Olivier Rousteing Balmain Runway Show

Somewhere in Las Vegas there is an imaginary motel with faded flowered wallpaper and white leather sofa in the lobby. Maybe Elvis is in one of those seedy rooms upstairs, putting on his studded cape and getting ready for a night on the town! Olivier Rousteing, the designer at Balmain, who had his first catwalk show in Paris in September 2011, is the author of the above scenario, a fantasy that says inspired this collection.

Though he has never actually been to Vegas, Rousteing insist that, say, an abbreviated embroidered floral dress, each blossom brandishing a tiny, exquisite chain, and a white-and-gold leather jacket modeled on a classic Perfecto and dripping crystal fringe, and a pair of pale denim trousers enhanced with bleached baroque tracery, are informed by this reverie.

“It’s my dream of Vegas–the softness, blue skies, pastel colors, Elvis in his golden years! I love androgyny, the idea of rock stars with super glamorous feminine clothes for the stage,” Rousteing elaborates. “But I made tailleurs instead of Elvis jumpsuits. It’s another way of evening life, a pajama feeling, almost a kind of jogging outfit, for a girl who doesn’t want to have to wear a dress.”

She might not want to wear a dress, but maybe, in these staggeringly uncertain times, she doesn’t particularly want to spend $5,000 on tattered-to-death pair of jeans, either.

Rousteing offers a cleaned-up, grown-up interpretation of Balmainia, first promulgated by his immediate predecessor, Christophe Decarnin–a syndrome whose symptoms include a desire to don a wildly expensive pair of overly embellished, ripped-up denims, topped with an amazingly pricey, sometimes seriously destroyed tee.

Rousteing takes this signature, young and sexy still, to be sure, and refines it, using the most beautiful materials, adding the most exquisite couture flourishes, without losing the rock cred that lies at the heart of the brand’s appeal.

To this end the designer delved into the archives, not just examining Decarnin’s work but also looking at the other masters who have worked at the house Pierre Balmain himself, of course, but also Oscar de la Renta, who was responsible for Balmain couture from 1993 to 2002.

If de la Renta seems miles away from Rousteing, today accoutred in artfully cut black leather pants and a pair of biker boots decorated with silver bulls’ head (“I’m all about bulls and fringe this season!” the designer confesses cheerfully), you have only to look beneath the surface to find pronounced similarities.

Like de la Renta and M. Balmain before him, Rousteing says he is committed to “taking the heritage of the couture, the techniques, the embroidery, the tailoring.”

But he is also extremely conscious of price and intends to include in every collection a black tuxedo jacket, and a pant and a cotton shirt that are more accessible to a customer whom he calls “the real girl in the street. It’s important for me to not to have everything cost $10,000. Those pieces are my babies, but I want to offer their quieter brothers and sister, too.”

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