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On November 5th, fast fashion powerhouse H&M will unveil its 11th designer collaboration to the masses, this time with French fashion house Balmain. H&M began its designer collaboration program with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004, igniting a high-low retail trend that's seen ups and downs in the decade since.
Last year, the chain managed to whip up a significant frenzy around its partnership with Alexander Wang, retiring any notion of "collab fatigue" and raising the bar for designer collaborations. Its success was, in part, thanks to Wang's strong celebrity ties, particularly to a class of young, influential faces easily recognized by H&M's wide audience. (Rihanna wore a head-to-toe look from the Wang x H&M collection months before it hit stores, offering one of the earliest looks at the pieces during a strategic jaunt around New York City, captured by paparazzi, of course.)
Balmain spring 2015 menswear campaign, staring KimYe
Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing also benefits from a chumminess with well-known personalities, including the extensive Kardashian-West-Jenner clan. Since his appointment to the role in 2011, at just 25 years old, he's leveraged Kendall on the runway, Kim and Kanye in advertisements, and countless red carpet appearances, Instagram posts, and front row seats for the rest of the gang. Thanks to the social muscle of its young, photogenic creative director, the 1940s-founded French couture house is poised to jump the gap from fashion history to household name. And it isn't afraid to do so with the help of an H&M shopping bag.
House of Balmain, 1953. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Pierre Balmain debuted his namesake collection in 1945, the same year Elle was founded, and two years before his friend Christian Dior famously introduced The New Look. World War II left designers—and shoppers—starved for fashion. The war meant strict regulations on material usage, staffing shortages, even the seizure of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture and the temporary closure of houses including Vionnet and Chanel. The class of designers who emerged after—Balmain, Dior, and Givenchy among them—represented a return to joyfulness, luxury, and a celebration of femininity. Designers emphasized an hourglass figure with a nipped waist and a blooming skirt; Balmain's signature style was dubbed jolie madame.
Following Mr. Balmain's passing in 1982, designers for the label have included Oscar de la Renta (1993—2002) and Christophe Decarnin (2006—2011). Over the years, the company has cycled in and out of cultural relevance and up and down in sales. Boom times came under designers who were themselves celebrities, a formula continued successfully with Rousteing.
Rousteing was appointed creative director after two years on the design team under Decarnin. He's an incredibly modern face for a decades-old maison in stuffy Paris: young, gay, mixed race, adopted, social media-savvy, and friends with all the right girls.
Olivier Rousteing. Photo: Getty
In his relatively short tenure, he's secured red carpet looks for Beyoncé, hired Rihanna, Kanye West, and Kim Kardashian as ad faces, accumulated 1.7 million Instagram followers for the brand (and 1.1 million for himself), and infiltrated radio rap lyrics ("When I heard Balmain in a rap song, I thought, 'We made it,'" he told Out). Long story short, the man has catapulted the Balmain name further into the collective consciousness than it's ever been before. The H&M deal should push it over the edge.
Jourdan Dunn, Olivier Rousteing, and Kendall Jenner debut H&M x Balmain on the red carpet
News of the collaboration between H&M and Balmain was announced mid-May on the Billboard Music Awards red carpet. Rousteing arrived with models Jourdan Dunn and Kendall Jenner, both in looks from the upcoming capsule collection. Jenner wore a long, lapel-less blazer in navy velvet with pearlescent white beading, black tights, and black thigh-high boots. Dunn wore the same boots with a silky red wrap-front skirt, a sheer navy top with rope detailing, and a wide silver belt.
H&M issued an official press release in tandem with the debut, praising Rousteing for creating "a unique identity for the house, at once respectful of its couture DNA and rooted in the moment, but with a showbiz flair." The collection, with pieces for both men and women, will land in 250 international stores as well as online on November 5th.
Rousteing's designs for Balmain regularly reference military motifs, topped off with a heavy dose of sex appeal. They're not hard to comprehend, visually, and should translate easily to H&M materials, production, and price points. Based on collabs past, expect to find accessories as low as $10, pieces like cotton-blend tees for around $30, a number of dresses in the $100 range, and a few superstar leather or suede items priced anywhere from $250 to $500.