As a 30-something who has attended a few too many Coachellas, I truly thought my music festival days were behind me. But on Thursday night, I found myself at a 20,000-capacity stadium in Paris for Balmain Festival, now in its third season.
It was my first Balmain Festival, and it was the biggest iteration yet, complete with junk food-filled concession stands, overpriced cocktails, musical acts I'm too old to know, a smattering of celebrities and hordes of screaming fans — many of them dressed up in Balmain's signature sparkly, attention-grabbing garments, the event's equivalent to band merch. In opposition to the exclusive nature of most shows in Paris, but in line with the democratic spirit Rousteing has brought to Balmain, the brand opened its event to the public, which could buy tickets for the runway show-meets concert, as well as food and drinks on arrival. An undisclosed portion of sales were donated to (RED) as well as to the Global Fund to support its fight against pandemics.
While the audience definitely didn't meet the venue's 20,000-person capacity (the brand said it expected around 10,000), it still felt like the most well-attended fashion show I've ever been to. It also might have been the most enthusiastic audience I've ever seen: Guests in the standing section saddled right up to the massive, elevated runway with their phones held above their heads for the entire show. The screaming began before the first model even hit the runway: An image of Cher flashed on the jumbotron — a teaser that filled us all with curiosity and anticipation.
Rousteing obviously isn't a less-is-more kind of guy, so his latest runway show featured no fewer than 98 looks. And they did not lack in visual interest, featuring plenty of the structural, gravity-defying silhouettes; innovative fabric manipulation (see: basket-like weaving and intricate knots); historical references and streetwear influences Rousteing has become known for over his 10-plus years at the brand. At the end, an assortment of couture eveningwear came out — gowns even more dramatic and mystifying than the ready-to-wear we'd just seen.
After an appropriately theatrical finale, Rousteing came out to a standing ovation — another rarity at Paris Fashion Week. He looked genuinely touched by the warm reception, which came from his own fans and customers — evidence that he is one of the rare fashion designers who have reached a sort of mass superstardom. In today's moment of creative director musical chairs, that type of designer feels like a dying breed. And Rousteing used this outsized platform to do more than promote himself: A champion of diverse representation, he cast mostly Black models, and incorporated a decent range of sizers. And after his bow, but before the planned musical acts (Shygirl, Ckay, The Blaze) began, we learned he had a little surprise in store just for us.
Cher, strutting to her 1998 hit "Strong Enough," joined the designer in an embrace and they walked up and down the runway together. She did not perform, and the reason for her presence was not immediately clear. But who cares? It's Cher, and she can pretty much do or say anything and expect enthusiasm in return — not unlike Rousteing.
See every look from Balmain's Spring 2023 collection below.