Fashion designers have been trying to get men into skirts for years. Ironically, it’s Olivier Rousteing, a purveyor of bombastic garments that appeal to the modern, macho peacock, who may finally convince men to give them a go. Well, him and his army of social media stars who help disseminate the Balmain message worldwide. It’s a look that can be traced back to Riccardo Tisci’s menswear for Givenchy, where what could be described as a traditionally 'feminine' look of tunics and leggings were repositioned in a traditionally masculine, butch manner. Now the super long t-shirt and skinny trouser look is ubiquitous, normal even. But Rousteing pushed it further for A/W 17, his long knit tunics came below the knee and were strangely directional. Remove them from the concept of a flashy Balmain show with high energy music, and strip away the sparkly pieces that accompanied them, and you could mistake them for Rick Owens or some other subversive, forward-thinking designer. There were leggings too - Rousteing himself took his bow in them, having retired his usual black skinny jeans. Balmain isn’t a brand that you’d typically associate with the current gender-bending movement - his women comply to conventional dressing expectations (heels, skirts, boobs, bums) and his men come furnished with typically masculine regalia (see all the shoulder-enhancing military jackets). Yet this season, there was a new fluidity that ran through the collection - new for Balmain, that is - thanks in part to the increasing focus on slouchiness that began last season. Rousteing was interested in that line between hyper-masculinity and effeminate dressing - 'rockers—men who paired hyper-masculine, who-gives-a-fuck primal screams with eye-catching looks that consistently challenged accepted standards and fluidly crossed over the barriers of outdated gender norms,' were one of his given inspirations. Camp is probably the best word for it. And Balmain does camp better than anyone else.
As hinted, music was a key theme to this collection. Queen’s The Show Must Go On dominated the soundtrack. What a song to choose for a fashion show! What a song to choose given the current state of fashion and all the discussions about the purpose and point of the catwalk show - 'Behind the curtain, in the pantomime. Hold the line, does anybody want to take it anymore. The show must go on. The show must go on. Inside my heart is breaking. My make-up may be flaking. But my smile still stays on. The show must go on.' The show will never stop with Rousteing. He is the master of performance. The king of dazzle. But look a little closer and there’s an interesting awareness and sensitivity too - one that is often underreported. For example, I was struck by the relevance of his womenswear to global markets. So many of the garments on display at fashion shows look like they are built with a very narrow focus on a white, Western client. For every short spangly dress Rousteing shows, he also proudly sends out a billowing, long-sleeved look that covers the body head-to-toe, proving to women of the Middle East that their fashion norms are as relevant, noteworthy and glamourous as anyone else’s. Season upon season, with a new cut, a reformed fit, and a extra few looks, Rousteing makes his Balmain world relevant to more and more people. His army grows. His show may feel like a pantomime, to quote Queen, but it’s no empty performance - these are clothes that will be loved and adored, not tricks to win cache from the press.