The soundtrack always tells it all at Balmain. For Spring 2009 it was Madonna's Dress You Up, for a collection that advocated just that, via Like A Virgin tattered tulle wedding frocks; last season, we had Prince's Purple Rain matched with (wait for it) purple brocade jackets and New Power Generation suiting. This time round, Sid Vicious snarled 'I did it my way' - and that was pretty much what Christopher Decarnin did, plowing mindlessly ahead down his own aesthetic path.
The emerging key looks were wilfully disregarded. Reductionist tailoring? The new long? Decarnin was having none of it - for Balmain, S/S 2011 is about punk. Dirty, gritty, four-letter (and four-figure) ripped rip-offs of well-worn Camden Market styles. This season, the collection of this former bastion of French haute couture consisted mainly of safety-pinned fragments of clothes festooned with studs, fettered with tears, frayed at the edges and artfully splashed and scrawled with unmentionable stains and graffiti. There were skinhead skinnies in bleached denim, tattered and worn t-shirts and glittering hardware covering every surface, not least a veritable Hell's Angel chapter of distressed biker jackets. Design credit where design credit is due, some were admittedly glitzed up with diamante lapels. This is Balmain, after all - it was always going end up more Plastic Bertrand than Sid Vicious.
That was the long and short of it - and this was a long show short on ideas. Indeed, the Balmain show achieved the rare feat of seeming endless (thirty virtually identical spiky leather-n-denim exits do tend to warp space and time) while throwing up not one original idea. Originality, of course, has never been the key to Decarnin's success. It's usually entertaining to see how he recycles and reworks the familiar raiments of pop culture couture into Balmain style - but this time, it felt as if there was no reworking. This was piecemeal copying, from slightly passe 'It girl' wardrobe shots and even from Balmain collections past. The tattered tees and military touches were torn from last spring's army outing, the taught leather trousers scarred with zips are house staples, and even the punky ethos itself reminded one of Decarnin's A/W 2008 ode to Billy Idol.
Balmain has always been grist to the high-street mill - it's meant to look cheap, frankly, and hence is easy to forge on a budget. But this time, it felt as if Decarnin's look was over before it even began. The perfect summary came, once again, on the soundtrack: 'Regrets, I've had a few....' There were far more than a few regrettable outfits in this lazy, lackadaisical recycling-bin of a collection. Decarnin must try harder if he wants to keep his audience and his customers interested for yet another season.