worked on a phygital project. Space Runners is planning a more robust avatar-customisation, fashion try-on and meta-commerce experience in the future, says co-founder and CEO Won Soh. The Balmain utilities might expand to include access to purchase metaverse wearables, augmented reality wearables or physical accessories, and access to events. Basically, he says, the goal is to create something that “looks extremely cool and unlocks things that were not possible”.

This project will debut at the NFT.Paris conference, just days before the brand’s 1 March womenswear show at Paris Fashion Week, where Web3 networking events are spilling over into fashion-industry cocktail parties. This overlap is appropriate, as the world of NFT collectors has a lot in common with fashionable sneakerheads: both are fuelled by hype and scarcity, contingent on speculative resale value and a close-knit sense of belonging. This has led to a spate of sneaker NFT projects from both established physical brands and digital-first startups. But, in recent months, both the NFT and sneaker markets have faced saturation and a slow-down in momentum that is both disappointing and necessary, say those in the industry.

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