Olivier Rousteing Puts Balmain Men’s Wear on the Runway

PARIS — Outside the gates of the Hôtel Potocki in the Eighth Arrondissement, they lined up by the dozen, iPhones raised, recording, waiting.

Men’s fashion week, unlike its sister week for women, doesn’t often break into the public consciousness. The celebrities are fewer here, the awareness slighter. Apart from a few N.B.A. players popping up with Whac-a-Mole regularity (Amar’e Stoudemire and Russell Westbrook most often), the scene has been quiet, and Paris has gone about its civilian business unperturbed.

But Olivier Rousteing, the young, well-connected and newly famous designer of Balmain, has a way of making a splash. It’s not long ago that he appeared, nude and toned, on the cover of Têtu, one of the main gay magazines here. He is a friend of celebrities (most publicly, the extended Kardashian/West clan), and on Instagram, where his exploits are followed by 1.1 million, he is a celebrity himself.

Mr. Rousteing’s women’s shows are the sort that fill the air with teenage screams and that block traffic. His men’s collection has, to date, been shown more quietly, by appointment or in small, static presentations. But this past weekend, Mr. Rousteing decided to stage his first full-scale runway show for men (and for a few women, wearing his resort collection). His fans were there to watch, even if only from behind the barricades and the gates.

Balmain, he said before the show, is in part “the story of friendship.”

“We build this Balmain world and Balmain army because we all love each other and we just want to be part of it,” he continued.

He was speaking specifically about the models he had befriended and the friends he had made models (including, in this show, the socialite Peter Brant II). But he meant, too, the masses waiting outside to catch a glimpse, whether of Alessandra Ambrosio, who walked in the show, or Kris Jenner, who watched it. They have been avid supporters of his in a way that the establishment fashion news media has not always been.

Mr. Rousteing’s aesthetic may be divisive among the critics, but it is apparently less so among retailers. The men’s wear in particular, Mr. Rousteing said, now accounts for 40 percent of Balmain’s business. The collection he showed was a safari-inspired mélange of complicated craftsmanship (with rope details and spangles) and rough-and-tumble khaki (albeit in luxurious suede and skins).

“I just wanted to have an explorer, a new aventurier,” Mr. Rousteing said by way of explanation. The Union Jack of the British flag was a motif that appeared several times. In February, Mr. Rousteing opened a Balmain store in London, the brand’s first stand-alone boutique outside of Paris. More stores in other cities are to come.

Whether or not everyone thrills to his drop-crotch pleated trousers, double-layer shorts and gladiator sandals is mostly beside the point. Mr. Rousteing’s maximalist bravado has found a fan base, and there should be much here that will set cash registers ringing.

He remains unflinchingly committed to his work, and he takes to the runway after his shows with the aplomb and unshakable assurance of Ms. Ambrosio.

“I want to be happy in five years when I look at this,” he said of the collection. “I try to really be confident with myself. This world sometimes can be really wild with me. I’m trying to protect myself and be strong.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *