Much has changed for Balmain recently. Just days before their Paris Fashion Week S/S 17 menswear show, it was announced that the label is to have new owners. Mayhoola, the Qatari private investment company who also control Valentino and have a stake in Anya Hindmarch, agreed to acquire Balmain International SA (the parent company of Balmain group) from its current owners. The deal is expected to be closed during Summer 2016. Big things are ahead, thanks in large to the strength of Olivier Rousteing’s new vision for the house. Rousteing’s also had a big year. Fresh off the back of the Balmain x H&M collaboration, he did his own hook-up with Nike. Busy. When one has been working hard, a holiday is always the answer. Well, the designer decided to have one for S/S 17, using his collection as a getaway. Beaches, seas, sand and sunsets came together in the tones and surface details.
Rousteing talked of taking virtual trips through social media. Very on brand for him - the man whose digital existence is as rich as his physical one. ‘The sunsets are intense, the waves incredible and the beaches immense... or at least that’s how it always seems to be as I scroll through Instagram,’ he said in his show notes. ‘Although I may be working late into the night on yet another weekend, at least I can escape for a few minutes via these captured moments of friends, adventures, sports and joy.’ Rousteing is regularly inspired by the supermodels, playboys and celebrities around him. Remember, this is the man who produced an entire womenswear collection informed by the style of his friend Kim Kardashian. It’s this constant dialogue between designer and wearer that has contributed to the booming popularity of his label. It’s also, somewhat unexpectedly, what links him most to the original Balmain - a man who surrounded himself with the icons and jet-setters of his age and designed wares to suit their lifestyles. The great couturiers have always had a close relationship with the women and men who buy their clothes - their clientele are friends. Many in the fashion pack dislike the kind of figures Balmain appeals to - favouring labels with no such ‘army’ or ‘community’. But to stay relevant brands need to get out and explore the world, find the people who like their work and speak to them. That's what rising stars like Gosha Rubchinskiy do - aptly just minutes after the Balmain show he had a book signing where teenage fans and skater kids queued and jostled for a chat with their hero. Rubchinskiy’s aesthetic may be worlds away from Rousteing’s but their approach is similar - they create a cult around them, draw on it and give back to it.
No one can convincingly argue that Rousteing isn’t a revolutionary designer - sure his clothes may be referential to traditional ideas of luxury and established gender norms, but the type of beauty he champions is new. Well, new to fashion. He embraces the changing world order. This interest in diversity informed the many shout-outs to the dress styles of different cultures and ethnicities. Long-line sweaters, tunics and ponchos for men, and the many body-covering yet glamorous gowns for women, will appeal to Arab and African audiences.
As the models walked, lines of Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now sounded. How appropriate. Rousteing may not be shaping the future of design, or innovating when it comes to how we see fashion and luxury, but he’s catering to the here and now better than anyone else.