“When I was designing some of these, as an occasionally overwhelmed twenty-something, I definitely would’ve laughed if someone would’ve told me that someday I’d be showing them as part of my retrospective.”
Ten years ago almost to the day, Olivier Rousteing stepped into the spotlight when he presented his first runway collection as creative director of Balmain. He was only 25, having worked under his predecessor, Christophe Decarnin, for a couple of years. But he came in with a plan: to mine the French luxury brand’s DNA and tap into the fundamentals of what had made the house that Pierre Balmain built what it is, while simultaneously pushing it towards the internet age and cultivating a brand-new audience on social media.
As this was happening, the revolving door at the very top of the creative ladder in fashion started spinning faster, meaning, more and more often, designers’ tenures at the major houses became shorter. Many didn’t stay on for more than three years. For Rousteing to now be celebrating a full decade at Balmain, it’s not just rare — it’s impressive, especially when you consider what he’s accomplished.
Over the years, Rousteing has managed to innovate on the ideas that have brought him commercial success (like it or not, the sexy, ornate, body-hugging aesthetic he’s pushed has resonated beyond the Kardashian-Jenner family and trickled down the market) while continuously bringing new ones to the table. He’s established and nurtured relationships with some of the most influential celebrities in the world (not many designers can count on Beyoncé record a special message to play over the live stream of their fashion show), while becoming a massively influential figure himself. He remains one of the few Black designers at the helm of a global fashion brand, while advocating for diversity across the industry. All this to say: His Spring 2022 show for Balmain, held Wednesday night during Paris Fashion Week, was a big deal.
To commemorate the anniversary, Rousteing does run through some of his greatest hits from his time at Balmain. (Ten years, that’s a lot of collections — especially when you factor in menswear, resort, pre-fall and haute couture.) “When I was designing some of the earliest of these, as an occasionally overwhelmed twenty-something, I definitely would have laughed if someone would have told me that someday I’d be showing [these looks] as part of my retrospective,” he wrote in the show notes. “But at this moment, I can see that they are milestones of the journey that brought me to where we are now, in 2021.”
The opening looks reflect a lot of the trends we’re seeing across the spring collections, like an emphasis on formfitting silhouettes and an embrace of strategic cutouts. There are also some biographical elements woven in, like bands, weaves and straps that mimic the looks of bandages and gauze wraps, as Rousteing spent a lot of the last year recovering from a burn accident. (“By embracing that previous pain and celebrating the power of healing, somehow I’ve been able to translate them into beautiful components of my designs,” he explained.)
As the line rolls on, we see new riffs on the confident, “main character” pieces and techniques that have defined Rousteing’s Balmain: sharp blazers, short skirts, long sleeves, tailored separates and oversized outerwear featuring fine quilting, intricate paneling, all-over embellishments and lots of beading. The color palette is pretty restrained, limited mostly to black, white, red and light brown with the occasional gold accent, so the focus remains on the finishes on each garment.
Rousteing is also an expert showman, and the Balmain Spring 2022 show delivered. Firstly, it was held a concert venue and modeled after a music festival (the brand’s second), with performances from Doja Cat and Franz Ferdinand. Then, he brought out a star lineup of supermodels — including some who hadn’t walked the runway in years — to close out the show: Naomi Campbell, Milla Jovovich, Mariacarla Boscono, Imaan Hammam, Cindy Bruna, Precious Lee, Nadège du Bospertus and Carla Bruni among them.
“When the door opened for me in 2011, I was not the most expected candidate for a creative director,” Rousteing reflected. “Since then, I have been determined to use this opportunity and position to keep pushing for further change. I’ve worked to ensure that Balmain’s presentations, workspaces and campaigns reflect the true diverse beauty of today’s world. And runways, which were once limited to just a lucky few of fashion insiders, are now open to more and more fashion lovers.”
He also promised that there’s more to come as he enters his second decade at the house: “Over the next ten years, I pledge to continue to push for more inclusion, more democracy and more openness. Here’s to the next decade of sharing our joy-filled signature mix of fashion and music with more and more of those who wish to enter into the Balmain universe.”
See the full Balmain Spring 2022 collection in the gallery, below.