THE ROUSTEING ERA : THE KEY RUNWAYS
SEASON 2, EPISODE 2 :
FALL 2012 : THE FABERGE COLLECTION
“Looking back at this collection, after ten years… well, honestly, it’s more than a little emotional for me.
This collection began after a chance exposure to a rare and beautiful creation, during my first trip to New York. That was a very special trip for me, when I discovered “The Big Apple” for the first time. I still remember how every day during that trip I truly felt like a little kid—filled with so much joy—as I discovered new worlds and new beauty.
While I was in the city, I went to an auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry at Christie's. And that’s when I spotted it: that incredible Faberge egg. It was actually a gift that Richard Burton had once given Elizabeth Taylor. And when I saw that egg, I knew right then, right there, that I was going to build an entire collection around it. I was fascinated by its beauty. There were all those pearls.
That smooth gold. Incredible precious stones. And… somehow… there was so much sleek minimalism and over-the-top maximalism at the same time.
So, when I returned to Paris, after that incredible first exposure to New York, I immediately set to work with my team, sketching out this collection. I loved the idea of bringing something so traditional, so baroque and so rich to the runway—while all the offerings were given such sharp cuts and a thoroughly modern attitude. The Balmain atelier came through, perfecting, (as only they can), all those pearls, all that amazing embroidery, the complicated weavings and detailed cross-stitching… while, at the same time, ensuring that the house’s signature tailoring really stood out on the runway. Ten year later, a key look from this collection was one of the strongest re-editions of our retrospective runway presentation—worn by Carla Bruni during the last September’s Balmain Festival. And just a few weeks ago, we created a one-of-a-kind design, based on that same look, for Lil Nas X’s incredible red-carpet moment at this year’s Grammy Awards.”
A RETROSPECTIVE LOOK, TEN YEARS LATER
Recently, one of the key looks from that Faberge collection formed part of a retrospective moment, celebrating Olivier Rousteing’s ten years as Balmain creative director. On the runway during last September’s Balmain Festival, the re-edition of the now-iconic 2012 Faberge design was worn by Carla Bruni.
A SPECIAL LIL NAS X EDITION
“For this Grammy red-carpet moment, we looked, once again, back to Balmain Fall 2012 collection, adapting the same 2012 look that we recently highlighted during the Balmain Festival’s retrospective for a perfect award-show entrance. Montero’s white jacket, pants and shoes definitely channeled that same ornate, baroque richness. For a final crowning touch, our atelier’s artisans embroidered a new butterfly image, reflecting the key symbol and central message of the Montero album.”
SPRING 2016 : LES AVENTURIERS
“This was my first menswear runway for Balmain and, as we designed it, my team and I were beyond excited about the many new possibilities and challenges that lay ahead. So, it seemed so very right that this collection look to the great explorers and adventurers of the early twentieth century for inspiration.
The modern mindset, unique style and thrilling exploits of these “aventuriers” has always appealed to me—for those scientists and aristocrats were so unlike the generations of imperialists that had come before them. Instead of glory, conquest and territories, these were men seeking new understandings and experiences. Above all, they were thrilled by the many as-yet-unknowns that lay ahead.
During their epic journeys, these men notably melded the styles of distinct cultures to create a truly adaptive wardrobe. So, just as they once did, this 2016 collection looked to a host of influences. The tactile suedes, cottons and leathers reflected the cleansing, neutral tones of the desert—that abstractly beautiful landscape that held such allure for these great explorers. Above all, there was the recognizable style and outlook of the Balmain Army—and it was perfectly complemented by the expert craftsmanship that only a true Parisian house can produce.”
SPRING 2018 : BALMAIN AT THE OPERA
Just like Pierre Balmain, Olivier Rousteing began dreaming of moving to the French capital at a very young age. And when Rousteing decided to show his Spring 2018 collection at the opulent Opera Garnier, revisiting the dazzling interior brought back a flood of memories—for it was precisely at that location, during a family trip to Paris two decades early, when the designer first began dreaming of moving to the city and working there as a designer.
To mark the moment, Rousteing decided to write a letter to his younger self—the Olivier Rousteing of 22 years earlier:
“This sense of awe that you’re feeling, as you walk into Garnier’s dazzling opera house, won’t be just a one-time thing. Of course, the intensity will diminish over the years, but I can tell you—twenty-two years after this moment—that this same émerveillement will hit you every time you return. Yes, right now you might just be a ten-year-old kid from the provinces , wrapping up your first visit to the capital with a night at the Opera, but this is destined to become a guiding memory for you, crystalizing into another symbol of the future that you dream about — just like those music posters plastered across your bedroom walls and all those fashion editorials you keep tearing out of magazines.
