Balmain Collab Brings Art, AI, Personalization to Unicorn Kicks

Balmain’s Unicorn sneaker may be at the heart of its latest collaboration, but make no mistake: It’s no garden-variety sneaker drop. On Thursday, the French fashion house unveiled a multipart digital-physical offering, thanks to the work of American artist Ant Kai and generative artificial intelligence from tech partner Space Runner.

Fundamentally, the effort yields a physical, limited-edition shoe as reimagined by Kai, in a bundle that also includes an NFT version of the product. The twist is that consumers can customize the digital collectible, personalizing it with different colors, and mint it on Polygon, a sustainable, eco-minded blockchain network. The key is Space Runner’s AI, which was trained on Kai’s “clouds” style.

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Balmain collaborated with Kai on the creative side and Space Runners on the AI tech side.

There are obvious benefits to this approach, as sneaker fans tend to love personalization. On one level, it’s a creative opportunity for these consumers. But it operates on a branding level as well, because both the physical and digital versions position Balmain’s Unicorn as a work of art.

Balmain hopes that the inspiration won’t end there. According to the press release, “This avant-garde partnership transcends mere collaboration; it serves as a blueprint for future high-end brands aiming for authenticity and originality. Space Runners’ innovative Generative-AI tool enriches the customization experience, inviting fashion enthusiasts into an interactive design realm without limits.”

This latest effort isn’t the first for Balmain’s Space Runners partnership or the first digital initiative for the Unicorn sneaker. The fashion company and the tech firm came together earlier this year for a Unicorn capsule collection spanning tangible shoes and digital versions, which they brought to a hybrid augmented reality-metaverse fashion show in March. The event was created by the Over AR metaverse platform and held at Milan’s Piazza del Duomo.

The sneaker business has never been tech-shy, as early adopters of emerging technologies, from 3D printing to AR and NFTs. Apparently AI is no exception, particularly where it meets virtual experiences. For luxury brands, this sensibility seems at home in digital-physical contexts that appeal to younger, tech-savvy consumers without alienating traditional shoppers.

Balmain extends that to the whole shopping experience, including the transaction. Indeed, the limited-edition physical Kai sneaker bundle — which will be on sale exclusively at Balmain’s new Atlanta flagship store and e-commerce site — will be available via standard payment options based on fiat currency, as well as cryptocurrency.

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