Balmain: Be Buoyant

Olivier Rousteing takes a short cruise down the Seine


Balmain haute couture Jul 2020 P1

Typical of Olivier Rousteing, Balmain’s haute couture presentation was a rousing affair. His love of models is well known, so no sketches or tailor dummies for him. Rather, real, in-the-flesh boys and girls, and good-looking dancers, prancing on a barge that cruises down the Seine, passing some of the 4th arrondissement’s famous landmarks. The models walk the length of the barge, with Mr Rousteing among them, adjusting the gowns to flow nicely, all the better for the photographers to capture the couture above the currents. French high fashion has probably never seen such lively riparian entertainment.

While many designers, this season, have resigned to the fact that a fashion show as we know it is not, for now, possible (Alexis Mabille created a boxed-up runway, as if hoarding off potential spectators), Mr Rousteing took to the heart of Paris and set up, in the open, an eye-catching floating runway (the action spilled onto the riverbank too, with dancers stirring up a carnival mood). Relevance in check, he had the whole presentation streamed on TikTok, which unfortunately did not fare too well, as the broadcast was choppy and stopped abruptly. It isn’t clear why a Balmain fashion show should sit alongside the typical content of the video equivalent of Instagram—jokey, unscripted, and rather mindless.

Balmain haute couture Jul 2020 P2

Dancers, dressed like the designer, first appear on the barge, doing some vigorous moves. There is also the French pop singer Yseult imperturbably augmenting the soundtrack that suffers from poor acoustics. The models emerge onto a mirrored runway that reflects the blue, blue sky, and stand on their respective platforms. Then, they are immobile. Although, as a tableau, this would be the closest to a traditional catwalk, there is a sense that it is unnatural for the models. They seem bothered by the wind in their hair. Are they afraid, too, that they might fall into the Seine, even if this isn’t an America’s Next Top Model ‘challenge’? They look like fish out of the river.

As for the clothes, it is the Balmain that Mr Rousteing has created for the house since 2011. Some of the more colourful gowns hint at the good years he spent at Roberto Cavalli. There is one ruffled number that would be perfect for singing alone at the Grand Palais, sans audience! Others, such as those familiar, overwrought, body-con mini-dresses, reflect the vision of a club kid bringing his sense of glamour to couture, now embraced by reality TV stars and wealthy socialites alike. Mr Rousteing has found a formula, and, given the restrictive situation before the show, it is probably best to stick to what he knows best. And have fun at the same time—he certainly looks like he has.

Screen grabs: (top) Balmain/TikTok, (bottom) Paris Videostars/Youtube

This Is Not About Taste


Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain has, by and large, been a little difficult to stomach. This season, it doesn’t get that far before we feel something unpleasant coming out of our throat. The problem could be because we’re not a Kardashian, or one of Mr Rousteing’s 4.3 million IG followers. We just don’t have the constitution that’s strong enough.

You’d think that with so many fans, Mr Rousteing would have had fashioned Balmain into an inspirational and aspirational brand. But if you Google “Balmain is ”, the result may surprise you. Google’s recommendation in the completion of that sentence is as follows: “…owned by”, “…tacky”, “…expensive”, and “…overpriced”. He who oversees the branding of Balmain should be quite concerned.

In the October 2015 review of the Balmain spring/summer 2016 collection for The Washington Post, Robin Givhan wrote that “The French fashion house is always ostentatious and sometimes vulgar.” She also rightly noted that “Those aren’t clothes on the runway, they’re a social media moment.” On his love for ’70s silhouette and ’80s hues, she said, “Other designers mine those decades, but Rousteing does so in a manner that capitalizes on the era’s middle-brow, mass culture.”

If that collection—a hint at what he was to do in his collaboration with H&M (that later proved to be wildly successful)—did not win Ms Givhan’s heart and praise, we’re curious to know what she thinks of Mr Rousteing’s latest. Has the “middle” shifted? Or is tacky still pronounced?


