“It’s luxury, but it’s definitely not quiet.” That’s how Olivier Rousteing summed up Balmain’s fall men’s collection, with its riot of bright color, figurative prints and polka dots, metallic gleam and couture-caliber embellishments.
He opened the display with an overcoat paved in pea-size crystals that portrayed two eyes, a nose and red lips. Rousteing explained the face belonged to no one, generated by AI, and then made a painful expression when asked how the crystals were gradient-colored to achieve the effect. For now, it’s a mystery belonging to Balmain’s formidable atelier.
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After nearly 13 years at the creative helm of the house, Rousteing keeps finding new missions for himself, the latest being to apply to menswear the same level of intensive craft and freewheeling expression seen in women’s fashion, and to build bridges between Paris and Africa. (The designer is of Somalian-Ethiopian descent, and was raised in Bordeaux by his adoptive parents before pursuing fashion studies in the French capital.)
Rousteing characterized Balmain’s return to a dedicated men’s show after four years of coed displays as a “rebirth,” with him freely borrowing ideas from the women’s archive of Pierre Balmain, referencing the arsenal of codes he’s introduced, tailoring being primordial, and following his own fashion instincts.
“A man that is joyful, that is confident, that is not scared of being judged, a man that is feeling free,” he enthused.
There were no skirts, corsets or pussy-bow blouses. Rather, the freedom that women enjoy in fashion was expressed with daring color clashes, lavish embellishments and bold jewelry, including a surfeit of bangles and armbands, some resembling grills.
Lips repeated as a key motif, red kisses planted at chest level on a white shirt and tie, or all over a roomy black suit. Eyes, some with 3D gold eyelashes, winked from skintight turtlenecks, or came whorled miraculously into draped cashmere coats.
Then people appeared on the clothes, including an archival jacket fronted with two profiles piped in white, echoing the gold wire face jewelry that bifurcated many of the models’ heads.
Rousteing collaborated with two artists, Prince Gyasi from Ghana, and Ibby Njoya, who hails from Cameroon, which brought African faces and visual verve to tailored jackets, blousons and accessories.
The designer likes to call his daringly dressed dandies “the new princes of the world,” and they indeed looked the money toting gleaming gold briefcases, and walking on shiny brogues with heels trimmed in gold.
During a backstage briefing, Rousteing seemed to preemptively steel himself against criticism, acknowledging his long track record of bucking trends, and doing his own thing. Indeed, he even contradicted himself, in a winking fashion, by conscripting Naomi Campbell to close his show wearing the ultimate symbol of quiet luxury, a beige cashmere coat.
“I don’t think we should base the world on whether we are quiet or not. I think we need to base our world on what we believe,” he said. “I don’t think it’s important today to be part of a trend. It’s important to be yourself.”
Launch Gallery: Balmain Men’s Fall 2024
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