Cosmology says that the universe constantly expands. When it comes to the universe of Olivier Rousteing, the same applies. Coming to Netflix on June 26 is the documentary Wonder Boy: It follows Rousteing’s fabulous and fixatedly-driven lifestyle at Balmain, as well as his search to discover his parentage after being adopted as a baby. Spoiler alert that doesn’t spoil the film: His mother is Somalian and his father Ethiopian. Your genetics and parentage define neither your soul nor your being, but as I witnessed in my own father (who was given away through a classified newspaper advertisement when he was seven days old), not knowing who your mother and father are creates a swirling void at what is otherwise the core of your identity—and you constantly wonder.
This exuberant resort collection, both for women and men, is Rousteing’s rendering in the metier he loves of the existential expansion that the discovery of his parents’ identity has unlocked in him. Since that discovery he has been unable to visit either Somalia or Ethiopia (global pandemic issues), but is itching to. Instead he has been researching the Horn of Africa from afar and was particularly moved by a visit to the exhibition Divas, from Oum Kalthoum to Dalida at the Institut du Monde Arabe in the town that is his home—Paris. This inspired in Rousteing some of the jewelry—particularly the great chain-chinned baseball cap look—as well as an affinity to the story of the Egyptian-Italian and iconic in France singer Dalida. More broadly, you could see the unstructured design and pattern on the tapestry fabric in look 28 of womenswear or look 17 of menswear as a geographically more specific creative co-ordinate.
Rousteing said that before he discovered the information about his parents he would often speculate as to his heritage; might he be ‘from’ Guadeloupe? Martinique? Senegal? Morocco? Egypt? “I always wondered where I was coming from, so it’s a gift to know which cultures you have in your blood. But even if you don’t know, you take pride in the cultures that might be in your blood. Because France is a melting pot of so many cultures, and definitely this collection is about that melting pot, as well as the source of my blood, which is the Horn of Africa, as well as being a citizen of the world.” When you think you could be 'from’ anywhere, you feel like you are from everywhere.
One place Rousteing has long-known he’s ‘from’ is the conservative city of Bordeaux, where he was raised and loved by his adopted white parents (who are lovely and proud). Then there is Paris, where he found his metier and family/army at Balmain. So this collection naturally reflected those facets with touches of marinière, a ruched mini dress is matte metallic silk that was almost a heritage piece, and excursions into the armorishly ornate embroidery, crystal, and pin that were so emblematic during his time here intersecting with Christophe Decarnin.
But of course place does not entirely define individual identity, just as it is not defined entirely by origin: Where you travel, what you love, and who you relate to are pretty important ingredients too. So this collection also reflected the Riviera Rousteing, lover of life from Ibiza to Mykonos to So Cal, with fine phases of luxury boho (remembering that calling those bags “hobo” is now a no-go). Added to that was the crazy, sexy, cool mega-silhouette of pants touched by his studio binges on TLC and Backstreet Boys, and then to that a stern, almost brutalist womenswear piece that saw a tower block neckline edged in satin on a garment that recalled a sculptural smoking jacket but which was neither jacket, shirt, nor blouse: “We have to find a new category for that one!” said the designer.
Running alongside all these marbled and blended and pattern-flecked codes was a near-constant referral to the labyrinth pattern invented by Pierre Balmain himself and recently resuscitated by Rousteing from the archive. Here the labyrinth looked especially great when rendered in angularly colorful 3-D print on the silk pieces that were worn by Rousteing during our call. These topped striking shoes in fur both faux and shorn from long-haired goats in the goat-milk industry, so cruelty free. Said madly Muppet-ish stompers—imagine wearing them on a dance floor—looked like contenders as the next-in-line hit furry footwear in a lineage last filled by early-Michele Gucci and before that late-Philo Celine.
But back into that labyrinth, the most appropriate possible motif for a collection which demonstrated so handsomely that one must first be lost in order to then be found. For the new audience of global citizens that will soon find Rousteing and his highly-relatable story on Netflix, this collection should make excellent follow-up viewing.