It’s become impossible to talk about Balmain without sounding like we really saw the dregs of Paris Fashion Week. Balmain at the present state reminds us that just because it’s French does not mean it’s fetching. While we maintain that French elegance—indeed, elegance anywhere today—isn’t what it was before (and it shouldn’t be since fashion evolves), Balmain’s brazen and meretricious ways with form and decoration are not pushing French forward the way Jacquemus’s controlled and gentle teasing of proportions is. Balmain’s predecessor Christophe Decarnin may have set in motion the excesses now associated with the house, but it is Mr Rousteing who is driving past the speed limit.

How else does one explain the craziness that went into one outfit? Even the humble T-shirt was given an upgrade, like so many gadgets crucial to our digital lives, with the addition of washing machine-unfriendly chains, beading, sequins and so much more. Mr Rousteing was telling us that piling on is the way forward—the complex and intricate pastiche of animal print and hide, eye-popping jacquards, the never-enough appliqués, the where-to-begin embroideries, the by-now-clichéd metallic studs, and those everywhere fringing. There’s so much fringing (even belts are fringed)—they came in beaded strains, metal chains, leather cords as well—that even curtains in a brothel pale in comparison. Could this be Mr Rousteing showing off what the atelier can really do—his own métiers d’art?


We really wanted to see the art in all of it. But, with some of the jackets, for example, we saw Lucky Plaza, where budget-conscious mamasans go to be outfitted for an evening at the yezonghui (夜总会) or the nightclub. And there were the colours: variations of browns, including what some members of the media optimistically call caramel—shades many store buyers tell us women just won’t look at. Read: can’t sell. The thing is, collectively, everything looked like they’ve spent too much time in mud and sun. Sure, we understand it has to do with the tribal vibe that Mr Rousteing was communicating and you’re not wrong for thinking of Africa, but this was the Serengeti by way of Calabasas!

That Mr Rousteing is creating Calabasas chic in Paris is understandable: you know where his biggest fans come from. Sometimes we feel bad for Mr Rousteing. He’s put so much effort into the outfits (these are not simple cut and sew) and they still turn out wanting. All that excess and still deficient. What’s missing? Maybe it’s that modern rarity called class.


One Flashy Kick: Does Football Need It?

NikeLab X Olivier Rousteing

The visuals of Nike’s latest collaboration are one flashy swan dive into what was once Gianni Versace’s territory in the 1990s. Well, it’s not unexpected when the collaborator is Olivier Rousteing, young master of what the media likes to call “opulent aesthetic”. After all, the Frenchman does share the Italians’ love of ostentation (well, he did kick-start his career with Roberto Cavalli). Now, he’s brought that opulence to, of all games, football!

The collaboration, called Football Nouveau, is done sans Balmain, but not without the OTT punch that Mr Rousteing has brought to the brand. This, in the end, is his code, or to borrow from English football, his “bend it like Beckham”. Question is, will David Beckham, the original metrosexual, wear these flashy clothes and shoes? Becks is an Adidas man (in 2003, he signed what was then the biggest endorsement deal: USD160 million lifetime contract), so it’s doubtful he will embrace the “opulent aesthetic”.

NikeLab X Olivier Rousteing 2

Cristiano Ronaldo, however, endorses Nike, so he will, and he does. In fact, he is cast in the advertising campaign and happily supports Mr Rousteing too. It’s not clear how (or if) this will affect his deal with Giorgio Armani. Considered the “muse” of modern men’s fashion, Cristiano is probably the best bridge between fashion and the beautiful game. Still, it’s hard to see scores of footballers and football types crossing it, but one Tweet from Kanye or Kim may send many excitedly over to the dark—and gilded—side.

