Balmaination: Rousteing's home for a 'new generation'
Balmain x H&M's designer collaboration has been one of the most anticipated fashion events of this year, especially by 20 to 30-something consumers.
The excitement is deserved - it is a great collection.
A French fashion house, founded in 1945 after its founder, Pierre Balmain, returned from the War, Balmain enjoyed a big revival in the Noughties under the creative hand of Christophe Decarnin who gave it its 'babes in beads' reputation (super-short beaded dresses).
But Balmain's bold sweeps weren't just limited to its short hemlines. In April 2011, Balmain announced that a 25-year-old man, Olivier Rousteing, was its new creative director. As well as being young, Rousteing is black, viewed as controversial for a French fashion house. Part of his history is that he was adopted as a child.
These details are important because race, global community and explorations on self and self-belief are what Rousteing brings to Balmain and to the world.
I went to New York to see the Balmain x H&M show and to interview Rousteing.
"I think I love fashion for two reasons," Olivier explains in his endearing French-accented English. "Because I love to do clothes, but I think also fashion helps to bring about a vision - a vision of diversity and, at the same time, unity and unique. With H&M it was literally expressing the diversity."
Rousteing is the first important designer to be a member of the social media generation; it is natural to him and it has served him and Balmain well. He has 1.6 million Instagram followers. His friends are celebrities such as Rihanna, Dudley O'Shaughnessy, Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Jourdan Dunn. They make up the 'Balmain Army', what became at the H&M collaboration show, 'Balmaination'.
"Why 'nation'? In this nation I could have so many different people," he explains. "First because obviously this line is more affordable than my own line. I think it was for me like more than building the Balmain Army. I could reach more people, different ages, also different continents because Balmain has not so many stores like H&M. For me it was literally building a nation that believes in the Balmain universe, the DNA of Balmain."
The Balmain x H&M collection contains both men's and women's wear. Bold colour, glamorous textures, and dramatic shape are what it is about. It's late 1980s early 1990s in vibe, and both the collection and its designer's approach to his models and celebrity remind me greatly of Gianni Versace when he audaciously used all the supermodels together in one show.
"The campaign is about showing the new generation people that I think are really iconic and people that can also, you know, like dream about," Olivier explains. "I think it's the new generation of top models and I'm really proud to say that."
Tailoring is a strong aspect of the collection; beautifully cut double-breasted jackets, pea and military coats; striking shoulder widths and cinched-in waists; gold buttons and big details, embellishment, fringing, faux fur and lots of beads - 250,000 beads on one dress alone.
This is glamour to the nth degree. This is Rousteing's and H&M's commitment to making high-end designer fashion available and affordable to all.
Rousteing speaks a lot about youth and age during the interview. I asked him how did he deal with older people in the establishment when he was trying to get ideas across? Remember, he was just 25 when he became creative director of Balmain.
"You can learn from older people and you can be disappointed from older people. I'm going to tell you why," he explains. "I think from older people you can get the experience and you can learn what's good and what's bad, what's wrong and what's right. Also from older people, you can get that they are closed-minded because they don't evolve with the world. They have a vision that is stopped in a time that I don't even know.
"I think you need to make sure you find a balance to learn from old people. I think my team is really great because I have old people and young people. There are some old people that don't work with me anymore because they were trying to put me in a box that I didn't want to. There are some people that I keep that are older that actually teach me with their experience, their believing how to be a strong person, to face different things.
"I think it's not a matter of youth or old. It's a matter of state of mind. I think there are so many people in fashion that actually are old but are younger than people who are actually saying they're young," Rousteing concludes.
"I think it's not a matter of age. I have to tell you the truth. I'm 30 now. I don't think my maturity is a matter of 30. I think I'm older. But I keep my sense of a baby."
It is this openness and willingness to explore that made me fall for Olivier Rousteing and become a believer. Vivre Balmain.
The Balmain X H&M collection launches next Thursday, November 5 and will be exclusive to H&M, College Green, Dublin 2. For more information see hm.com. I recommend you arrive early. Demand is always high for these designer exclusives, for once they're gone, they're gone.
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