French clothier turns Bernie Sanders into a fashion icon

US Senator Bernie Sanders at a health-care rally on Jan 15, 2016.
US Senator Bernie Sanders at a health-care rally on Jan 15, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

(BLOOMBERG) - At Balenciaga's runway show during Paris fashion week, designer Demna Gvasalia drew inspiration from an unlikely source: US Senator Bernie Sanders.

Models trotted down the runway on Wednesday (Jan 18) in menswear featuring logos reminiscent of the now-famous emblem he used in his Cinderella campaign for the Democratic nomination.

Three red and white waves (the original Sanders version had just two) underlined the Balenciaga name, complete with the year marked next to it on such items as pins and jackets. The final look had a giant scarf bearing the logo.

Most brands want to stay away from politics, fearful of any pushback that would label them partisan and draw the ire of angry crowds. This has been particularly true of late, following a vitriolic election and the inauguration this week of Republican Donald Trump.

But Balenciaga, it seems, doesn't care.

Gvasalia's collection drew from corporate themes and office wear, using both its own name and the banner of parent company Kering on the clothes.

The Sanders "tribute" (representatives for Sanders didn't immediately respond to a request for comment) presents a certain level of irony, as the Vermont senator campaigned against opponent Hillary Clinton on a platform assailing corporate greed.

But then again, millions of Sanders supporters still raw from his loss, revelations the Democratic National Committee actively worked against him, and a perceived lack of fair media coverage include some target demographics for Balenciaga (read: urban, money to spare).

The benefit of going political may have clearly outweighed any cost.

This has not been the case for others that have wandered into the post-election political meat grinder.

Earlier this month, LLBean found itself begging customers to consider it a nonpartisan entity after one of its board members, part owner Linda Bean, donated to a pro-Trump political action committee. 

Last November, irate New Balance customers burned their shoes in protest after a company spokesperson voiced support for Trump's trade stance.

Starbucks faced protests after it's chief executive backed Trump's Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Even Kellogg had to handle a fierce backlash when it pulled advertising from ultra-right website Breitbart News.

Then there's Macy's. Trump himself called for a boycott after the department store ditched his clothing line.

Meanwhile, it's also on a prominent anti-Trump boycott list because it sells daughter Ivanka Trump's fashion label.

Public relations experts say repeated incidents of shopper outrage are likely to continue as people on both sides search for a way to be heard and make a difference.

It's impossible to stay totally out of current events, though, but Balenciaga seems to have found a creative way to hit on the global zeitgeist without instantly alienating a chunk of its shoppers. They may have hit on a strategy that other retailers could emulate as Trump takes office.