Spring 2021 Ready to Wear

Pictures by Balmain


Balmain Spans the Decades With Archival and Updated Looks

The front row was abuzz for Balmain’s Spring 2021 collection, with J. Lo, Cindy Crawford, Anna Wintour, Usher, and a host of other A-listers eagerly awaiting the start of the show. But, something was missing. Oh right, the actual people. Three rows lined one side of the runway and were seated with 58 LED screens displaying editors, celebrities, and other friends of the brand in pre-recorded front row behavior. Across the aisle sat a minimal live audience, contributing to the energy of the production. 

As the lights lowered and soft smoke slithered down the runway, Balmain Creative Director Olivier Rousting appeared and walked toward a lone stool in the middle of the runway. The voice of house founder Pierre Balmain began speaking en français about the color black and its affect on different generations, and the tradition of French elegance, serving as a narrator from a time gone by. A group of six seasoned models took a casual, salon-style stroll about the runway, modeling in the old tradition with eye contact and hair flips and smiling faces as the audience viewed their 1970s archival inspired ensembles. A PB monogram covered grey cashmere suits and pants, worn with solid black or white tops, followed by coats and a body suit. Rousting perched atop the stool with a slight smile, approving of the exhibit as a designer would in his own salon. This performance art was an homage to the past, to the inspiration of Balmain, and the heritage of the brand’s DNA. The audience clapped with approval as Rousting and the models made their way off stage. 

Within seconds, strobe lights lit up the runway and the energetic refrain of The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” boomed through speakers, signaling four models to begin their synchronized walk, appearing through the smoke and lights as if they were florescent clad aliens on a mission to conquer Earth. Two in highlighter yellow and two in hot pink, the women’s suit shoulders were a dramatic Pagoda shape, extending off the body in accentuated swoops, a style that Rousting touts as “zoom friendly” and would carry on extensively throughout the entire collection. Pants were flared in a modern bellbottom, extended from the inspiration of the 70s archival pieces. Models walked in groups, this is the Balmain Army, after all, in rapid succession so there were always several things going on at once, and many looks to take in. 

The co-ed collection quickly segued into a series of all grey looks. Women wore biker shorts with blazers (perfect for our new work from home culture) and other structured tops. Men wore grey pin strips on slouchy suits and coats with heavy shoulder pads. After a few colorful refrains (Nika Sogo in red latex), denim appeared in knee-length shorts and flared styles paired with slinky tops and structured suit jackets. After denim came the PB monogram once again, covering head to toe looks, this time given a 2020 treatment with those ever-present Pagoda shoulders, an oversized cardigan, handbags, and black accents. Around look 78 (!) the collection began to veer into evening wear with Swarovski crystal-encrusted glittering tops and sheer-wear, as suit jackets morphed into tuxedo coats and dresses made their first appearance in the separates-heavy collection. Seven barefooted models paraded in sexy, slinky dresses and skirts with thigh-high slits and a few heavily exposed midriffs. The collection came to a close with the final walk given to two pint-size soldiers of the Balmain Army, wearing very small renditions of the grey suits shown earlier in the collection. This final walk was intended to be a full-circle moment from the older generation in the beginning, to the youngest generation closing the show, indicating the heritage factor of this collection and of Balmain as a brand. 

There was certainly a lot to take in during this presentation, as there typically is during a Balmain show. Rousting is a master of color and optimism, of which there was plenty of both coursing through the collection. He made casual wear sexy, and evening wear even sexier, as is his gift. However, while the show started with so much promise, with the shining silver hair and real-life figures of the older salon models, the 2021 collection was a parade of one micro-model after another. If you are designing clothes for such real life factors as Zoom calls and a stay at home lifestyle, as so many designers are this season, you need to show those clothes on a diverse cast of bodies if you ever hope to expand your appeal. And the curves of Kim Kardashian in a gifted monogram bodysuit doesn’t cover it. The world is slowly uniting in its acceptance of body positivity and some areas of the fashion industry are very slow to follow. Having said that, there is not one look in the entire collection that I would not immediately want to wear. It was accessible and modern, while weaving that archival inspiration throughout. Pierre Balmain would be proud. 

Written by Elizabeth Kramsky


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