Balmain’s Sur Seine Shifts the Tide for Haute Couture Runways

Celebrating the 75th anniversary of the French house, and the end of Parisian lockdown orders.

On Sunday evening Olivier Rousteing cast off a Balmain barge, shuffled with 21 socially distant models, 50 dancers (under the direction of famed choreographer, Jean-Charles Jousni), French singer Yseult, and a fleet of grails dusted off from the archives chez Pierre Balmain himself. Billed Balmain’s Sur Seine, the goings kicked off the city’s first-ever digital couture fashion week, setting the tone for a less insular, more inclusive event.

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Following nearly three months under lockdown, Rousteing told British Vogue’s Anders Christian Madsen, that the show was conceived as a celebratory reprieve post-isolation – a moment to revel in the freedom of their newly liberated city. “We’re not going through a war, but we are going through a pandemic,” Rousteing said on a phone call, “fashion is in a tough moment. I don’t think the answer to it is to not do anything, it’s actually to try to respect the world we now live in and give some hope.”

As the fleet sailed toward Notre-Dame cathedral, Parisians gathered at the riverside to claim a coveted seat off the runway. Elsewhere the world watched via TikTok’s “discovery” page, as the exclusivity of haute couture was scuttled, redesigned to be accessible by the masses (albeit for now). This gesture of inclusivity is not lost on Rousteing – it’s all but intentional. “I want to show people that this was a classic French house and today I am the artistic director of it,” he told Madsen, “being half-Ethiopian and half-Somalian, I show the difference between now and before.”

Edward Berthelot Getty Images

The sartorial romance that flourished under the direction of Pierre Balmain, the sophistication and allure earmarked by Erik Mortensen, and the Hollywood pomp of Oscar de la Renta, all took to sea under the gimlet-eyes of Olivier Rousteing. “You can see the evolution, not just through the clothes but how the world has changed,” he said. “The world is changing and it’s important to remember the past as well as the present.”

That shift in creativity, shift in audience, shift in industry, will continue to redefine fashion’s landscape as Balmain has confirmed plans to host a physical runway for September’s S/S 2021 showings. The traditional catwalk will be shored up by digital supports as the fashion industry’s step-change in tech seems to stick.

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