It was on September 28, 2011, that a 25-year-old nobody named Olivier Rousteing took his first bow for Balmain. Would image someone who looked like [him] could lead a Parisian couture house.” So said Beyoncé in her (prerecorded) opening message for Rousteing’s 10th-anniversary show tonight. She was right, and how wrong they were.
Balmain Spring/Summer 22 Fashion Show
For his first few years, Rousteing was repeatedly dismissed as Fantasy Island or vulgar or trashy, and in retrospect, the unconscious subtext is both clear and damning. This rightly vexed him. He worked twice as hard. But when in 2016 or so, five years in, Rousteing—the first Black person to lead a historic French house—matured within himself enough to view these “haters”’ barbs not as wounds but as badges of honour and scars of the right fight (bring it on!), and he gained a street fashion creed. Which gave him the kryptonite to keep pushing.
This season he brought all the girls to the yard for an MTVesque fashion week jam. But this time it was 6,000 people—real people, not fashion people—screaming as Rousteing took his bow at the end of this show. They screamed almost as loudly when Beyoncé started speaking, and almost as loudly again when Naomi Campbell walked in the first of a 12-or-so-look archive-based capsule we saw at the end, derived from Rousteing’s favourite and most effective pieces from his past decade at the label.
The Rise of Oliver Rousteing as Fashion Icon
Fascinatingly they also screamed with extra gusto at the collection (intoxicatingly Saulted by Michel Gaubert). It was celebratory when Precious Lee and Alva Claire—two models whose bodies are greater than conventional fashion’s spurious sample-size limitations—walked the runway. As the comments under newspaper fashion stories demonstrate, real people recoil at fashion’s super-skinny fetish, and rightly so. Or as Rousteing said: “I’m glad you heard them scream too. I think that this shows that the fashion industry is sometimes too late to understand that this is the new world. And that it is beautiful to show reality and difference, and leave the standard that we have been brought up to understand is fashion.”
The show had such an enormous audience because it was presented as the heart of a two-day Balmain-run music festival—Doja Cat was on immediately after the clothes before Franz Ferdinand finished the evening. With respect to the other houses in Paris trying bombastically to flex their bombast, this democratic display of openness was pretty hard to top.
The collection we saw was ready-to-wear for women and men, a prelude to that special archival section, opened by Naomi Campbell and closed by Carla Bruni, before Rousteing’s raucous bow.
The collection was celebratory, but, as ever with Rousteing, also honest. Honestly, it was one of my favourite collections by the house. It was modern, futuristic, with many must-have pieces. The final few dresses of the ready-to-wear section reflected another recent Rousteing truth: Durin Bravo Monsieur Rousteing
Celebrating the last decade with @olivier_rousteing and looking forward to the next one. For #BALMAINSS22, Creative Director @olivier_rousteing presents perhaps his most personal offering to date. Marking his 10 year anniversary, the emotional presentation resonates as a celebration of beauty in all its forms and Balmain’s iconic savoir-faire, but also of healing and renewal, ushering in a new era. A sensation, of course, reinforced by the general public being invited to join in the celebration and watch the show live at the #BALMAINFESTIVAL V02, dedicated to supporting @red in the fight against pandemics.