Before Inez or Vinoodh, Mert or Marcus, Mario or Mario, Peter Beard was the photographer snapping by day and living fabulously by night. A recent monograph on his work has thrust him back into the public eye, but it's his life story as much as his oeuvre that spoke to Balmain's Olivier Rousteing. "A man who goes to Africa who discovers the culture and goes back to America to be glamorous at Studio 54!" he marveled at a presentation in his offices.
What Rousteing appreciated was the mix of cultures Beard represented: the adventurer looking into the heart of East Africa (and finding Iman there, for good measure), bringing with him an East Coast American culture of smart-dressing prep. "Today it's all about the balance, the mix," Rousteing said. Beard was the Balmain man before the Balmain man.
In homage to Beard, Rousteing worked a safari theme. The collection arrived in tones of green, khaki, and camel, and a more-than-fair amount of exotic animal prints from leopard to zebra. That in itself balanced the realistic with the extravagant. Leather jackets and drop-crotch jodhpur trousers in olive drab have staple potential; printed leopard Perfecto jackets in ponyskin and slip-on sneakers and evening shoes to match were anti-camouflage.
It all amounted to an expansion of the Balmain world. Print is new; a universe without denim front and center is new. The whole gamut of the collection was retrofitted to the theme, from the highest end (paillette-encrusted jackets in woven cord in an attempt to suggest traditional African weaving techniques) to T-shirts. Rousteing insisted that it merely represented his new direction—he's remaking Balmain: "It's being more myself; my music, my style, my generation," he said. His customers, especially his men's customers, who are more loyal and less fashion fickle than his women's, should support him. The arguments in his favor include the celebrities he's successfully courted to the brand (including Rihanna, star of his new campaign) and the opening of the new Balmain boutique in New York's Soho, planned to open in summer 2014.