And, from where I am now, I know one thing: dreams like yours sometimes actually do come true. You are going to return to Paris to design for a historic house. You are going to work with those same supermodels that now blow you away. You are going to meld your designs with the creations of musicians who inspire you. And, yes, you are going to return to this singular space—several times, actually. Half of me wishes that I could go back in time, to tell you all of that. But the other half knows—as tired as it might be to repeat that old cliché—that life’s real richness actually does come from undertaking the journey.”
BALMAIN SPRING 2018
SPRING 2019 : BALMAIN COUTURE, REBORN
“As I began my preparations for this, my first Balmain Couture show, I pored through the house’s archives. And—as no-one will be surprised to hear—I was once again blown away by the impressive legacy that Monsieur Balmain has left behind for us: decade after decade of impressively intricate details, always-impeccable tailoring and wonderfully imaginative sculptural shapes. From the moment that I started to channel our founder’s spirit into my first sketches, I began to see this collection as both a homage to his work and as a sort of conversation between me and Pierre Balmain.
And that conversation kept returning to one central question: “what is couture in the 21st Century?”
First of all, couture can be a very welcome break from the daily hype, trends and commercial pressures of designing several ready-to-wear collections each year. Working on a couture collection allows a designer the immense luxury of stepping back for a minute—a rare chance to clear one’s mind, dream and revel in a moment of unfettered creativity. While the outside fashion world might have remained obsessed on sportswear, streetwear and sales, my all-too-brief couture escape let me momentarily swim against that current, thinking only about dreams, beauty and aspirations.
Yes, couture does remain as exclusive as it has always been—a luxury far beyond the reach of most. For example, this collection relied on more than a million Swarovski crystal pearls, stones and beads for the intricate embroideries end embellishments. We also partnered with some of the world’s most talented artisans for the one-of-a-kind accessories. But, by pushing myself, my team and our atelier to the very limit to create these aspirational designs, I knew that Balmain would be able to learn from these experiments, lessons and innovations. That is the great strength and incredible heritage of couture and why so many of Paris great houses have traditionally relied on the rigors of couture to advance the designs of all collections.
Finally, as I believe our presentation made very clear, couture can be very much of today. While relying on the atelier’s strengths of traditional craftsmanship, tailoring and artisans, I also tried to bring the mindset of my generation into the offering. Graffiti-inspired patterns, modern takes on tailoring and mixes of denim with luxury fabrics and ornaments formed part of the conversation. Another modern addition was the then-rare possibility of livestreaming the collection, bringing one small touch of democratization into the rarified world of couture.”
SPRING 2019 : EGYPT IN PARIS
“Yes, I do enjoy pushing envelopes, thinking a bit outside the box, and saying exactly what I feel to anyone who cares to listen. But, at the same time, I’ve always believed that it’s important to have mastered the rules before you attempt to bend or break them.
For this collection, my team and I focused on why Paris, the last stop on the Fashion Week circuit, remains so distinct from the others. It’s not the runway’s styling, music and celebs that make Paris fashion so incredibly inspiring. We believe that it’s our incomparable heritage of couture and its high standards of tailoring, intricate sculpting and embellishment that distinguishes us. Of course, those unique ingredients are key elements of this house’s DNA—with each collection we make very clear what a combination of savoir-faire and a Parisian atelier can make possible.
And it’s precisely that mastery and tradition that allows us the incredible freedom to deconstruct, shake things up and bend the rules a bit. While continuing to respect the standards, techniques and skills that this house has long mastered, for Spring 2019, my team and I played with cuts and tailoring, creating new silhouettes and styles that reflect the way my generation wants to dress today.
Just as we payed homage to the singular origins of Parisian fashion, we also riffed on the origins of modern-day Paris—and, actually, modern civilization itself. My fascination with the impressive obelisks, pyramids and columns that date from Napoleon’s campaigns and adorn this city’s most iconic public spaces was reflected in this collection’s many references to Egypt. The feel of ancient papyrus and linens found an echo in our denim and tweed offerings, while prints and treatments played with the distinctive looks of aged plaster and sharp hieroglyphs. And, just like I. M. Pei, we turned to modern materials, including glass and metal, to give an updated twist on the Egyptians’ impressive geometry.”
