paris fashion week: balmain
(images via ny mag)
i’ve had a long and complicated history with the house of balmain (see f/w 2010, s/s 2011, f/w 2011, resort 2012), not the least because, in spite of my aversion to the ‘prestige pricing’ and, ahem, ‘artful’ knockoffs of poor street youth culture (jazzed up for the very rich and the likes of beyonce), with the desperate, grasping, and unrequited love most fashionies heap upon the house, i’ve tried to understand those feelings. and okay, it hasn’t really been a success, but perhaps you know why. and since the last show back in march, the s/s 2012 range was the first runway (though the resort collection was the first designed) presented by the new cd, 26-year-old (yeah, you read that right) olivier rousteing.
but before we go into full-blown analysis mode, a bit of background might be necessary. like the resort range put out this past summer, mr. rousteing kept with the las vegas theme-ology. however, unlike that show, with elvis looming large in the background, the designer opted for a mexican undertone. as suzy menkes of the iht writes, “‘I wanted Las Vegas and Mexican bullfighting,’ Mr. Rousteing said, ‘but I also looked at the embroideries of Pierre Balmain and Oscar de la Renta,’ who previously designed for the house. He meant he wanted to be a picador with the house’s heritage rather than just aiming for the heart of the nouveau riche.”
what that meant for us was a lot less of the bedraggled, eighties punker girl the house’s former designer, christophe decarnin both reinvigorated it with and set as its recognizable signature. but all the same, it didn’t mean that mr. rousteing had suddenly reinvented the aesthetic mr. decarnin honed so well—only that he glammed it up quite a bit more than in seasons past (and resort was a good indication of where he’s likely to go). that, and homeboy loves his metallics every bit as much as the former creative director did.
and the raves, of course, poured in. “Close up, even the pale denim turned out to be printed with faded baroque curliques, while the white jeans were a construct of embossed cotton and white snakeskin. As for the geometric, chevroned gold beading smothering bejeweled fringed jackets and tiny dresses? It was not just executed with a knowledgeable hand, but also perfectly in sync with this summer’s feeling for Deco. In all? It was continuity, but with a fresh energy and sense of ambition. Watching it, you felt that, for the first time in many years, a new, young Parisian point of view could be on the rise here, one with a dedicated, precocious skill acquired by working behind the scenes,” enthused vogue.
meanwhile, ms. menkes sappily declared that “Mr. Rousteing proved his weight in the gold he scattered so liberally on the collection,” and the wsj cheered that “(t)oreador jackets, tight leather pants and beaded tunics were pure ‘Balmain,’ which is to say, sexy, wildly embellished with metallic details, and impossibly expensive…The well-done jackets and suits are smart enough to appeal to the sort of women who can afford them. The rest of us will be seeing this collection in magazines.” (okay, at least they infused their short write-up with a dose of reality.)
wwd, swimming just the same, wrote that “Rousteing also suggested a wider fashion vocabulary for his Balmain, parading some sweeping button-front skirts in pale denim, and loose leather pants he playfully called “joggings.” The designer didn’t travel to Nevada for inspiration, instead researching Nudie Cohn, who created stage costumes for country-and-western performers in the Sixties. Besides channeling the obvious glitz of casinos, Rousteing also referenced less glamorous Vegas surfaces: motel wallpaper patterns worked into in white cloqué jeans and blazers; tattered floral bedspreads worked into sexy minidresses, the flowers sprouting gold chains at their stamens.”
many reviews, though, with style’s among them, rather surprisingly took the route of describing the label’s history over the past year, in lieu of forming too many strong opinions about the clothes themselves. “there was a new softness to a wallpaper-floral motif rendered in pastel silk embroidery on an hourglass dress, one that was echoed in the baby blue and white print of the opening trousers,” the former remarked quickly at one point, before getting back into the politics of the matter. they seemed rather cautiously optimistic, as though dismissing the house wasn’t an option, but they’d rather avoid passing too much judgement until the profits for the season were in.
and i guess that’s what really leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth. as much as anything else, fashion has become all about the money a brand makes, leaving even the critics to respect it when the sales come rollin’ in—whether they’d formerly dismissed it or no (frida giannini at gucci being a prime example). in terms of actual contribution to the high fashion world, i’m not sure balmain has really produced anything of value since mr. decarnin’s first moves in this direction, but for many seasons after, both he, and now his protege, mr. rousteing, have tread water over the successful formula developed. worthy of our business-savvy respect? yeah, okay. but for its contribution to the art-fashion world. i’m holding out with a ‘not so much’. i’d love to see what everyone sees in balmain, to learn to appreciate it. but first, i think, these designers need to put in the work to show me it’s warranted.
(see the complete, edited show video here)