Growing up, the blankets my family used at home came from the one Chinese grocery store in town. They were thick, plush, patterned in frilly florals and scrolls, and came in either a serious-looking palette of brown and gold or eye-scorching fluorescents (and never anything in between). We bought them because they cost less than $15 — they also kept us very warm, made our cheap apartment more cheerful, and never looked dirty, despite how well-worn they got.
These fleece blankets came in clear plastic carrying cases that I used to love lugging home over my shoulder, even though they weighed almost as much as I did. I felt like one of the Boxcar Children with my giant purse, and the plastic bag would quickly be repurposed as a play suitcase that I'd pack with fake plastic food, clothes, and dolls as I went on pretend trips across the world. Later, my family switched to buying our duvets at department stores, and I eventually traveled further than my courtyard swing set and actually saw the world. But, like many people who came from Asia, Eastern Europe, or grew up in immigrant communities, those fleece blankets are as much a part of our outsider stories as getting teased for our bag lunches or feeling embarrassed about having to ask our friends to take their shoes off before coming inside our homes.
So, suffice to say, it was a jarring experience to see those bagged quilts — or bags that look like those quilts — on the runway at Paris Fashion Week, a place and circumstance that could not be further from those dusty, packed shelves of the lone Oriental market in my Midwestern town. We've criticized luxury designers in the past for mining the experiences of minority communities, but, Balenciaga's Demna Gvasalia is an immigrant himself, and for him to find comfort and symbolism in this particular style is something that I intrinsically get. Beyond that, Gvasalia's own experiences as a refugee casts this bag in another light: it's hard to separate how he is affecting Balenciaga, and how recent Syrian refugees — sitting on aid-issued foam mattresses and those fleece blankets on the same Parisian sidewalks that fashion-show attendees walked to get to the brand's spring 2017 show — are affecting Paris.
Many of my fellow immigrant friends remember these plush blankets as a token of our past, before we had the resources to choose another option. Given the price point of the Balenciaga iteration, it's not difficult to see why some might find the bag exploitative or out-of-touch. My own knee-jerk reaction was to text an image of them to my parents — it was evidence that an element of our experience was presenting itself in dominant culture. And even though it's just one bag in just one Fashion Week collection, it's still a sign that future immigrants might experience a different kind of privilege, and be allowed to just be.