Backstage at Balmain Men’s Fall 2020

On the eve of the first digital fashion weeks in Paris for couture and men’s wear, Olivier Rousteing and Balmain are swooping in with a live, floating fashion and music spectacle.

A barge is to cruise down the Seine River on Sunday evening, giving anyone gathered on the banks or pedestrian bridges a view of vintage couture and other fashions, a mini concert by French singer Yseult, and a surprise dance performance. Dubbed Balmain Sur Seine, it’s Rousteing’s way of celebrating the end of lockdown in Paris, reaffirming its stature as the capital of fashion, and making luxury more democratic.

“Balmain is all about optimism, and after this period I wanted to bring back this optimism that this brand has been known for,” Rousteing said in an interview.

Like many others freed from confinement, Rousteing has been rediscovering the beauty of Paris from the riverside, where people gather to watch the sunset and share a drink or a picnic. He decided this is a perfect and democratic stage for a fashion moment — and to remind the world what is possible, referring to his 10-year tenure as a Black man at the helm of a storied couture brand.

The event will also be livestreamed exclusively on TikTok, and promoted on its “discovery” area, amplifying the audience and impact of the cruise.

Balmain noted that only a certain number of performers and production crews are allowed on the barge, and that social distancing will be respected.

Rousteing will also take to the water. “Yes, I’ll be on the boat. I don’t get seasick so it’s fine,” he said.

The fashion display — in vignettes rather than runway format — is to include archival pieces from Pierre Balmain and his design successors Erik Mortensen and Oscar de la Renta, iconic looks from Rousteing’s reign at the French house, and a mélange of recent collections to proclaim the brand DNA.

“It’s important to reinforce who we are and what we’re known for,” Rousteing said.

The live performances echo Rousteing’s approach to fashion shows, which have occasionally included dance numbers or mini concerts.

Rousteing conscripted art director Andrew Makadsi, known for his work with Beyoncé, for the event’s look and feel, while he invited back the dancers and choreographer Jean-Charles Jousni from his last men’s fashion show for a riverside performance, inspired loosely by the Black Lives Matter movement and renewed calls for justice and equality.

Separately, Balmain confirmed it is planning on physical fashion show during Paris Fashion Week in September, supported with a digital element, and showcasing women’s wear and men’s wear, in observance of whatever precautions and restrictions the health situation might require.

Balmain plans to alert some members of the local press to its Sunday event, but it is keeping most details under wraps to avoid crowding.

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