BALMAIN: SEXY SELLS
Olivier Rousteing knows how to work a needle with that certain je ne sais quoi. Bordeaux-born Rousteing was appointed creative director of Balmain at the exceptionally fresh-faced age of 25. This honour made him brim with gratitude for more than one reason:
‘What I love about Balmain, even more than the style, is that they gave me this chance to express myself at such a young age, and trusted me, despite my colour, my age and my point of view that is sometimes a bit controversial.’
Following his graduation from ESMOD, Rousteing joined Roberto Cavalli at 18 years of age, where he begun embarking on his career in fashion design. Six years later in 2009, Rousteing swapped his allegiance and joined forces with Balmain, a label he had always gravitated towards. He passed his time at Balmain shadowing its creative director Christopher Decarnin, until his dismissal from the French Haute Couture heritage house in 2011. The limelight then fell onto Rousteing, the practically faceless man now expected to fill his predecessor’s shoes.
With a six digit Instagram following, Rousteing should feel pretty smug at the ‘bona-fide Instagram famous’ (Quartz) celebrity status he has achieved since. He has done a damn good job at raising a Balmain Army of Love. With the likes of Rihanna, Kimye, Kendall Jenner, Joan Smalls and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley- it doesn’t consist of your average minions. If you haven’t already signed up, Rousteing’s killer cheekbones might just suck you in.
Although the Balmain Army might be clad with thick skin and tough armour, the label has not remained entirely unscathed from scrutiny. Mumbles and grumbles have arisen from Balmain digressing from its traditional heritage, over the faces of its brand ambassadors and for its designs being overtly sexual. Call me biased (because hand on heart, I am) but I don’t see any validity to such reprimands. It’s a major challenge for any designer brand to cling onto its heritage and successfully adapt to a modern audience. Rousteing is just as aware of this as anyone:
‘Initially, I wanted to move away from that rock ‘n’ roll vibe. Balmain has an amazing past – Christophe was part of it, but Pierre Balmain and Oscar de la Renta created a chic Parisian style that I gravitated towards. What I am trying to do is to bring the house back to this couture level. Tailoring is important, but I don’t want to forget that it is a French luxury house […] It’s getting more chic, defined and sophisticated, while keeping the sexiness and glamour. It’s less rock ‘n’ roll and more sexy couture.’
If this was Rousteing’s vision, I think he’s done a seriously slick job at executing it. Rousteing is a master sculptor, his designs are intensely attuned to the female form. His intricate structuring and manipulation of textures enables him to create sensual pieces without so much as flaunting flesh.
Rousteing has made Balmain one of the most coveted labels by fashionistas and celebrities alike. Kimye are stardom’s Marmite couple but it’s largely thanks to Rousteing that Kim Kardashian has undergone the same metamorphosis Victoria Beckham underwent over a decade ago. Now Kim has spread her new, tasteful wings in the fashion world, designers are fighting one another over the chance to dress her. Rousteing has roped in the new generation of supermodels, reigned in some of the old (Naomi Campbell and Iman) and has the biggest names in Rap and R’n’B heralding his name (Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kayne West and Riri). I think this selection of my most cherished Balmain designs cements Rousteing and Balmain’s rise and claim to fame.
‘I think sex is really important because there is a lot to play with when you have sex on your mind. It’s something that has no limit and no boundaries. And what is cool about sex is that it’s all about some kind of fantasy.’
Rosie Hungtington-Whiteley’s Gothic, full-bodied corset style dress, is a testimony for how Rousteing makes his designs as seductive as the act of undressing. Balmain bondage is empowering: these creations celebrate femininity, alongside masculinity, with some of the more coarse materials used. The balancing of rigid geometry with careful contouring, hardness and softness, adds considerable depth to Rousteing’s bondage looks. He softens some looks with showerings sparkle or painting them pure white, opening all up to a more refined version of S&M.
‘I’m a maximalist and I’m proud of it. I love colours, I love print, I love ornaments, I love architecture, I love bling, I love furs, I love daring, I love sexy. You know, you’re a maximalist when you don’t want to push things down. My emotions in my own life are maximalist. I can love or I can hate.’
Rousteing has designed collections inspired by Fabergé eggs, sea shells and the sumptuousness of Ancient Oriental Courts. He may be a self professed ‘maximalist’ but its his acute eye for detail which guarantees his highly embellished pieces their show-stopping status.
GENTILE URBAN WARRIORS
My perception of the Balmain woman is an extremely strong one and these urban warrior looks only fortify this. Rousteing teases tough rope into feminine folds, drapes and curves: he is king of complimentary contrasts.
Both maxi-dresses could have descended from Mount Olympus: they are light-wear elegance paired with subtle sultriness. Thick chokers and bangles add tribal finishing touches to Rousteing’s adaptation of Grecian Goddess.
AMAZONIAN SAFARI HUNTRESSES
‘People either love or hate Balmain. It’s not the kind of brand where you say, “Oh, that’s cute.” It’s, “Oh, that’s disgusting,” or, “Oh, that’s amazing!” And that’s the cool thing about my position. I have to assume it and honestly it makes me stronger, day after day. Sometimes I think some people are waiting for me to do full-on minimalism, but don’t expect Olivier Rousteing for Balmain to do the opposite of what he is. You can think, “Maybe that’s not my taste,” but just don’t push my identity down.’
Accuentated waists, a rich safari colour palette and leather furnishings are the trademarks to Rousteing’s Amazonian glamour. This trend draws inspiration from huntresses, military uniforms and African ceremonial dress. Here is a prime example of how Rousteing builds on cultural heritage and revamps it for the modern-day woman.
KIMYE- THE BALMAIN ARMY OF LOVE
‘In fashion the biggest moment was when the models were celebrities – we all remember Naomi, Claudia, Carla, Linda. The woman had to come back; the curved woman, and different kinds of body shapes. I don’t like skinny girls. I want to represent a real woman, not just a shadow or a ghost.’
Kim Kardashian is one of Rousteing’s muses. She is Cleopatra reincarnated: she projects the exoticism, lavishness and elements of desire which Balmain upholds. Alongside her other half, Kayne, the are both front-row favourites as well as very close friends to Rousteing himself.
Picks from 2015 Fall Ready To Wear
For his AW15 RTW collection, Rousteing whipped up 70’s and 80’s colour splash, geometry crazed and disco-fuelled hysteria. His playful and sophisticated looks demonstrated the perfect way to incorporate bright colours into the bleaker, winter months.