There are very few fashion shows Cher – yes, that Cher – would get out of bed for, but the Balmain Festival in Paris, which the songstress closed last night, is not any old fashion show.
The brand’s young, visionary creative director Olivier Rousteing made the genius move back in 2019 of opening Balmain shows to the general public, turning them into entirely free mega events, complete with sponsored bars and food trucks, thousands of screaming teens and much, much merch.
The third instalment of the ‘Balmain Festival’ took place last night in the Jean Bouin stadium, the home of Paris rugby in the 16 arondissement, and was attended by a whopping 12,000 guests – a vast sea of fashion fans who went absolutely wild when Cher made a surprise cameo at the finale, rocking a sharp-shouldered latex bodysuit and the brand’s sky-high flatform shoes. The singer did not perform, but her presence was enough to send the stadium into a total frenzy.
The clothes that went prior were undoubtedly Rousteing’s strongest to date. Preoccupied by the “unending heatwaves, horrific droughts, rampant forest fires and freakish storms,” France experienced this summer; the 37-year-old designer took inspiration from the Renaissance and made sustainability a renewed focus.
An entire section of dramatic sculptural couture gowns, modelled by the likes of Ashley Graham, Precious Lee and Kristen Mcmenamy, were crafted from branches and twigs sourced from the forest floor: bark from chestnut-trees was formed into a one-of-a-kind bustier, oak was shaped into a little bark mini dress. One dramatic gown was constructed entirely from layers of raffia embellished with jute cords and twigs; another was woven from a liquid fabric containing 46 per cent recycled Evian plastic bottle waste.
This summer Rousteing became the latest designer to take the helm, temporarily, at Jean Paul Gaultier, and the time he spent in the archives there could be felt in this collection. There were denim-look prints and sheer mesh maxis printed with torsos and other bodily motifs that referenced Gaultier’s nude Venus print dresses, while tightly contouring corsets darting into exaggerated hip silhouettes echoed the iconic JPG fragrance bottles.
Rousteing recently found out his birth parents come from the Horn of Africa, and his fascination with the beauty, traditions and designs of that region were evident in the traditional gold jewellery, colour palette and sewing and weaving techniques in many of the items.
“This is a composition blending my European heritage and outlook with the beauty and traditions of Africa,” said Rousteing, “reflecting today’s diverse and powerful new world, where rebirth and fresh possibilities are possible.”