The haute bourgeoisie look is for everyone, no matter the color of their skin, or where they came from.
That was Olivier Rousteing’s potent fashion message at Balmain this season. At a time when the classist term “bourgeois,” with all its traditional associations of privilege and race, is being bandied about in fashion as if it were nothing more than a rising hemline, all while the divide between the haves and the have-nots is widening and people are protesting in the streets, it needed to be said.
And who better to say it then Rousteing, an African orphan adopted by French parents, whose upwardly mobile success story, still a rarity for France, is the subject of “Wonder Boy,” nominated for the best documentary film award at the Cesar Awards Friday night.
A decade into his role at Balmain, Rousteing has positioned himself as the voice of the new bourgeoisie. Like Bronx-born Ralph Lauren, nee Lifshitz, Rousteing reclaimed the code of dress he felt excluded him when he was growing up in Bordeaux, “when as a kid going horse riding, people looked at me like, ‘What are you doing here?'” And then, he served it up on the runway for all. Maybe you don’t have the kind of dough to buy a densely embroidered stallion motif cape, but you can buy a Kylie x Balmain lipstick.
And so this collection was an exercise in subtlety, if you can say that about a house that rose to recent prominence on bedazzled, linebacker size shoulders. Working in a thousand shades of beige, Rousteing worked a story of blanket ponchos, assertive tailoring, scarfy silk shirts and pants, and luxe leather dressing. And it looked good.
“I’ve been put in a box of glam, of sexy shoulder pads, but I don’t want to be in it,” he said. One believes him; he doesn’t want to be in any box.
This season, one sensed he really relaxed into his role, bringing a new softness to the house tailoring, molding buttery leather into wearable quilted kimono jackets and wrap skirts, and body-contouring draped tops over baggy leather pants and boots for a relaxed chic. The sharp shoulders were still in the building, but less aggressive. And Rousteing gave a girl options — a cozy, metallic chain link embroidered mohair sweater, for example, over a denim skirt — and easy silk separates — a genius hoodie-blazer hybrid, layered over a traditional blazer and pants for tone-on-tone suit, as one example. For evening, caped goddess gowns in earthy shades, worn with leather belts and riding boots, struck the right note, but more flou styles, a satin bustier dress with a ruffled skirt pruned like a topiary, felt a bit off track.
He said he felt like it was an evolution, and it read like one, too. A solid collection that should be trend-influential at all levels of the market. In other words, inclusive to the core. Said Rousteing, “We need to own something to change the future.” He owned it.