The question that always befuddles one at a Balmain show is: exactly when did Christophe Decarnin stop watching fashion? 1986? 1987? Certainly it was post-Lacroix, given the elaboration and ostentation of his decoration, an unapologetic luxury with the faintest whiff of the crass. Given those shoulders, it was also after Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana, and Dynasty and Dallas for that matter - let's not overcredit Decarnin with his references, it is far more likely the latter couplet have influenced him than the former. And given the blind, joyous optimism that permeates each and every garment Decarnin designs, it is inevitably prior Black Monday - something we undeniably need.
For Winter, Decarnin offered another overdecorated slice of escapism: blasting Prince at earsplitting volume, transforming the gilded ballroom of the Grand Hotel into a glittering mirrored box, and dressing his models in arcane, glitter-drenched costume. The soundtrack spelled it out large, as ever - Prince was the inspiration behind those brocade trouser-suits, trousers wide legs, jackets wider-shouldered and cropped at the waist, likewise the swaggering, swashbuckling frock-coats in tapestry or damask. Those rich fabrics, part Prince, part Petit Palais and an undeniable third part sofa upholstery, were crafted into taut, corsetted mini-dresses, laced along the seams in gold with fringes dangling. Vanity Six, Prince's short-lived sexualised girl-group sprang to mind as the models strutted by in racy, pacy, crotch-hugging mini-dresses or glittering evening gowns, shoulders tonsured to heaven, sliced open into trains and cinched with jewelled belts.
That was the whole story - shoulders, suiting, sheath-dresses, all encrusted with decoration - the lily gilded once again. Were these garments inventive? No. Of course not. Even laying to one side their retro antecedents in every eighties issue of French Vogue, these were garments we have seen Balmain proffer again and again, repeated shapes with only the decoration changing (this season it was those rich, figured fabrics, eyelet lacing and a clever way with a marabou cape-coat). Was this fashion, then? Not really. Balmain, more often than not, feels like fashion-by-numbers - or fashion by a four year old - a joke of a fashion show without a punchline, a parody without humour, pastiche without irony. In short, the perfect postmodern fashion experience to be enjoyed as spectacle rather than experienced as clothing. But at the same time, despite railing against the intellectual vacuum Balmain represents, you can't help but get an undeniable rush simply from the idea that someone has the wherewithal, the chutzpah and the sheer guts to propose the world parties like it's 1999, while we feel we're dancing on the edge of an abyss.