Balmain's Resort 2021 collection is bold, colorful, vibrant — all things audiences have come to expect from the brand under Olivier Rousteing's creative leadership. However, the designer describes it as "one of the most emotional collections that we have ever done."
Over the phone from Paris, Rousteing says that when he and his team finished photographing the lookbook in Normandy, they were "crying, because we were like, 'We made it.' It's not a usual collection, where you have all the ways that you can make it happen. We knew that we had to be together, to hope, to cross fingers and, at the same time, to push." They were driven by a question: "'How can we still create in a moment when we're blocked?'"
"The moment we heard we were going into lockdown, we completely changed our process of working," he says. The thought of simply not releasing a collection, however, wasn't an option: "I felt like it was really, really important to not give up."
So, the Balmain team continued to collaborate, albeit from their respective homes. "We all worked by Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp," he explains. "I was receiving the pieces at my place, I was having my model get and fit clothes by Skype at her place in Paris. We were choosing the fabrics by Skype or Zoom, receiving the fabrics [at our homes]... My pattern-makers were creating the dresses in their living room. I was sending them sketches by WhatsApp, after explaining what I could with my mannequin in my house... We were doing calls every three hours, because we wanted to make sure we were delivering a collection, to show the togetherness of my team and of my supply chain."
The supply chain was a big consideration for Rousteing: The brand's production partners were asking about new collections, he says, "because they were worried about not get any money from the business after the lockdown. It was important to create masks for the hospitals, but at same time deliver a collection to make sure that my supply chain would have money."
Balmain works with suppliers from across the globe on any given collection, so the timing could be challenging at times, as some countries started lifting lockdowns ahead of others. Rousteing explains he would go into the office to receive packages coming from its partners opening up abroad. "Some of the prints were made in Italy, so we were waiting for Italy to send [them to] us, but there was no one in my office to get them, so I would go."
Eventually, as France began to lift certain restrictions, team members were allowed to start going back into the Balmain headquarters, though they continued to follow social distancing guidelines.
"Everybody wanted to create a collection because at the end of the day, we all want to make sure that we're creating a new world and that we still have the strength and the passion," Rousteing explains. He's nearing the 10-year mark as creative director at Balmain, he continues, and this period has really shown him how much "togetherness and solidarity" there is among his team. "What I learned [from this time] as well is that we were all together. We wanted to challenge ourselves to make it happen during a really tough time and make sure that we can present a strong, vibrant and colorful collection, bringing joy and hope for the future."
The timeline for presenting Resort 2021 had been pushed back, naturally. (Typically, it would debut in May.) The team moved forward with releasing a lookbook, which was photographed in Normandy, in a castle that a former Balmain employee and longtime friend of Rousteing's is renovating to open as a boutique hotel.
Part of the reason why they shot it in the north of France versus in Paris, where the brand is headquartered, he says, came from a desire to be outside and come together (safely) after months of isolation, indoors. It was a photoshoot, yes, "but at the same time, a picnic all together, enjoying the sun outside," he adds.
Then, for its menswear offering, Rousteing had some famous faces from the Balmain Army — Maluma, Rome Flynn from "How to Get Away With Murder," Jorge Lopez from "Elite," Nicholas Galitzine and Jon Kortajarena — pick out their favorite looks from the collection and photograph themselves in them.
Looking at the final product, there are notes of "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," "Saved by the Bell" and "90210" — shows that Rousteing was rewatching during quarantine, he says. "I wanted to go back to that kind of pop, hopeful world. It's a really fresh and a happy collection, because the reality is that it was such a sad moment but at the same time, my work with fashion [has been] to bring some happiness and joy." And people are responding to it: According to the designer, early meetings with buyers have been successful.
"I think I just want to bring some energy and some beauty without, of course, forgetting what we went through," Rousteing says. "Always after a storm, you want the sun. I always have been really criticized for bringing, let's say, strong shoulder pads [in my collections]. My craftsmanship is really bright. I'm someone that's really loud about everything that I believe in... But I want to make sure that my fashion is, as well, an escape. It's a way of seeing the sun again after the storm."
See Balmain's Resort 2021 collection in the gallery below.