Olivier Rousteing presents the Balmain ‘Festival’ spring summer 2023 collection as part of Paris Fashion Week.
After France’s summer of unending heatwaves, horrific droughts, rampant forest fires, and freakish storms—all direct results of our failure to address the dangers of global warming—I’m certain that I was not the only one asking fundamental questions about the possible dystopian future awaiting us. And, if we want some better answers to those existential questions, now seems the time to get serious about a reboot. Relying on science and guided by our love for this endangered planet, we need to begin focusing on changes that could enable a moment of rebirth.
Yes, I know that the idea of rebirth may sound impossible—but don’t forget, we’ve done it before. Rebirth, in French, is renaissance. And, as we all learned in school, the greatest geniuses of the Renaissance—those true “Renaissance Men”—managed to meld together radical advances in science with rediscoveries of abandoned classical wisdom to fundamentally transform their age with completely new ways of thinking and creating.
They helped push each member of society—along with society itself—toward essential reforms, allowing for a massive jolt toward progress that still wows us today, many centuries later. So, reflecting on our crucial need for change during this summer of despair somehow managed to push me into rediscovering and celebrating the hope, beauty, and advancements of the Renaissance. Museums and my old school textbooks helped reacquaint me with some of that era’s many fantastic leaps forward in science, painting, music, and sculpture. And, not all that surprising, while those past achievements and masterpieces were inspiring me with their daring and beauty, they ultimately worked their way into my sketches for today’s runway.
So, it’s very easy to spot this collection’s many patterns, details, and silhouettes that channel the spirit, art, and sculpture of that golden age’s greatest thinkers. Speaking of needed changes and hoped-for rebirths—after this summer, it’s even more clear that our industry should be pushing much more forcefully for fundamental transformations. We have the power to be truly transparent, move past greenwashing and finally allow consumers to make informed choices. Joining together, we could explore new possibilities for reducing waste, water pollution, soil damage, and carbon emissions at every step of production.
Those are objectives that my team and I have been trying to meet here at Balmain—and although, of course, I cannot say that our Fall 2022 collection is 100% sustainable, I am pleased to note that Balmain continues to make steady progress towards our goals, with a very large percentage of this collection relying on earth-friendly fabrics (FSC- and Ecovero-certified viscose and sustainable Italian linens). You will also notice that many of today’s designs are crafted from remarkable raw, undyed fabrics (helping to avoid water pollution from chemical dyes).
Obviously, we all have a long way to go—but my team and I have resolved that we will not be daunted by the size of the challenge ahead of us. We will continue to do everything that we can do now and in the future. For example, by next season, we will have finalized our transition to certified sustainable wool for the majority of the house’s collections —helping ensure that many Balmain signatures, including our iconic Six-Button Blazer, will be as sustainable as they are beautiful.
The need to protect this planet is also reflected in this collection’s many designs inspired by that endangered beauty. But, instead of going for an expected rusticity or minimalism, we’ve aimed to explore and celebrate the fascinating rich, and complex refinement of the natural world. Our Balmain Atelier artisans made it all possible, with their impressive work on the many couture-inspired elements. I could not be happier with their incredible quilting, draping, braiding, patchwork, weaving and master sculpting. And their incredible artistry helps underline another key element of any possible future reboot for fashion.
Today, as fast-fashion fills our landfills, there is definitely something to be said for timeless designs, created to last a lifetime—after all, perhaps the most sustainable item is the one that won’t be quickly discarded. Over the past weeks, as we worked on today’s collection and runway, I guess it was the Renaissance theme that pushed me to keep referring to this presentation as our symphony. And, if it wasn’t for the fact that Dvořák had already grabbed the name, I definitely would have called it our “New World Symphony.” For this is a composition blending my European heritage and outlook with the beauty and traditions of Africa—reflecting today’s diverse and powerful new world, where rebirth and fresh possibilities are possible.
As I’ve pointed out many times before, much of my love of working on couture is due to the incredible freedom that it gives a designer. Liberated from everyday commercial limitations, unconcerned about following marketplace trends and actually encouraged to push boundaries—working on collections like these give me a rare chance to truly experiment and push myself.
Overseeing a couture offering is definitely a dream. And my team and I were determined to make the most of this special moment—this dream— discovering and investigating new techniques and materials, in order to build directly upon the Spring 2023 runway’s love letter to our planet. In addition to relying on our own talented Balmain artisans, we’ve reached out to new creators from outside of the Paris couture world to partner with us.
They helped open our eyes to how we can work closely with nature for this special couture moment—while helping us avoid leaving any footprints on the forest floor. No trees have been harvested to create these pieces—instead sourcing teams were sent into forests to gather the perfect bark, branches and twigs. Bark from chestnut-trees has been formed into a one-of-a-kind bustier and that from oak has been expertly shaped into a little bark dress. Striking basketweaves were created from pieces harvested from meadows, bogs and forests, sorted by colors and softened in water before being woven and sculpted directly atop the house model.
A long gown relies on multiple layers of raffia, each playing with an array of brown hues and hand stitched onto a gauze base, allowing us to riff on the amazing textures and tones of the gorgeous trees that we spotted during our expeditions deep into the woods. A pair of particularly eye-catching sculptural pieces were constructed from an extraordinary amount of natural raffia, jute cord and twigs—all stitched, assembled, and shaped into incredible curving volumes by our singular craftsmen.
Throughout, the influence of Africa is, of course, quite easy to spot. Discovering recently that my birth parents come from the Horn of Africa has only served to intensify my lifelong fascination with the beauty, traditions and designs of that region—and with the whole of Africa. And, for today’s Balmain Festival, as my team and I call for a global rebirth—a renaissance—while highlighting the endangered beauty of the natural world that surrounds us—melding that existential message with influences from the very birthplace of humanity seems a natural fit. Just like our main runway collection, the creation story of this couture offering begins with my design team and me sharing worries about the possibilities of a dystopian climate future.
By motivating us to redouble our sustainability efforts and opening our eyes to the endangered beauty that surrounds us, this summer’s disquieting heatwaves, droughts and forest fires have definitely affected us. There’s such a long way to go and so much work ahead of us. But we pledge to keep giving it our all —and we hope that others will join with us.