It is a Tuesday morning in New York City and we are about to get the first glimpse of the highly anticipated Balmain and H&M (Hennes & Mauritz) collaboration collection. We are at a press conference in the grand 1927 masterpiece, the Ralph Walker Tribeca building at 100 Barclay Street.
Since Olivier Rousteing, the creative director of the Parisian luxury fashion house Balmain, announced the news of his partnership with the Swedish retailer earlier this year at the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas, fashion lovers across the world have been waiting with bated breath. Over the months, Rousteing, who is followed by 1.5 million people on Instagram, teased us with campaign images featuring his super-model friends, the “Balmain Army”: Jourdan Dunn, Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid.
At 30, Rousteing’s career growth has been impressive. After taking up the role of creative director at 25, this orphan from France has quickly become the globe’s most in-demand couturier .
Describing himself as an “H&M generation boy”, Rousteing says the collaboration is a dream come true: “For me being part of the H&M story, it’s an honour, it’s a privilege and it is something that celebrates a vision and aesthetic.
“Ten years ago I was part of the Cavalli collaboration. I was an assistant, I also started an internship in Cavalli.
“When I think 10 years later I’m with Balmain, the creative director, I’m building that amazing story that we’re going to share together. I feel like it’s a dream come true,” says Rousteing.
Over the years H&M has collaborated with a number of international designers to make high-end fashion more accessible, including fashion giants Karl Lagerfeld, Roberto Cavalli and Versace.
At the press conference, Ann Sofie Johansson, the creative adviser at H&M, praised Rousteing’s talent.
“I think we have a wish list of designers we would like to collaborate with and Rousteing was on that list.
“We also get a lot of questions from our customers, demands really, who to collaborate with next… he was one of the top names there. It’s also fun to have a collaboration that is opposite to what we had last year with Alexander Wang.
“That was really sporty and streety, now we have this opulent, glamorous and a sexy collection,” says Johansson.
The hashtag for the collaboration is H&M Balmain Nation #HMBalmaination which symbolises unity and diversity, explains Rousteing: “I love fashion for two reasons. I love to do clothes, but I think also fashion helps to bring about a vision. A vision of diversity and at the same time unity and uniqueness.
“With H&M it was literally expressing the diversity.”
Why the ‘nation’? “First, because obviously this line is more affordable than my own line. “I think for me it was more than building the Balmain Army, I could reach more people, different ages, also different continents because Balmain has not so many stores like H&M.
“For me it was literally building a nation that believes in the Balmain universe, the DNA of Balmain,” says Rousteing.
The collection includes a menswear collection that would fit right in a 1980s Michael Jackson video and womenswear made up of cocktail dresses and fitted jackets.
It’s a collection of beautiful timeless pieces boasting the Balmain aesthetics of embroidery and embellishment, in leather, silk and tulle with subtle detailing and gold buttons.
Also part of the range are bold high-heeled caged sandals with a rope design and accessories. Items in the collection range from R749 to R5 999 for a fully beaded party dress and jacket. Accessories start at R399.
“The most important thing for the collection was to translate the confidence, the sexiness and the power of the (Balmain) house.
“Then you’re going to see the diversity of Balmain, and how it is for different people, for different continents and different worlds. I want everyone to feel welcome in the Balmain world,” he says.
The Balmain Army captures this and is made up of models and A-listers that personify Rousteing’s take on fearless femininity.
“Hadid and Jenner are two strong girls and they are also different as an aesthetic. “It was important to work with them, as well as Dunn. The Balmain Army is always girls that I believe in and who believe in me, it’s important to share that.
“I think it was important to build this squad of strong girls that are going to be strong women,” says Rousteing.
That evening we witnessed a spectacularly choreographed runway showcase at the launch event at 23 Wall Street, featuring the Balmain Army It wasn’t your typical runway show, but a star-studded, flashy celebration attended by the likes of Kylie Jenner, Alexa Chung, Diane Kruger, Alek Wek, Lewis Hamilton, Coco Rocha, Ne-Yo, Ellie Goulding, Jessica Hart and Soo Joo Park. Black attire was a popular choice for the evening, where drinks flowed and guests dined on canapés, burgers and fries.
The show ended with a surprise performance by the Backstreet Boys, after which we
were treated to an opportunity to shop at a pop-up store in the building’s
On what he enjoys about working in the fashion industry, Rousteing says: “I love the creativity of fashion so much.
“I really believe you can be creative and be happy, that you can make fashion and still be smiling. Sometimes people think fashion has a lot of dark sides, and that no one smiles, no one laughs. I want to show that you can create and still be happy and young, and still have your dreams. It’s a wonderful world and I am so glad to be a designer because I’m creating dreams.”
“And his advice for budding fashion designers: “The fashion world sometimes has so many boundaries where you can’t express exactly what you want to express. Comments about critics, about a show. Just believe in yourself. When people say you’re controversial, push your ideas and vision and don’t be afraid. You have to be sure of yourself,” says
● I was in New York City courtesy of H&M. This feature was first published in the Cape Argus on November 2 2015.
● The HM x Balmain collection will be available from Thursday at the H&M V&A Waterfront store, and at the H&M Sandton City store on Saturday, as well as online.