To be fair, these aren’t excesses as cringe-worthy as those seen in Mr Rousteing’s Balmain. There’s only the colour gold making its dazzling cameo in a collection that’s all-black. It’s athleisure glammed up for nights under dimly-lit mirrored balls, rather than to watch a match in flood-lit Wembley stadium, or Jalan Besar. Nike hails the pairing as “a golden touch” and let on that the output takes “the lifestyles of professional football players competing in Europe’s biggest championship this summer as inspiration”. Their lifestyles? If The Secret Footballer, writing in The Guardian is not sharing fib, the lifestyles of those in the Premier League are not that inspirational!

Olivier Rousteing

Nike is perhaps trying to emulate H&M’s wild success with the French brand. To be more accurate, this is a project with the division NikeLab, which is known for their technically advanced garments and footwear, much of it predate Alexander Wang’s dabbling of so-called athletic wear. There are very few NikeLab stores globally, and not many stockists either. It shall be interesting to see what mayhem will break out when the line drops on 2 June.

It is always thought that Nike prefers to work with less mainstream designers. One of the earliest to collaborate with the Oregon-based company is CDG’s Junya Watanabe. In fact, till today, Nike offers exclusive pieces in unusual colour ‘packs’ at Dover Street Market. However, after it’s pairing with Ricardo Tisci some seasons back, it seems Nike is now taking the same path as rival Adidas: choose partners whose social media presence can be felt even when you don’t check your IG account incessantly. Problem is, so many of them, such as He Who Loves To Rant, tend to err on the Beng side. Olivier Rousteing, to quite a few of us, is the same.

No news yet on the availability of Nike X Olivier Rousteing in Singapore. Photos: Nike/Nick Knight

Denim Shirts: All Over Again

Rihana in denim shirtScreen grab of Rihanna in the video FourFiveSeconds

We’ve been noticing, especially these past two years, a resurgence of oversized denim shirts—including their chambray cousins—worn as if they’re the newest things in chemise design. The trend has been enthusiastically adopted by Rihanna, who paired hers with denim jeans and skirts. It’s now even more pronounced, with Riri wearing a belted oversized denim shirt in her latest music video, FourFiveSeconds, in which she shares screen space with Paul McCartney and Kanye West. Directed by fashion photography darlings, the Dutch duo Inez and Vinoodh, the video brings to our mind Janet Jackson’s 1990 single, Love Will Never Do (Without You), directed by Herb Ritts.

(Mr Ritts seriously got into directing music videos because of Madonna. He had shot the cover of her True Blue album in 1986, and was later asked to direct the video for Cherish. Mr Ritts apparently said to the Queen of Pop, “But I’m a still photographer”, to which she replied, “Well, you have a few weeks to learn”.)

Since we’re in recall mode, let’s stay for awhile. Rihanna apparently wore an old Sean Jean (picked from Mr West’s wardrobe) in FourFiveSeconds. She may have made the denim shirt—vintage too—a part of her mostly trashy style, but back in the early 80s, it was Sade who wore denim shirts without looking like she was trying too hard to impress (or, in current parlance, score likes). Sade had something that was innate: she wore body-con dresses without a self-conscious need to seduce; she mostly wore one accessory—hoop earrings—to forge a signature look, and she wore bolero tops even before Madonna’s current obsession with them. The Nigerian-British singer truly had that elusive ease of style, one that played well to her laid-back sensuality.

Sade in denim shirtSade doing denim on denim back in 1980. Photo: David Montgomery/Getty Images

Sade, who turned 56 last month, was no stranger to fashion, being an alumnus of London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. Before embarking on her singing career, she was trying to be a menswear designer, which, perhaps, explains her sometimes androgynous getup. Fashion, always looking back, hasn’t forgotten her. In Jean Paul Gaultier’s spring/summer 2013 homage to 1980s pop stars, Sade was not absent (Joan Smalls, in a fitted black lace dress, played her). In the same season, Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing declared that Sade and her penchant for men’s blazer were clear influences. Similarly, our admiration is No Ordinary Love.

To Rihanna, we say, good try.