Fashion from the capital: Spring/Summer 2019 Menswear: Balmain
(The Freeman) - March 26, 2019 - 12:00am

“Don’t you black-or-white me.” Growing up a black child of white adoptive parents in Bordeaux and then coming up as the only black creative director at a legacy Paris fashion house (Boateng was long gone, and Abloh yet to rock up), Olivier Rousteing listened to a great deal of Michael Jackson. His favorite song? “They Don’t Care About Us,” he said before the recent heavily Jackson-flavored Franco/American Thriller at Balmain.

Bubbles was not featured, however along with the soundtrack there were lots of fun, loving references to Jackson and the way he makes Rousteing feel; the red jacket, the Balmain/ “Bad” cover tee in look eight, the “Dangerous”-style panorama illustration, the mirror-frogged sweatshirt, and – of course – all the black socks and white loafers. There were also a lot of less-specifically Jackson references to the vision of Americana Rousteing viewed through his distant Bordeaux lens while growing up: oversize vintage collegiate football sweaters and cardigans, some great loose pleated denim-alike jersey trousers and ripped denim jeans, and jackets whose holes were lined in atelier-applied crystal.

So this was a red, white, and blue collection, yes; but ultimately it was way more tricolor than star-spangled. Rousteing also name-checked Serge Gainsbourg, that Gauloise gravel-voiced exemplar of the patrimony of La France, as a key lifetime listen. The fabric of French tradition was woven (and studded, pinned, and printed) into this collection.

Marinière tops in paillette, low-slung, were worn above shockingly neutral (for Balmain) but totally French-preppy narrow straight-cut unwashed indigo jeans. There was a fitted bouclé jacket in tricolor weave (navy dominated) and a lot of Deauville or St.-Tropez nautical tailoring in more bouclé. Other excellent details, neither specifically French nor American but très Balmain, were the broken-glass-effect clear paillettes and the high-rise, CONS-reminiscent, Balmain-tagged sneakers.

Near the end there was a tight little section, nearly all-black, that gave soft silk evening jackets and tailcoats hoods that extended out their lapels – this looked almost Japanese, way off-theme, but sleekly ninja. Balmain’s atelier is in fine form: Both for men and for women the house’s trademark mega-embellishment was excellently executed. One silhouette was intriguing but elusive: Expressed nearish the start via a blue, shinily Balmain-buttoned rain cape and slim-fit washed jeans over white socks and loafers, it was repeated in black leather with biker-jacket touches. This felt like a specifically French reference that was frustratingly beyond this non-French eye’s parsing.

This show was apparently the first-ever in the salons of a historic Seine-side building belonging to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Possibly (and I’m totally speculating) this was a result of Rousteing’s meeting with French President Emanuel Macron at last womenswear week’s dinner at the Élysée Paris. It certainly made for an extra layer of resonance to a rich collection rooted in a very French perception of cultural difference that was simultaneously a celebration of assimilation and multiculturalism.

Of course, there are many who still don’t care about Rousteing. Equally, he doesn’t care about them. He said: “I know we are living in a world of menswear where everyone is going in one direction, but the growth of my brand is now 40 percent in menswear. Men are looking for something else, I feel. You cannot reduce them to one story, so what is important is to keep the identity of our menswear, and to have a point of view.” (www.vogue.com) - Luke Leitch

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