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FALL 2020 : CRACKING THE CODES
“As a child “né sous x”—a French orphan who does not know his own origins—I grew up obsessed with questions regarding heritage, race, belonging and fitting in. And that didn’t make my childhood any easier for me. Growing up in Bordeaux, perhaps the most bourgeois city in all of France, I learned from an early age that certain classes, clubs and cliques were closed off to someone who looked like me—and I spent countless hours dreaming and scheming about how I could cross over, open doors and be accepted.
It’s inevitable that the time and effort dedicated to my recent search for answers—reflected in the documentary “Wonder Boy”—have had an influence on my designs. The Balmain Fall 2020 runway made that very clear.
Many of the codes of a world that was once beyond my reach formed key parts of that collection, including classic equestrian styles, harlequin patterns, and silk-scarf motifs. Both the mix of colors (an abundance of cognacs and deep blues) and the rich fabrics (silks and cashmeres) are associated with a rarefied world of old money, privilege, and wealth.
But paradoxically, this collection took those symbols of upper-class exclusion and twisted them to turn the focus on a wider and no-longer closed-off world—one of open doors and open minds. My team and I subverted the old and restricting class codes of previous generations, rethinking and modernizing them, in order to offer something fresh and very much of today—an array of designs open to all, reflecting the inclusive values of today’s Balmain and the beautiful diversity of a truly modern France.
Those who have seen “Wonder Boy” already know what I have learned about my origins. And now, knowing that I am half-Ethiopian, half-Somali and 100% French, I realize that my search for answers about my past has helped make it clear to me just how happy I am to be living in this present, in this Paris of new possibilities, fewer boundaries and more inclusion. My runway today celebrated this—and our hopes for an always improving, more open world.”
SPRING 2021 : LE JARDIN DES PLANTES
“Preparing for a runway has never been a simple undertaking. And—as you can imagine—2020’s added concerns, limitations and requirements did not make our planning any easier! So, to best tackle the task, we tried to make sure to always keep our goals clear. From the very beginning, when my team and I first started discussing Spring 2021 runway over countless video-conference calls made during the many long weeks of our confinement, we’ve kept our focus trained on just two basic truths:
1: We believe that fashion is best experienced when presented live.
2: We know that a shared experience is crucial for our fashion community.
Of course, the pandemic’s new realities and the many health restrictions made honoring those principles more than a little difficult—but in both French and English, we share an overused phrase: “la nécessité est la mère de l'invention” (“necessity is the mother of invention”)—and our planning process for that runway helped to prove that tired clichés like that one can actually sometimes actually ring very true.
We designed the evening’s show as a special multi-part presentation, concentrating on three essential themes for this house: heritage, community and optimism.”
Typically, a runway is finished when the designer walks out on the catwalk to wave a final good-bye to those attending the show. But for this show, the presentation actually began when Olivier Rousteing seated himself on a chair in the middle of the wide stage. Around him slowly meandered Amalia, Axelle, Barbara, CharloUe, Sonia and Violeta—six models that Paris’ fashion cognoscenti remembered well from glory days of past decades. Each wore a modern reinterpretation of an archive piece, covered with a graphic take on the house’s recently re-introduced Labyrinth pattern. Rousteing partnered with the talented fashion historian Olivier Saillard in order to recreate the unique ambiance of the haute-couture salon presentations that took place during the early years of Pierre Balmain. Rousteing and Saillard had decided on this nostalgic ambiance, complete with an audio of recorded quotes in English and French from Pierre Balmain, to highlight one of the central themes of the night: heritage.
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“We’ve all learned a lot about ourselves over the past few years. Being forced apart taught us just how much we actually depend on being together. And, in particular, the fashion world has re-learned that design works best when there is a constant dialogue, an exchange of ideas and shared experiences—and we were forced to find new ways to make that happen during COVID. Of course, we were disappointed that so many of our friends, partners and colleagues could not be here in Paris with us when we showed this collection. So, just as we did so often during lockdown, we turned to technology to try to do the best that we could. Our partner, LG, provided us with the dozens of enormous screens, which occupied the first three rows of the show seating. Because of that help, we were able to transport to Paris fashion week some of those who had been kept far away from us (well, at least for one show, anyway!).”
