With 5.1 million followers and counting, Olivier Rousteing has one of the biggest, most engaged Instagram communities of any designer, and he is very attuned to what his audience likes about Balmain. “It’s like when you launch a song: People react, they comment and they help you understand your strengths, your weaknesses, what they expect and what they care about,” he observed. “You open your mind to the new world, it’s like feeling more real in everything.”
Music is a constant inspiration for the designer, and for his men’s Pre-Fall collection he sampled freely across the decades from icons such as David Bowie (“he’s always on my mind”), Prince, and Michael Jackson. Eventually the designer settled on a groove somewhere in the 90s, riffing on early memories of music videos and the idea of East (specifically, Tokyo by night) meets West (i.e., Kanye). Balmain and its address even appear in kanji characters on a number of streetwear pieces.
If that sounds like much muchness, it is—unapologetically, exuberantly so. It’s worth noting that Balmain’s menswear sales are up 50% since last year. Also, a solid pre-collection can account for more than two-thirds of sales for any fashion house. Given the reaction to Balmain’s Spring 2019 outing, and its denims in particular, Rousteing has the luxury of doing pretty much whatever he wants. For Pre-Fall, that adds up to something like 500 pieces, give or take. That’s a lot of catnip for some seriously cool cats.
“It’s sort of the new Petit Prince for a new generation,” Rousteing allowed. “It’s important to be strong, powerful, and daring.” Men from all over the world are getting more sophisticated about dressing with color, materials, and embellishments more traditionally associated with women’s fashions, he added. “I feel like we always talk a lot about how women love men’s clothing, but men’s mentalities are evolving also; they’re less nervous in terms of their image and being judged. It’s important to me that Balmain is inclusive in speaking to all kinds of men.”
Bearing that in mind, the designer describes a base in search of “Parisian casual but special” pieces. Rousteing offers a wide array of options, such as faded and mottled or ripped and colored denims, sailor-striped sweaters, and the kind of velvet pajama dressing that’s probably headed straight for the first-class cabin on the nonstop from Los Angeles to Paris.
Continuing the velvet theme, he “pimped up the tailoring” by slipping emerald or amethyst jackets in alongside understated options in black, although one piece came in all three hues with a hood. One pullover with red and blue beading etched out a tattoo-like scene of panthers baring teeth at one another; another had golden phoenixes splayed over the shoulders. Elsewhere, a near-fully sequined souvenir jacket was so dense with flora and fauna—dragon, serpent, panther, phoenix—it will probably nudge five-digit prices at retail. For those who can swing it, the crossover appeal is clear.
Exuberance aside, however, the one piece that Rousteing said he couldn’t wait to wear himself is the double-waisted, back-to-front roomy jeans. Pair those with a white T-shirt and a statement jacket—maybe the nylon and leather perfecto, or the one with cut-out shoulders, or perhaps a jean-jacket-parka hybrid—and the conceptual hip-hop look is complete.
Sometimes, a fan will point out synergies with an idol—recently, Michael Jackson—which inspires Rousteing to keep pursuing Balmain’s codes further. (Yes, he plans on going early to the Michael Jackson retrospective opening at the Grand Palais next week.) Pushing that parallel a little further, he concluded: “I think that Michael Jackson is always going to be a huge inspiration for music, and I think Balmain is the same because you can never look at just one thing and say, ‘This is it.’ It’s actually bigger than what you see. I aspire more to being timeless than to being cool.”
On that count, Rousteing has time on his side. And where Balmain’s legions are concerned, come Fall he’s definitely singing their tune.
Originally published on Vogue.com.