A Cappella Singer Mitch Grassi Is Balenciaga’s New Darling

In the lead-up to the Balenciaga show on Saturday, several famous faces appeared on the label’s Twitter to announce the new collection. The digital reminder included friends of the house, such as Kim Kardashian West, the comical television French host Mademoiselle Agnes, and even fashion journalist Cathy Horyn, who spoke from her back porch. Also in the mix was a bright-eyed man with a smooth complexion and long sideburns to tell us the time, date, and website of the show’s stream. The comments were filled with fans of the a cappella group Pentatonix, who were complimenting the video’s speaker, group member Mitch Grassi. The 28-year-old, who has a rich, six-octave vocal range, was approached by Balenciaga to record himself for their Twitter before the show. “We have had a relationship,” he says over Zoom from Los Angeles. “They were like, ‘Hey, would you want to make a quick little video announcing the upcoming show?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely. I’ll do anything.’”

Doing anything for Balenciaga seems about right for Grassi, who is a die-hard fan of the label’s creative director Demna Gvasalia. The singer’s Instagram features plenty of bold-shoulders, sharp cheekbones, and shoulder pads—like something Balenciaga would post to their own, infamously offbeat social media feeds. But it has been a long sartorial road for the a cappella aficionado to transform into Balenciaga’s poster child. Grassi grew up in Arlington, Texas, and joined Pentatonix in 2011 after meeting his fellow bandmates Kirstin Maldonado and Scott Hoying in high school. Three additional members later, the group tried out for NBC’s The Sing-Off, which they won in 2011. Pentatonix’s music videos chronicle Grassi’s metamorphosis. In 2015 for the music video “Cheerleader,” Grassi boasts an emo side bang swoop, septum piercing, and wears the same varsity bomber as his bandmates, albeit with a striped shirt while the rest are in button-ups. Considering his more outré style today, it feels relatively benign; looking back, Grassi appears out of his element.

A change is visible in 2016. One of Pentatonix’s most popular YouTube videos is “Hallelujah” from 2016, which has garnered over 550 million views, is a style stepping stone moment for Grassi, and a strong departure from his former looks. In it, Grassi wears a wide-brimmed black hat that feels plucked off a hipster in Williamsburg from the early 2010s. Nevertheless, while it may feel slightly dated now, it’s still more “fashion” than his previous looks. It’s not a coincidence, either. A few months after seeing a pivotal Vetements spring 2016 show, he wore a Saint Laurent black shirt dress to the 2016 Grammy Awards. According to Pentatonix stylist Candice Lambert McAndrews, who was also the longtime stylist of Green Day and Linkin Park, that Grammys look marked the turning point for Grassi. “That was the breaking moment where everyone lost it. All their fans were furious about the look. He embraced it and went for it and was like, ‘This is who I am,’” says McAndrews over the phone from Los Angeles. “You can see the change from that moment on where he expressed himself, and now everyone gets it.” Slowly but surely, that change is visible. Later in 2018, we see Grassi, now mustachioed in the video “Havana,” wearing an oversize Pepto pink blazer and a white button-down with wingtips. 2018 is also the year he first joined Instagram: The first image he ever posted sees Grassi peeking out from the collar of a pink fur coat in what he refers to as a “Hedi-era @ysl coat”. The latest video, a cover of “Mad World” shows Grassi at his core, in a black oversize suit with cuffs to his palms and big collared shirt. It’s very, well, Balenciaga.

Like many, Grassi initially got into fashion via the internet and perpetually scrolling through Tumblr as a teen. “I was obsessed with looking at shows and collections, he says. “I was very young, very almost teenage boy in a way, very homosexual.” His clothing then ventured into ultra-feminine territory, and he opted for dresses and high heels. “I felt like at the time I didn’t really have much experience with fashion. So I was like, ‘Oh, this is the most dramatic thing I can do, the most daring thing I can do, is wear women’s clothing,’ he says. “It was a lot of that.” It wasn’t until he saw Demna Gvasalia’s spring 2016 Vetements collection that he dove headfirst into runway fashion. “I thought his references were amazing and the silhouettes were so intense and severe and so tough,” he says. “He took this pretty mundane everyday piece of clothing and turned it into something really chic and wearable.” Grassi’s first purchases were classic Vetements hero pieces, such as the MA-1 bombers with “humongous sleeves,” flannels, and their signature hoodies. Grassi, ever the expert, is well aware of the range of hoodies, too. When I note I covered the “Zemfira” hoodie, he adds: “That’s a collector’s piece!”

What makes Grassi’s look so compelling is partially the context. Historically, a cappella groups have been sartorially wholesome, whether that means a coordinating suit and tie, or more neutered, digestible styles. Grassi’s sprawling mullet, hoop earring punched lobes, and oversized pieces make him appear like he’s raving in some (very chic!) Parisian basement to the tune of tortured techno. That high fashion edge has made him a style standout within the group. “Pentatonix has always been keen on emphasizing the diversity of each individual band member,” later writes Grassi. “As we continue to grow into ourselves, we become more aware of how we want to present to the world.” At the annual tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller center in 2018, for example, he wore a hulking metallic blue Marc Jacobs trench coat, and while on tour in 2019, he opted for an Ann Demeulemeester red suit and Balenciaga print top. His fans don’t seem to mind his relatively underground fashion perspective, and in fact are supportive of his fresh-from-the-runway grails, especially of his love for Balenciaga. “They follow me really closely, so they know when I’m obsessed with something,” says Grassi. “They fully embrace it. They’re always like, ‘When are you going to walk for Balenciaga?’” Grassi’s fans have even gone as far to create Mitch-Grassi-meets-Balenciaga screen names.

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