>> A PR from Harrods recently told me that they can’t keep Balmain on their rails – the pieces literally fly out of the store. That’s Balmain, purveyor of the £3000 jackets and £6,000 plus dresses. It’s well-timed then that they should open their first ever London store on South Audley Street to meet demand. The full address is 69 just to add a cheeky wink from Olivier Rousteing to London’s international set, ready to splash the cash and flash the flesh. The real significance is of course that the store arrives into a city which contributes a fair amount in terms of revenue for the brand. “We sell really really well here,” said Rousteing. “It’s such an international city – the most international of all cities in Europe, I think. You have women from the Middle East, Russia, Brazil. I love the diversity and the mixity (yes he did just invent a word there) of the city. You can a fifty-something year old who wants a well-cut jacket or you can get a twenty-something pop star who wants a short dress.”
Rousteing’s audience may be a diverse one, given that he has the biggest social media following of any French designers out there but his own Balmain Army, a brand concept born in London a year ago, when Mario Sorrenti and Katie Grand shot Ysaunny Brito, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Issa Lish, Kayla Scott and Binx Walton for the A/W 14-5 campaign, is of course really only available to the very affluent – the sort that pass through this part of Mayfair on a day to day basis. In a bijoux former gallery, designer Joseph Dirand, imagined what Pierre Balmain’s London pied-à-terre might have been like with mid-century furniture from André Arbus and Jean Royère contrasting with the gilt and the marble. It’s cosier than the Paris flagship, as a nod to its London location but not lacking in what Rousting calls the “couture feeling” of the maison. “What is amazing about London is that it’s very warm and so the store combines that with the richness of what Balmain is known for,” said Rousteing. That warmth is being exuded as we speak. Even as the round of press appointments were going on in the store yesterday, customers were coming in enquiring about specific pieces.
Last night at Annabel’s, the London portion of the #BalmainArmy marched in, with the likes of Poppy Delevigne, Jourdan Dunn and Lily Donaldson ensuring you heard and felt their presence with their beaded tassels and fringing. Witnessing these good time girls in their environment goes some way to explaining the root of Rousteing’s success. There’s nothing apologetic about the short and sharp dress lengths, the amount of couture-derived embroidery and embellishment and the fact that you need to exude not just richness in spirit but also in wealth to embody these clothes. That richness also pervaded Rousteing’s latest collection for the house, as he re-imagined the exoticism of 1970s Parisian fashion excess, like the saturated tones of Antonio Lopez’ Instamatic photographs of the young and the beautiful. He was candid about references like Yves Saint Laurent and the bejewelled colours of purple, red and jade green brought back from far-flung destinations like China and Morocco. “As recent events have reminded us, France has a long and proud history of defending essential liberties and artistic freedom. That unique, open-minded spirit is also something that sets Parisian fashion apart. we celebrate that Parisian tradition, as well as the evolution of my city into a truly global melting pot,” was how Rousting poignantly chose to sum up recent events in Paris in relation to the collection.
It’s too easy to get caught up in the surface level of all those YSL-isms, jewelled tones and 80s tinged brassy silhouettes but upon speaking to Rousteing, it’s hard not to see them with deeper meaning – the richness in colour palette is yet another way for the designer to communicate his love and support for an enriched racial and cultural landscape.