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Balmain RTW Spring 2023 Paris cover

Balmain Men’s RTW Spring 2023 Paris

A surprise appearance by Cher capped off a fashion spectacle with an eco bent.

After more than a decade at Balmain, Olivier Rousteing has leaned into many causes, making diversity and inclusivity key values of the French house. Now he’s out to make sustainability another pillar, and mobilize his “Balmain army” behind the urgent issue of climate change.

At Wednesday night’s Balmain Festival 03, a fashion and music-palooza that just keeps getting bigger and bigger, Rousteing paraded ready-to-wear and couture outfits made of paper, tree bark, banana leaf, raffia, wood and a host of recycled fabrics — and some bearing flame prints, a dire warning about our overheated, burning planet.

Eight-thousand people bought tickets for the event, surrounding the vast marble-print runway dozens deep, phones raised and filming for most of it; others seated way up in the stands of the Jean-Bouin Stadium, which usually hosts soccer and rugby matches. 

There were giant screens so everyone could see, though it’s a fair bet to say that no one during Paris Fashion Week will parade shoes this visible from the nose-bleeds: bulbous sneakers and towering platform sandals made of resin but resembling chunks of stone or concrete blocks bound to the feet.

Rousteing entertained them well, with live performances by Shygirl, CKay and The Blaze — plus a surprise appearance by Cher, who strode out in a black catsuit as Rousteing was taking his bow. Everyone went bananas.

There was a raised section of cushioned bleachers for the fashion press, buyers and VIPs, some of whom got into the spirit of the event, spreading a fleece blanket on their laps, munching on French fries or smash burgers and washing them down with Champagne or mojitos. 

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But ultimately, this overly long, overly late, over-the-top spectacle was too much for some, and most of the American press had skedaddled before Cher brought the house down. (She is to front a handbag campaign for Balmain.)

To be sure, the collection played more to the public than to professionals, from the stiff, whorled raffia dresses that opened the show to the finale look, an evening column that resembled a cone of soft-serve vanilla.

Yet here were several new and interesting silhouettes, many loose and languid, with a perfume of Asia or Africa. Backstage, Rousteing was wearing one of his silky versions of the haori over pajama-like pants. Did he just invent that men’s silk pajamas as a new luxury alternative to the tracksuit?

While uneven, the men’s offering more convincing than the women’s, this collection proved that Rousteing is hardly in the wilderness without massive shoulder pads, gold buttons, showy fabrics, glitzy embroideries and the Labyrinth monogram. The rustic, humble fabrics and busy celestial prints, inspired by his favorite Renaissance painters, were treated in interesting ways, demonstrating that Rousteing isn’t afraid to experiment and push boundaries. 

Backstage, the designer made it clear he is only beginning his sustainability journey, and he’s compelled to ask new questions, starting with: “How can we create clothes made with nature, without destroying nature?”

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