It’s the last few hours before the runway. In a chaotic-yet-scheduled rush, the final stitches, castings, mixes, seating everything is all coming together, as it somehow always manages to do, in a jumble before each show. As I sit in the Balmain showroom, I watch the many different teams buyers, marketers, PRs and partners flip through the racks. And, I keep hearing repeated references to classic bourgeois French styles.
It’s true, you can definitely spot riffs on those signature codes of the upper class including rich silk scarf patterns, soft cashmeres and the classic navy pea coats. That’s inevitable. This is France, after all, and these are looks that Paris fashion houses, in general, and Balmain in particular, have always known how to expertly play with for the perfect aspiration-meets-fashion collections.
Those showroom comments push me to reflect on themes and questions that have long obsessed me, ever since my childhood, in perhaps what is the most bourgeois city in all of France, Bordeaux. As a child “né sous X” an orphan who did not know his origins—naturally, I grew up fascinated by questions regarding heritage, race, belonging, fitting in and, yes, the bourgeoisie. That didn’t make it easy for me. Certain classes, clubs and cliques were very clearly closed off to someone who looked like me which only made me obsess more about how I could cross over, open doors and be accepted.
Those who know me and those that have seen the film ‘Wonder Boy’ know that today I do know my origins. And, today most of us can celebrate the modern, more open society that we now live in. So, while I do continue to love to play with the beauty and style of France’s classic signatures (always adding the necessary modern touch, of course), I do so knowing that as a 1/2 Ethiopian, 1/2 Somalian and 100% Frenchman there’s an incredible beauty to be explored in the wider world beyond those classics.
Paradoxically, this collection often riffs on classic bourgeois signatures, (which are often symbols of limited access), as it focuses on the beauty of a wider, border-free world one where the doors and minds are open a bit wider. We start with one basic truth: this is a tiny and beautiful planet, belonging to all. Here, we all share the same origin, needs and desires and any borders, (both figurative and literal), only serve to wall us off and limit us. That’s why this collection celebrates, at its heart, the beauty of the earth and sky. The runway will be filled with modern-day nomads, who are navigating seas, plains and dunes, while awed by the dazzling magnificence of the galaxies above and the earth’s tones below.
As I worked on the final looks over the holidays, the clear need for all of us to focus on that natural beauty was made even more evident to me. Watching wildfires burn and hearing about glaciers continuing to melt makes it clear that we are perhaps too focused on the small issues, while ignoring the very real danger of losing the beauty that’s right there, just in front of all of us.
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