The beauty of a Balmain show, at least for a journalist, is that is can be summed up in a single word - or at the very most two. Punk. Prince. Army. Disco. There's the last two years in half-a-dozen syllables or less. The sum-all phrase for Autumn/Winter 2011, however, is slightly more difficult. If pushed, one would probably plump for 'confused'. Or even 'half-hearted.' Which begs the question: has the party ended at Christophe Decarnin's Balmain?
That's not to say the house's offering this season was any more sober than in the past. There was still the unabashed, unashamed disco glitter twinkling across dresses as short as ever, the metallic brocades, the intentional touches of crass bad taste (beaded pantaloons tucked into mid-calf white stiletto booties anyone?) but the theme, always Balmain's strong suit, seemed somewhere to have gone a little bit AWOL. A little like Christophe Decarnin himself, who neglected to take his customary after-show bow.
You wonder if Decarnin was missing in action during the design process too. Surely the man who once beaded and shoulder-padded a matelot sweater into a five-figure Studio 54 must-have couldn't have been behind the simple white blouse tucked into black trousers, even with the tufts of goat-fur frothing out of the shoulder-blades. The signature Balmain brocade was this season cut into resolutely minimalist shapes, slender trousers and sleek jackets shorn of lapels. But can Balmain really do reductionist tailoring? Evidently not - there was something lumpen to the line of these, while the metallic leather jackets in baby-blue and gold looked like carry-overs from a pre-collection past. Diamante dungarees added a touch of glitz that reminded us of Balmain old - but would a Balmain girl really wear work-wear, however ritzy? The last thing Decarnin's customers dress for is work (what they undress for is, of course, another matter entirely).
What does that tell us about this collection? More to the point, what was Balmain actually trying to say this season? This was a collection that seemed to throw out more questions than answers - never before the case at a house that has, for the past three or so years, offered the definitive word on mindless jet-set dazzle-dressing. Maybe this was just a momentary stumble in Balmain's raunchy, chain-clinking strut to the bank - but for all the gilt on the catwalk, for once it was difficult to see the gold in this Balmain offering.