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.” ( - Luke Leitch

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with