In June, news broke that Mayhoola, the investment group linked to the Qatari royal family, bought Balmain—just days before the fashion house’s menswear show in Paris. Mayhoola also acquired Valentino in 2012. And if that brand’s trajectory is anything to go by, Balmain and its creative director, Olivier Rousteing, have a big expansion in their future—with new stores opening around the world. Rousteing was backstage, talking up this turning point before the show and taking aim at his critics.“The Balmain Army has shed its armor,” he said. “Whatever I do, even if I cover up my girls, people can say it’s vulgar. But this is what it is. I think it’s really chic, really French. It’s Paris how I see it.”
The first step towards growth was bumping up the number of runway looks this season: from 60 to 80. That’s not an insignificant change and as a result, the show dragged on for too long. Another key difference between his previous outings and this one was the absence of embroideries. For years elaborate beading, crystals, and threadwork was the Balmain way—before and after Rousteing’s arrival. It was as synonymous with the brand as sexy, body-con dresses. Not anymore. But that doesn’t mean this was a minimal collection. The excesses were just of a different sort. There were cut-outs on bodices that revealed a good bit of underboob, fashion’s new erogenous zone. Slits extended way up the front of both thighs. And provocatively placed sheer bits drew the eyes to the hips and derrière.
This was still plenty body-conscious. But in place of glitzy embroideries, Rousteing let color do the talking. After the tawny desert tones and cargo greens of the opening numbers, he showed a jungle’s worth of brights: in solids, mismatched snakeskin prints, and graphic stripes. There were also a lot of knits. And that seemed strategic: They’re not only easier to wear than the label’s famous bandage dresses, but also kinder on the wallet—two factors that could count for a lot as the label pushes into new territories. Lightening up worked in his favor on a Missoni-esque crocheted caftan and skirt.
For evening, he proposed long split-seam dresses pavéd with multicolor crystals in Art Deco motifs and slinky chain mail dresses à la Versace. The former proved too difficult to walk in; they didn’t pass the lightness test, but the chain mail numbers did. That’s the kind of growth that the critics he was talking about backstage could believe in.