“That’s my first menswear show,” said Olivier Rousteing afterward: “And to tell you the truth, the first question that I had—more than, ‘What am I going to do as a story?’—was, ‘What is the show that I want to remember in five years? What is the Balmain man?’ And these guys are exactly like who I am—they are discovering the world, traveling as an aventurier, trying to find treasures … being a strong man discovering the world.”
The journey metaphor has eclipsed even that hardy stalwart Wes Anderson to become the most-cited show spiel of the Spring ’16 menswear season. In Balmain‘s case, though, it seemed apposite. Rousteing has taken Balmain very far very fast, and he continues to gain momentum. His youth, his evident relish for the road he finds himself on, and his delightful openness would make him a marvelous protagonist for a fashion-set bildungsroman.
For his debut men’s show, Rousteing didn’t tread softly but strode boldly—opting for that Ralph classic of a runway theme, Safari. But this wasn’t just Balmain in khaki. For while this house has made heavy embellishment and an almost sickly richness its bread and butter, there was a lightness of touch in the way Rousteing reacclimatized it today. Desert boots were transformed into sandals by the removal of tongue and toe. Drill combat pants were upgraded with a drop crotch and cosmetically hanging suspenders; the house’s Fabergé lush military braiding was reissued in a jute-ish organic twine.
Obviously this was not an achingly literal suite of safari attire: The attractive caramel bikers in thickly woven leather ribbon, the black leather combats, and the Balmain-resident jewel-speckled golden chain tank top would not get you far in the field. But then, who actually goes on safari? When Union Jack flags on track pants and sweaters appeared, it could almost have been a maximalist nod to colonialist tropes: Rider Haggard does Nikki Beach. And when the body of a jacket is of tiger-print pony skin and its arm features an embroidered face of a lion, one suspects irony. Absolutely without it, the superlatively safari-cool backpacks in perforated suede, canvas, and nubuck that these Balmain explorers carried were up among the lushest, most straightforwardly desirable runway accessories of the season.
When menswear shows feature womenswear looks—here it was Resort—the menswear editor’s standard move is to check Instagram as they pass. But Rousteing insisted the inclusion of those looks, most of them dresses as tight as his men’s pants were baggy, was a key part of this men’s universe. He said: “Forty percent of the business of Balmain is the menswear. So I think it was important to do my first show, and at the same time have my girls, which is really an important part of the business, and connect them together. I think it is really interesting because at a lot of the brands, the men and the women are really different. My Balmain men and my Balmain women are really synchronized and I’m really happy with that.”
Five years down the line, Rousteing should be able to look back at his first menswear show with a rosy glow of fond remembrance. As a contemporary Balmain proposition, all it really lacked was Kimye in the front row—but blame Glastonbury for that.