At today’s Balmain show, amongst many other hip-hop gems performed with the help of a live orchestra, Lost in the World, a collaboration between Kanye West and Bon Iver, boomed through the imposing X. West and X, two very different bastions of wealth and opulence - both their generation’s royalty. But Lost in the World is apt when considering Balmain. Olivier Rousteing talks openly and proudly of being ‘a boy of the world’. As a baby, he was adopted by French parents and remains not entirely sure of his origin. He’s made that his strength, embracing the way things like the web and social media have allowed him to always live in a way that crosses borders and reaches all corners of the globe.
To parrot the song, this whole collection was about getting lost in the world. If last season felt a little too targeted at one realm - specifically the UK with his union jack flags, a smart addition given the opening of the brand’s London store - this was about roaming free across various lands. Rousteing was citing the mindset and styles of the adventurers, soldiers and scientists who, in the past, went off exploring the globe before returning to Paris and delighting natives with their tales and finds. His show notes talked of how this ‘eagerness to embrace a diversity of creations, cultures and ideas has continued over generations and centuries’ - albeit potentially via hashtags rather than sailboats today - citing that this ‘enrages intolerant minds both here and abroad.’ That’s a thought that’s been on a lot of designer’s minds for A/W 16. You can’t help but think about it at the shows given the heightened security. Few have a mandate to talk about cultural tolerance like Rousteing. Whether or not you like his approach or designs, it must be acknowledged that he has broken down barriers. He proudly champions black beauty - he builds clothes for a body shape that until now hasn’t got a look in in fashion given the obsession with teenage white girls. He casts women and men from all over the world and he proudly, and forcefully talks about his role as one of fashion’s only black designers. He makes things that are aspirational to many who may have felt before that fashion did not speak to them. That should be commended.
So, on to the clothes. The amusing thing about Balmain is that while many cite Rousteing as the ultimate example of a 2016 designer - showy, sexy, a social media celebrity - his clothes are not as forward-thinking as his way of doing PR. He may breakdown the barriers that used to exist between the celebrity world and the fashion world, and champion characters who the fashion pack were too lofty to consider, but when it comes to clothing he’s remarkably traditional. Proceedings for A/W 16 were old rather than new - conventional and accepted even. Men looked rugged and macho, women sensual and trussed-up. The former were clad in military inspired pieces such as tight leathers, waist belts, decorated waistcoats and riding boots alongside bejewelled frock jackets that could have been borrowed from the aristocracy. When viewing the wardrobe of the women, one wondered if Rousteing is staking a claim to get Balmain back on the couture schedule, such was the intensity of that beading.
All in all, this was business as usual for Balmain - a celebration of the kind of male shopper who loves luxury but values comfort and cool more, and the kind of female shopper who wants to seduce said male. Lost in the world? No.Like it or not, Rousteing and his #BalmainArmy of 1.something million Instagram followers, model pals and celebrity champions are taking over today’s world.