A quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, whose masterpiece “The Little Prince” is the subject of an exhibition on now at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, was writ large as the backdrop to Balmain’s fall show: “It is much more difficult to judge yourself than to judge others.”
Designer Olivier Rousteing — cloaked in long black layers, his hands gloved — was explaining backstage how his collection’s dual themes — protection and vulnerability — sprang from what he diplomatically called “not always pleasurable experiences” on social media, where he is a superstar.
He stressed that whatever scornful judgments he endured over disfigurements to his body wrought by a freak fireplace explosion last year seem trivial next to the human suffering mounting in Russia’s war with Ukraine. He also made clear that the collection was conceived and completed months ago, long before the first tanks rolled across the border.
So he cast his show as a “collective push-back against lies, hatred and aggression,” opening the display with a dance performance in which burly men tussled, then came together to lift each other up. The deep quote on the wall and this visceral physical display summoned a poignant moment, giving the audience much to reflect upon before the models spilled out, stalking a vast celery green carpet in their Frankenstein boots and robotic stiletto heels.
Viewed purely from the vantage point of the fashion bubble, it was fascinating to discover that Rousteing, like Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior, chose to encase delicate lacy dresses with protective padding that was sometimes reminiscent of motocross gear, at others flak jackets. Indeed, Rousteing had already incorporated high-tech motocross gear in his pre-fall collection, unveiled last December.
All the harnesses, plastrons, shields and metal plates occasionally melded well with Balmain’s strong-shouldered tailoring and ornate cocktail dresses — a new take on tough chic. The menswear, at times reminiscent of terrific Riccardo Tisci-era Givenchy, also succeeded when fine tailoring tempered all the Velcro taping and anatomical padding. But ultimately, it all became a little too much.
Surprise showings of couture have also been a feature of this ready-to-wear fashion week, already seen spectacularly at Off-White, and Rousteing rolled out six impressive gowns for the finale, some with gigantic skirts of frothy tulle that winked back to simpler times.