“Do you still buy magazines?” That chilling sentence, which Olivier Rousteing said was doodled after the style of Kurt Cobain in his journals, leaps out from its position on a weathered leather monochrome tote featured in Look 1 of menswear and 26 of womenswear within this pre-fall Balmain ensemble.
Of it, Rousteing said: “This sentence is something that scares me a lot, but I wanted to use it because we are living in a world where something that was so relevant and important is becoming so vintage. And I’m really scared that for a new generation, maybe in one or two decades, you will have to explain what a magazine is. The same way you have to explain Kodak now. Or what a tape is.”
Having just hit a decade at Balmain and steered himself through a medical crisis, this ever-thoughtful designer has been extra contemplative of late. And as the magazine riff intimated, Rousteing, 36, has been thinking about his particular seating position in fashion’s passage of time: “I feel that I’m not so old, but also I’m not young anymore either…. And that’s so weird when you have seen all these evolutions-slash-revolutions of the fashion industry.”
Here Rousteing went both back in time and forward to tie together different strands of his Balmain-centric consideration in a freshly shaped knot. There were strong houndstooth (pied-de-poule) and Breton stripe (la marinière) sections to mark la patrimoine, and petites mains exercising adventures in embellishment, embroidery, and fourrure (all faux) to service the house’s couture tradition. On top of these were layered elements more contemporary—decadently oversized synthetic outerwear, complex-washed denim, stompy boots—which were themselves all merely another layer in a future-facing mille-feuille that stretched from the couture (broken sculpture latex sheath dresses, a Zendaya red carpet cert) to the sporting (Balmain-customized protective gear by the Californian moto brand Fox Racing).
The conceptual glue holding all these spaceship- (or time machine–) shot look book elements together went back to that scrawled text, based on Cobain’s notebooks. Rousteing explained that he’d embraced the tear-it-up-and-start-again philosophy of grunge this season, and had been partially inspired by memories of his earliest days working with KCD’s late lamented Ed Filipowski. He said: “I remember Ed telling me I was the rebel in fashion of my time, and talking about brands he had worked with earlier who were very affected and influenced by grunge … and this was interesting because even though I am French and do not look like a guitarist from Seattle in the ’90s, there is for sure this grunginess in me. The second reason I have come to grunge now is that after my accident, I realized that in the past I have been searching for a perfection that maybe turned out to be a stereotype of perfection. I realized that true perfection can lie in imperfection. And so I wanted to fuck up my embroideries, and make the pieces seem torn, in order to allow the beauty of imperfection, achieved through craftsmanship, to be seen.”
Rousteing’s work at Balmain is becoming increasingly self-aware, honest, and complex in tandem with his own personal development. Inspired by everything from the velvet on his furniture to the burn scars on his fingers—yet always informed by his profound engagement with the dialect of Balmain—his output mirrors both house and designer with a verisimilitude that only a few other historic maisons can match. As for his distressing Kodak moment vis-à-vis print, as the recent history of vinyl suggests, the story of fashion magazines—which are, after all, the couture of fashion media to digital’s ready-to-wear and social’s fast fashion—might not be on its final page quite yet. (vogue.com)