Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing is trying something new in fashion. Others have attempted it and failed; he seems to be do it really rather well. That is, he’s harnessing the power of the populus to make the high-end widely desirable again. Even though the populous are unlikely to be to afford it, this designer recognises he needs them on-side in order to survive.
And so, a riotous collection, inspired, he said, by a transparent dress worn by Rihanna to last season’s after-party. Rousteing has made it clear who his idols are, and the wider audience love him for it. The black models he foregrounds and the popstars he dresses hold sway on Instagram and similar, therefore Rousteing’s work is disseminated to a far bigger crowd than simply those at the show in Paris today.
In this way, he isn’t that far off the house’s founder, Pierre Balmain, who trained as a couturier, but was one of the first to explore the possibilities of ready-to-wear in the early Sixties. It’s known as moving with the times.
So it’s ironic perhaps that the collection had such a retro feel. It was heavy on the Eighties (of course) in sequins, party tuxedos and bandage dresses that would give even Herve Leger a run for his money. Lashings of clear vinyl made up cage skirts and even knitwear, and ran around the edges of carefully concealing panelled dresses.
These were party clothes in extremis – ideally for a stage, but also for someone whose quotidian is made up of various opportunities for parading rather than, more prosaically, just going to work. But you will recognise them even if you are not wearing them – precisely because you’re not, in fact, but because someone else on the telly is.
It’s a minor marketing miracle to achieve a sense of proximity within luxury without watering down. If anything, Rousteing’s approach condenses and crystallises Balmain’s current raison d’etre.