When he was growing up, Olivier Rousteing liked playing with Barbies, though his father disapproved.
“I was not really allowed, to be honest, because my dad was a bit worried about me playing with Barbie,” he confessed. “A lot of little boys want to play with Barbie and sometimes they’re not allowed to. Sometimes, society wants to put you in a box.”
Which is why Balmain’s creative director jumped at a chance to design a collection in collaboration with Barbie, allowing him to play with the famous doll on a grand scale and further his prioritization of female empowerment, diversity and inclusivity.
The limited-edition, 70-piece collection — spanning from 195 euro T-shirts up to 29,990 euros for a couture-calibre evening gown — is slated to drop on Jan. 13 at about 50 of its multibrand partners worldwide, with Neiman Marcus mounting a special pop-up in Dallas.
The designer applied assorted shades of pink, from blush to fuchsia, to a range of emblematic Balmain styles including sailor sweaters, tailoring in satin or tweed, denim jackets with demonstrative gold buttons, intricate cocktail dresses and a fishtail evening gown. There are also lots of easy T-shirts and sweatshirts with graphics cribbed from 1970s packaging, plus jeans with a disco flare.
Accessories are inventive hybrids of Balmain’s signature bags and the groovy windowed cardboard boxes that housed the toys back in the day.
He describes the collection as a “bridge between Barbie and the Balmain couture world, of a house born in Paris in 1945.”
Arriving on the fashion scene amid a tsunami of Omicron cases, the collection offers a balm of fun, color and nostalgia.
“The world needs to escape the darkness of the moment,” Rousteing mused. “During childhood, the world was less complicated with the eyes of a kid.”
Indeed, the budding designer found his grandmother much more accepting of his penchant for Barbies.
“I cut their hair, cut their clothes, redid the jacket. I was also making new clothes with my grandmother because she’s really good at sewing,” he said. “I think I was eight or nine years old.”
Now 36, having just logged a decade at the helm of the Paris house, Rousteing seized the opportunity to further widen perceptions of Barbie and Ken with his offering, billed as 100 percent unisex. Meanwhile, the campaign features a Black Barbie with a big pink Afro lounging by a sofa and a Ken character in a pink, robe-like coat and oven mitts serving up a hot meal.
Balmain conscripted photographer Norbert Schoerner and styling duo Katie Lyall and Charlotte Stockdale of Chaos 69 to create a series of fantasy posters for the collection, worn by a diverse cast of models in doll-house settings. These are to debut on social media and the Chaos website on Jan. 13.
Rousteing is keen to challenge stereotypes about Barbie, melding her fashionista image with his empowering “Balmain Army” ethos and showing a diverse cast of men and women freely sharing and enjoying the capsule collection.
“Ken can be the best friend of Barbie, can be the boyfriend, can borrow the clothes of his girlfriend or of his best friend. Barbie can borrow the clothes of her boyfriend or her girlfriend — so it’s completely another Barbie world, but I believe that this is the Barbie world that we all want to see right now,” he said. “She’s still a role model, but I do believe that the model is changing, and the dream is changing.”
The collection is Balmain’s second collaboration with American toy giant Mattel, creator of Barbie.
Last May, Rousteing created three CGI dolls and his two Balmain Barbies, and one Balmain Ken, donned pagoda-shoulder suits for a virtual fashion shoot, posing in front of the same jetliners that were used as props for Rousteing’s aviation-inspired fall 2021 collection.
According to Richard Dickson, president and chief operating officer of Mattel, Barbie and Balmain are “creating a new chapter in the legacy of the toy and fashion industries.
“As a fashion house committed to innovation in unexpected and joyous ways, Balmain, under Olivier Rousteing’s creative direction, is the perfect partner to translate the iconography that is essential to the Barbie universe into a modern iteration of digital art and wearable beauty in tandem,” he said.
Rousteing noted that the collection would be limited to several thousand pieces.