Balmain Paris Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2019

by Long Nguyen

In his first haute couture show for Balmain, -a Parisian couture house founded by Pierre Balmain in 1945 - Olivier Rousteing pushed forward the house’s heritage of fashion as architecture in movement. Staged in the unfinished, two level store to be opened later in February near Place Vendome. With a collection that could be best described as stretching the boundaries of sculptural shapes yet flawlessly hand made by the atelier, showing off once again the intricate details and application of crafts specific to couture. There did not seem to be any real historical references nor any mood boards so to speak that took ideas from the past and rehashed them for now. Nor was there any attempt at reviving the house’s own past glories. When there were references, they were broad, like heritage of craft and theatrical shapes rather than specific era or gown.  Indeed it was a fresh start and one that succeeded in paving the way for the development of a voice in couture that will fortify the entire brand.

What was truly genuine about the show was Rousteing’s obvious enthusiasm of launching this adventure, that he sought to answer the question of ‘what is couture in 2019?’ He opened the show with a white, long, silk, wool, asymmetrical coat. It had high and broad shoulders with multiple folds on one side that descended the sleeves along. A half bustle became part of the long train, worn with matching hot pants and giant, round, ball-shaped ‘B’ bracelets. What followed were plays on exaggerated shapes. For example, an above the neck, raised platform collar on a white jacket of a pant suit; a round balloon micro skirt paired with an oversized turtleneck and a white, short, pearl embroidered dress with a partly sheer pleated organza sailboat shape. The workmanship on these clothes are unrivaled by any other shows in Paris. The intricate pearls and metal chains embroideries on a cut-out denim based short dress, a white tulle blouse, pants and a hanging cape wrap made of even cut, hand painted feathers.

Needless to say, a few of the silhouettes were probably more experimental than realistic. Say, the giant balloon leather corset and feather skirt but make it a light pink satin corset with wavy layers of silk organza fold sleeves and a short embroidered skirt with pink feather trims. It was totally chic and eventually one might get used to a strapless dress with fairly large and uneven side panels in pink tweeds.  Like it or hate it, there is something infectious about Rousteing’s enthusiasm and determination to carry this project forward to fruition. Plus, the house is backing his vision forcefully. No doubt he had fun as he ran around the store runway in the show finale to the tune of Michel Polnareff’s 1977 song ‘Lettre à France.’ A melody about the nostalgia of being away from the country. Perhaps this was meant as a bridging of the Balmain couture past with the couture now. A reunification of sorts between past and present on this closing show of the spring couture season.