Say the world Balmain and many people hear “leather jacket” – specifically, Christophe Decarnin’s leather jackets for the late Michael Jackson. The look revived a sagging label and became the centerpiece of every collection.
When Olivier Rousteing became creative director after Decarnin’s rather dramatic mental breakdown, he wisely kept the leather jacket look. Since 2005, we have relied on the fact that, regardless of the season, the backbone of Balmain was going to be some variation of that leather jacket.
Today, that may have changed.Granted, the leather jacket is still there. It was the second look down the runway, white with black trim, quilted, and big brass buttons down the front, a take on the popular bomber jacket. But this spring/summer 2014 is not laden with leather. Instead, it is well groomed with cotton, both in terms of knits and brushed denim, and edged with chain. The look plays a bit off the Chanel silhouettes of the early 90s, but Rousteing makes it his own with a dramatic statement on comfort and wearability.
Say hello to the Balmain hyper houndstooth jacket. Rousteing introduces the look over a black leather skirt, then goes full tilt with the knit, still utilizing the large brass buttons, still keeping the same general silhouette, but making the look much softer and, inherently, more feminine. When Karlie Kloss wore the look in powder blue, there were gasps, smiles, and even a few tears.
Olivier also played strong with denim. His first look with the casual fabric had a hard edge, an off-the-shoulder blouse circled by a rather bulky chain. He doesn’t want anyone to get the idea that the Balmain woman has gone marshmallow. Rousteing doesn’t over-use the fabric, but it does keep coming back as a coverall, a jumper, and even as the base fabric for a few dresses.
Are we rubbing our eyes in disbelief yet? Then get ready to replace the houndstooth with over-sized gingham checks. On denim. With the same bomber jacket and brass buttons. Now, add some Vischy styling because, after all, this is Paris.
Rousteing isn’t stupid, though. He makes sure that there’s plenty of leather pieces to satisfy that hunger he knows his audience has developed. There’s one black jumper about two-thirds the way through, with six brass buttons at the waist, that I’m willing to bet won’t stay in stock.
Still, Rousteing has been slowly making overtures that Balmain can, and should be, more than leather jackets and this may be his most convincing argument in that direction yet. He ends the show with a sheer gingham top with chain detailing over a quilted ruffle skirt.
The Balmain woman hasn’t lost her edge, but she wants to remind you that she’s still very much a lady.