paris fashion week: balmain
(images via style)
wow. wow, wow, wow. okay, so this was just…unfortunate. while i’m going to start off this review with the image of my favourite (and one of the few, in my opinion, um, ‘workable’) looks at the paris s/s 2013 balmain show, the harlequin catsuit anna selezneva modeled, which felt something of a takeoff on the recent fabrege egg collection, i’m going to place below it the cement-shouldered (seriously, were they sculpted with metal or concrete in there for the most exaggeration possible?) jumpsuit (again, in my opinion, monstrosity) poor aymeline valade probably didn’t get paid enough to have to sport. just for comparison. yes, this is what the prestige-pricing house is up to for spring. i’ll pause here while you get your bearings.
now then. i’ll admit that i usually, though i do try to offer a sampling of what the house is showing for a particular season, try to include some of my personal favourite looks in an offering (after all, this job has to have a few perks). and, like, here, there were a couple (liu wen’s white-and-sheer dress, above, kasia struss’ webby blue-and-yellow number, at bottom, and maybe—at a stretch—even kati nescher’s harlequin-ed slim trousers, below), but most of the time, i found myself taking the guilty pleasure of picking out the most unfortunate—outlandishly outre, i thought, like pieces one might scout at a thrift store for halloween costumes—exits on the block.
and if ms. valade’s jumpsuit was amongst those, i also had a really hard time with, among others, all of the yellow-and-black and denim looks (particularly bette franke’s trousers which practically grazed her nipples they were so high, all the while scraping the first layer of dead cells off her skin they were so tight and the checkerboard dress slit to anna selezneva’s navel all the while broadening her shoulders to frankensteinian proportions, at fifth from bottom). but! please don’t say it. i know what’s coming: ‘are you a little biased against the label, having slammed them pretty liberally in the past?’
the short answer would be: yes. i know in the past, when opt has discussed the label, i’ve given some harshness, though on the other hand, i do believe i’ve been fair when they occasioned to show something new, different, or groundbreaking in some way (check the archives; see a/w 2010, s/s 2011, a/w 2011, resort 2012, s/s 2012, a/w 2012), but on the other hand, no, balmain hasn’t been one of my favourites (though i’d argue that i really, really try to keep an open mind each season, and if i haven’t been overtly impressed, that tends to be because i’ve felt the designers have rested too long on their laurels, charged exorbitant prices that their innovation doesn’t really warrant, and gotten away with it all simply because the fashionies looove balmain aficionados emmanuelle alt and beyonce).
but this is why opt has long included the opinions of critics in its reviews, no? in this way, i’ve attempted to show that one person’s perspective doesn’t necessarily hold as a rule, and that all of our thoughts are valid in their way, and that just because this is my site, doesn’t make me right. it just means you hear my opinion as one of many. and so, this time the washington post explained that designer olivier rousteing “cited among his influences ‘Latin cool,’ the singer Sade, and street rap from the 1990s — but the 3-D woven straw evoked a baroque mood. That feeling was also evoked by lavish diamond checkerboard patterns — a replica of the polished marble flooring of the Versailles Palace.”
and before we go on with the critics’ thoughts, i just wanted to point out for a moment here (and i’m really interested to see whether they’ll do the fashionie thing, liking it because it’s fanciful, a big name, and all the rest) that i usually take exceptionally well to more conceptual looks. my problem here is not only that the clothes, in most cases, once again looked cut to suit only the models, but that i just don’t see much ‘real world’ vision here. rather, the pieces exhibited a certain craftsmanship that we could appreciate on the art level, but they were once again rooted in the eighties, a decade i think we’ve been ready to leave behind for some time (not balmain, though!), and often particuarly costume-y, at that.
in other words, the ideas no longer felt fresh, but rather than re-checking them, it kind of felt like mr. rousteing just doubled-down, making the shoulders bigger, the silhouettes sexier…but really…really, really? do you see this working on the street, even in the more avant-y cities? but i’m going on too long. us vogue, on the other hand, salivated that “the Balmain collection must always have skinny jeans. This one filled the bill, showing them with long jackets woven raffia and cane, business as usual. The new tailored pants, though—fluid and high-waisted, tapering slightly into cuffs and cut at a length to show the foot and shoe to perfection—revealed a rare, flattering mastery that will magnetize a much bigger public to Balmain. Rousteing reiterated them in many ways and fabrics: solid black or white, striped, in leather, in denim, and each time they looked more desirable, more definitive. Any woman can see you’re free to wear them with a cropped top—or not. This boy is good.” kay, then.
and so did fashion wire daily yelp with delight, writing that “(m)edieval lady knights marched up and down the catwalk, clad in spun gold armor; two-tone gentile rockstars simmered in black and white redingotes; femme fatales emoted in micro check harlequin jumpsuits. The sheer technical audacity was pretty awesome - from finely spun jacquard guipure tunics that looked like malleable stucco to a divine screen goddess Prussian blue mini cocktail exploding with crystals. Balmain’s designer is also a great cutter - his hyper wide shouldered, square gorged jackets and forgiving, nipped at the ankle pants were flawless…Rousteing within just two seasons is already in a league of his own.” .
on the other hand, though, wwd appeared to understand the opt perspective on the issue: “While there is no denying that the young designer’s workmanship was exquisite, i.e. the crystal beading on jackets and the elaborate basket weaves for minidresses, it often left heads spinning. Rousteing amped up the volume for many looks. Some, like the boxy jackets and dresses, had an awkward fit. Then there was the recurring harlequin motif, sometimes bedazzled in crystals. It had limited range, unless a woman is thinking of auditioning for the Ringling Bros. Even then, the job’s not in the bag.” just…exactly!
similarly, style offered that “there’s still a lot of power in those power suits, and there’s absolutely no arguing with the persuasive appeal of a simple skin-baring black leather bandeau and miniskirt. What tripped him up here was twofold. To start, he could’ve shaved an inch or two off those shoulders—they would’ve read as more modern. And for another thing, the embellishment factor was a factor too high. Some of the dresses didn’t look all that different from the Cuban chairs that inspired them. Rousteing’s exuberance is hard to fault. But he was on to something with those simpler leather and denim pieces. A little less couture aspiration and a little more cool would be a good place to start next season.”
while the iht’s suzy menkes was back to impressed, however, the telegraph offered perhaps the best thoughts—and an insight from a another writer—of the day: “Techniques certainly shines through…The quality of these clothes is unmistakably superlative. But the moment for that 80s silhouette has passed. The few women in the audience wearing previous seasons Balmain looked as though they were on lunch breaks from a Michael Jackson tribute rehearsal. Not even Rousteing’s new peg-leg, high waisted trouser could refresh this particular page…[another editor] agreed. ‘Some of our readers will wear it but only because it looks expensive and…because they like labels no one’s heard of’.” where are all those kids come ukrainian fashion week, though i wonder? but i lovelovelove the rest of it. word to that.
finally, though, uk vogue tried to be generous in informing us that “(t)here were jewelled-up-to-the-nines creations as well - short and strewn with silverware and textured paisley designs. They were blue and yellow and certainly commanded attention - though at times not necessarily the right kind. More successful among the collection, though, were the denim pieces - shirts and jackets which were desirable and wearable, something that at times couldn’t be said necessarily of everything else.” now, i’m sure we’ll see this collection a lot of magazines come spring. but i have a hard time envisioning beyond a few brand devotees and editors these pieces will have much of a life or impact. that’s just me, though. in the end, you get to decide for yourself.
(see the full, edited show video here)