By David Stuchbury
How to choose a Balmain outfit?
History of Balmain
During the 1950s, Pierre Balmain’s high-end designs positioned him at the peak of the Parisian fashion world aside from the likes of Christian Dior. His ‘Jolie Madame’ [literally beautiful lady] take on volume, cut, colour and luxuriant presence was a high point of couture leaning style but went somewhat out of favour in the 60s and 70s when Yves Saint Laurent shifted Parisian trends away from lofty and idealized beauty to a more street-savvy look inspired by [and inspiring] the beat movement and increased female independence.
Balmain still had its moments: Oscar de la Renta in the 90s nodded to the house’s elaborate archive with jaw-dropping female silhouettes. Later, Christophe Decarnin dumped much of the back catalogue for deconstructed, micro-length and power-shouldered outfits that pushed Balmain into the twenty-first century proper. Where Decarnin modernized, from 2009, Olivier Rousteing has hyper-driven: sharper lines, punchier and more sophisticated patterning and colours, undeniably sexier. Balmain is one of the main luxury players again. Beauty, it appears, never really went out of fashion; it just needed the right dress.
What you can expect when buying Balmain.
There’s a degree of dare-to-wear with Balmain, but beauty and symmetry come as standard. Like only a few other labels who’s look you may aspire to, Balmain is simple but possibly the hardest to copy: a focus on a slim [often slim-belted] waist-line will provide a base upwards to reinforced shoulders. Expect short skirts or ankle cut slim pants, and ankle hugging heels, with Rousteing’s imagination running wild to create layers and colours you might not even know existed.
The last couple of seasons has seen Balmain toy nicely with the formula – a little more length on the arm, 70’s rock star-inspired power shoulders, and pleating. Rest assured, black still has a place in a Balmain collection and (via t-shirt or ‘event’ dress) is many client’s more formal entry point.
In fact, Rousteing’s real genius may be most evident in his use of black. Look at the Fall 2020 campaign to see how sparingly it’s used, but how it stands out by virtue of sumptuous material and design, and (this is where you can imitate) by matching it perfectly with unexpected tones.
The couture collection obviously has a little more monochrome; its formality is energized with those shoulders, jewels, patterns and contrast in white, or [very nice] gold belts and accessories. Black being our focus here, we look at three dresses and one blazer standout that forward the Balmain aesthetic and essence in different ways.
Draped Black Dress
Minus the belt (which you can add yourself) but otherwise the standard Balmain dress silhouette. High (though not risk taking-ly high here) above the knee, cinched at the waist, with that draping front fold; gold buttons for the ceremonial military look and those high eighties shoulders (here to relatively conservative effect) that almost turn the dress into a shirt.
You can wear this item as high formality by matching up in all black. Balmain bags generally come on imposingly with heavy metal hardware, and you could easily rock your outfit up with all black heels, or clean the slate with the same shoes but a simpler clutch.
Here’s a rule, don’t run with a cross-body or larger shoulder bag in a Balmain dress – these are clothes designed to place greater emphasis on the body by way of a firm silhouette and emphasis on legs and shoulders. Everything is about bringing the model [you] into focus. So accessories that embellish (gold earrings, watches and a complicated clutch) work fine, but wear nothing that threatens to break up the power of that symmetry.
Sequins Rhombus Dress
Strong shoulders again, and black. Geometry has often been an overt feature of Balmain clothing. Take a long and envious look at the Spring 2020 Ready to Wear collection for an eyeful of this in full effect. The genius is in patterning to emphasize, empower and beautify the female form (which all the best designers do) and also to further that concept by allowing the body to be a design feature that the clothes actually accede to.
The geometry is the [frequently centrally aligned in triangle and circular form] fulcrum which holds the look together visually and structurally, while providing gravitas and poise to express outward and up. The rhinestone sequined rhombus dress is a little less intimidating, but this is largely a concession to Rousteing’s own desire to relax the shape on occasion; he’s virtually inviting a large scale scarf and jacket, and boots that you could cross the Rhine within a single step, whilst still letting you know that (for all this garb) when it comes to it, you’re still stunning.
Long Black Dress
There’s no denying what this dress does to and says about its wearer. OK, you’re looking for an occasion to meet the length, the full leg-length cut, and (for goodness sake!) – silver embroidery and a half-length collar. Fact is, if you know the occasion already [ball, premier, white tie event...] and you’ve got the height, then you’ll know this is the dress for you. A simple clutch and shoes to match will suit.
However – and here’s the sweet irony – this is also the easiest dress to take downtown. Sure, you’re not going to dance in it, but once the ball is done, you can don a black quilted leather jacket with large silver buttons, black or white Balenciaga pumps, let your hair go and you’re whoever and wherever you want to be.
For those that can’t quite afford the full Balmain effect, the principle works well for any brand if the clothes fit and suit you. The Scorpion Halter-neck dress can be persuaded to stroll the same way, with a more conservative outcome.
Black Lurex Cardigan
The quintessential Balmain article: cropped, slim, gold button-embossed with round collarless neckline and squared shoulders. With ankle cut leggings or jeans, you can shop and socialize in it and could even push on formality’s door with a matching blue sweater and looser cut jeans. In a mini and high boots, you’re on centre stage. And yes, whatever else you’re wearing, feel free to Moonwalk. Just once.
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