In Olivier Rousteing’s most recent roses-everywhere womenswear collection, one look seemed anomalous: a tailored jacket heaped with a swoop of embellished swallows. Turns out this was an Easter egg that prefigured a menswear collection aswirl with them. Backstage, in the 44 Rue François 1er building that housed the founder’s first atelier, Rousteing explained that Pierre Balmain had in the 1950s adopted the migratory hirondelle as a motif on couture dresses and shoes. “It was really interesting for me to take this from couture and apply it to my menswear.” Balmain saw the swallow as an emblem of good luck, he said: “because you can never be sure of what will happen tomorrow.”
What happened at the show was that a flight of clearly high-altitude VICs and friends—the Rolex on the gentlemen next to me was as gold and chunky as it gets—glided en masse into the OG Balmain atelier. “For me it’s about the princes of the new world,” said Rousteing: “They all own their own kingdoms.” The swallow’s migratory path takes it from Europe to central Africa, but here Rousteing flew it still further. He majored on souvenir jackets blended with varsity cardigans (sometimes tailoring-touched) that also rioted with tigers and dragons. Rousteing said he had been inspired by the embellished jackets brought back to the US by combat personnel from Japan, Korea, and Vietnam in the 20th Century, and thought of his house’s emergence at the end of World War II, and how (he said) he regularly encounters people who believe Balmain is American. Why the misconception? “Because of the pop,” he reckoned.
Atop either substantially elevated Cuban heel boots or very haute woven leather riffs on the summer’s metaverse megaboots, the collection segued between sporty to princely. Tailoring was cut in the outline of enlarged and deconstructed sectional swallow shapes, and paneled in more swallow sections. The shapes were reimagined, organic and sometimes retro-futuristic. Narrow legged and slim-fit boot-cut pants above those Cuban heeled boots hinted at a languid androgynous Balmain glam, which Rousteing said was by no means exclusively for males: “Today we are going to see our VIC women too, and I know that half of the collection they will buy as well.” He added: “I can see the numbers, and it’s so interesting that the men now start to buy the womenswear and the women are buying the menswear. So there is a shift in our collection.” He added that 20% of the collection is specifically designed to be unisex, while other sizings are adapted to be accessible to all genders.
Like the womenswear collection before it, this collection read as if Rousteing was deliberately broadening and adapting his design language to communicate messages that are beyond the apparently “sophisticated.” Tellingly he again mentioned Pierre Balmain’s great friend Gertrude Stein, whose patriarchy-confounding words were similarly encoded. He said: “For me what is interesting is to see all the cultures together, which I think is something that I miss in our world.” The tantalizing spaces between the said and the unsaid were left there on purpose as a murmuration of shifting, fluid meanings. This was a collection designed to be worn out, not spelled out.