Balmain Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear Collection

On September 28, 2011, a 25-year-old nobody named Olivier Rousteing took his first bow for

On September 28, 2011, a 25-year-old nobody named Olivier Rousteing took his first bow for Balmain. Back then there were many “who had a hard time imagining someone who looked like [him] could lead a Parisian couture house.” So said Beyoncé in her (prerecorded) opening message for Rousteing’s 10th anniversary show tonight. She was right, and how wrong they were.

For his first few years, Rousteing was repeatedly dismissed as Fantasy Island or vulgar or trashy, and in retrospect the unconscious subtext is both clear and damning. This rightly vexed him. He worked twice as hard. But when in 2016 or so, five years in, Rousteing—the first Black person to lead a historic French house—matured within himself enough to view these “haters”’ barbs not as wounds but as badges of honor and scars of the right fight (bring it on!), and he gained a superpower. He understood that this furious noise was the angrily squeaking hinges of a door never before opened until he had pushed it. So he kept pushing.

Tonight there was noise again. But this time it was 6,000 people—real people, not fashion people—screaming as Rousteing took his bow at the end of this show. They screamed almost as loudly when Beyoncé started speaking, and almost as loudly again when Naomi Campbell walked in the first of a 12-or-so-look archive-based capsule we saw at the end, derived from Rousteing’s favorite and most effective pieces from his past decade at the label.

Fascinatingly they also screamed with extra gusto at the collection (intoxicatingly Saulted by Michel Gaubert). It was celebratory when Precious Lee and Alva Claire—two models whose bodies are greater than conventional fashion’s spurious sample-size limitations—walked the runway. As the comments under newspaper fashion stories demonstrate, real people recoil at fashion’s super-skinny fetish, and rightly so. Or as Rousteing said: “I’m glad you heard them scream too. I think that this shows that the fashion industry is sometimes too late to understand that this is the new world. And that it is beautiful to show reality and difference, and leave the standard that we have been brought up to understand is fashion.”

The show had such an enormous audience because it was presented as the heart of a two-day Balmain-run music festival—Doja Cat was on immediately after the clothes, before Franz Ferdinand finished the evening. With respect to the other houses in Paris trying bombastically to flex their bombast, this democratic display of openness was pretty hard to top. The collection we saw was ready-to-wear for women and men, a prelude to that special archival section, opened by Campbell and closed by Carla Bruni, before Rousteing’s raucous bow.

The collection was celebratory, but, as ever with Rousteing, also honest. Things I reacted to most were the sensuality of the backless tailoring in menswear, the sludgily comfy appeal of his Insta-friendly slides, the square link chain details that were the metaphorical point of connection across the collection, and the framing of the female body that—unlike some collections we have seen this hormonal season—felt more celebratory than salacious.

The final few dresses of the ready-to-wear section reflected another recent Rousteing truth: During lockdown he was badly burned, spent a month in hospital in recovery, and has been processing an alteration to his skin pigmentation as a result. After storing this knowledge privately for some time, he threw it into his process this evening, thereby owning it through disowning it via its expression in craft. “Fresh, audacious, empowering,” is how Beyoncé described Rousteing in her preamble. She was right again.

https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2022-ready-to-wear/balmain