Olivier Rousteing clashed baroque Marie Antoinette splendour with grunge — to intriguing affect.
Is there beauty in imperfection?
It’s more than a philosophical question for Olivier Rousteing, who suffered painful and disfiguring burns last year from a fireplace explosion. He disclosed the accident just ahead of his spring 2022 megashow last September, when bandage dresses and tops ruled the runway.
There is yet more catharsis in Rousteing’s pre-fall effort for Balmain, which saw the young designer destroying not only jeans and sailor sweaters, but also his densely embroidered Fabergé egg-inspired dresses — all to dramatic effect.
“I learned from my own experience that you can feel beautiful in imperfection, you can find beauty in scars, you can find beauty in broken things,” he said during a tour of the vast and varied collection in Balmain’s Paris showroom, pausing in front of a mannequin sporting a formfitting gown of pale latex pieced together with gold threads, evoking a shattered statue fixed up like an haute Humpty Dumpty.
Rousteing admitted there were some quizzical looks in the atelier when he proposed ripping holes in dresses and jackets with dense bouillon embroideries, but he won them over by issuing the challenge of “making something imperfect perfect.”
To be sure, here was one of Rousteing’s most raw and rugged collections to date, true to its theme of clashing the baroque splendor of Marie Antoinette with the grunge style associated with Kurt Cobain — along with a dash of high-tech motocross gear.
The Cobain theme played out in a straightforward way in the men’s collection, with lots of striped knitwear, velour hoodies and acid-washed jeans with the knees blown out. Rousteing also paid homage to Cobain’s messy drawings and ballpoint pen scrawling with an array of graffiti prints with provocative phrases and questions like “Fashion is dead” and “Do you still buy magazines?” These appeared on pillow-like 1945 bags and biker leathers morphed into frock coats.
For women, Rousteing’s inimitable brand of bold femininity was on full display with pearl-encrusted jackets, bold-shouldered tailoring in houndstooth checks, elegantly destroyed redingotes with intricate lacing details, and sexy motocross jeans with padded knees.
While Balmain has been a pioneer in the tech space with its virtual showroom in 3D, CGI Barbie collaboration and NFT sneakers, Rousteing is among designers posing questions about the meaning of luxury and the place of craftsmanship in a fashion system hurtling toward the metaverse.
He doesn’t give answers, but thought-provoking propositions scrawled out on clothes: “Offline, logout, unfollow,” reads one T-shirt, which also bears the hashtag #therealluxury.
Rousteing confessed that things like Kodak cameras, cassette tapes and magazines feel like vintage objects, though he did answer one question scratched onto some of his clothes and leather goods.
“I love to buy magazines, but now more as a collector, rather than to just read a story,” he said. “Before it was about discovering things. You were buying magazines like you were watching Instagram. Now I buy magazines that are a bit more expensive. I love the quality, I’m checking the thickness of the cover, the quality of the paper. What I buy now feels really prestigious.”