“Just like the runway, many of the evening’s designs clearly reflected a new reality. After spending so many months working from home, seated at our kitchen tables during conference calls, it definitely did not seem all that surprising to see a silhouette that included a tailored DB jacket paired with biker’s shorts, did it? Beyond that, our collection, with its abundance of knitwear, offered a multitude of comfortable looks for day. But, more than anything, this was very much a Balmain offering, filled with designs that could effortlessly transition to evening. Our atelier’s skilled tailoring was easily spotted, with strong pagoda shoulders, elongated jackets and long, lean flares. Overall, the spirit was cross-generational and cross-cultural, as the men’s and women’s mix of strong silhouettes, vivid fluorescent tones, and distinct treatments of our sustainable denim recalled both a ‘70s Saint Germain and a ‘90s Brooklyn.
I was awed by the incredible work of our artisans, who embroidered almost two million dazzling Swarovski crystals (many of them upcycled) into the stunning embellishments sparkling on that night’s runway. In particular, many of the different interpretations of the house’s Labyrinth pattern relied on crystals—which seems to be altogether fitting for a show highlighting heritage, since my team and I were well aware of Pierre Balmain’s masterful use of Swarovski crystals for some of his most impressive creations.”
“Our final message of the night was one of undeterred confidence in better days ahead. This house, as I often repeat, has optimism and audacity built into its DNA. We never forget that 75 years ago, Pierre Balmain was willing to take a daring bet—after years of war, occupation and suffering, he was ready to set out and found his own house during an unstable time of shortages, outages and worries, immediately after France’s liberation. He was young, daring and convinced that better days were ahead. And his energy, audaciousness and optimism helped ensure that this house was one of the forces that helped restore Paris to its position as the fashion world’s capital.
Perhaps my own optimism could be seen as a reflection of my personal history—after all, it was not too long ago that someone like me was never meant to end up in the position that I occupy today. Change happens. Advancements may require determined engagement, but progress is always possible.”
FALL 2021 : AIR BALMAIN
“75 years ago, after the incredible triumph of his house’s first couture presentation, what did Pierre Balmain do?
He packed up his bags and started traveling.
He jetted off to America, not to talk about collections, but instead, following the directive of his friend Gertrude Stein, to act as a roving ambassador, criss-crossing the entire United States to deliver lectures on French culture and savoir-faire. He also jumped across the Channel, transporting his fresh new feminine take on couture to London, six years after the war had abruptly put an end to all imports of Parisian fashion. And, after an eight-day, multi-stop series of flights across half the globe, he touched down in Australia, bringing news of his “New French Style” to Down Under (and, of course, making sure to include a visit to the Sydney suburb of Balmain).
Now, post-2020, it’s a whole lot easier for all of us to appreciate just how exciting those trips must have been for Pierre Balmain. After the anxious years of war and occupation, he was suddenly being offered the long-denied possibility of escaping to destinations that he had been dreaming about for years—and it must have felt incredible.
In March 2021, our video runway aimed to channel that amazing sensation of freedom. We highlighted the impressive power of travel to open minds, uplift spirits and reunite those who have been kept apart, as we all looked forward to soon-to-arrive better days.”
THE FALL 2021 COLLECTION
Many of our designs riffed on the distinctive beauty found in the uniforms of early pilots and astronauts, with takes on parachute dresses, lace-up flight boots, bomber jackets and shimmering anti-G jumpsuits. One particularly striking design relied on almost 70,000 upcycled Swarovski crystals, making very clear our atelier’s success in mixing luxury embellishments with these aviator inspirations.
As you’d expect, accessories formed an important part of this collection—exactly as they do in actual trips—with a wide range of new offerings from the house. The many soft and structured carry-ons were covered with a dazzling array of color and fabric plays on Balmain’s recently relaunched Labyrinth print, and there were many clever takes on bags that looked to compasses, paper airplanes and even travel neck pillows for inspiration.
And I’m sure that you’ll notice the attitude… Balmain is Parisian, so there’s always a touch of this city’s signature insouciance in every one of our designs—but Fall 2021’s referencing of the daring audaciousness of flight pioneers seemed to have somehow magnified that familiar spirit.
Photo Credits:Getty Images
Credits :Balmain Creative Director: Olivier Rousteing
- Episode Direction and Production: Seb Lascoux
- Balmain Historian: Julia Guillon
- Episode Coordination: Jeremy Mace
- Webpage Layout and Coordination: Léa Bouyssou
- Episode researched, written and presented by John Gilligan
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