Olivier Rousteing should have been doing one of two things late last July; either finalizing Balmain’s spring 2023 collection, or heading off on vacation. Instead he found himself listening to Beyoncé’s freshly-released Renaissance on rotation. As he tells it down a call from Paris: “I was sketching and sketching as I listened, and sometimes you can’t control the emotion of your sketch. And I started to imagine the sketches inside her album, how they would relate to the songs and the lyrics—it wasn’t something I was supposed to be doing but I was just inspired by the music to do it. And that’s how this started.”
Once he did get to that vacation, Rousteing kept sketching his Renaissance-rabbit hole pieces, refining and shaping. Then when he returned to Vogue’s Five-Minute Fashion Month Debrief: Paris Edition”>Paris at the end of August he made a decision. “I contacted Marni [Senofonte, Beyoncé’s stylist ] and B. And I said, ‘honestly, I want to create a couture collection with you.’ And they were like: ‘Wow, that’s a big surprise.’”
Added Rousteing: “My hope was that she would be up for something even beyond the work we have done together before… I wanted us to be co-designers.” To his delight, Beyoncé was into it too.
Over the last five months Rousteing has been working in partnership with Beyoncé and Senofonte. Their first task was to whittle down the 50 or so looks that Rousteing sketched in his musically-driven fever dream to a playlist of 17. And the second was to collaborate on the process of transforming those remaining sketches into a fully produced and realized Balmain x Beyoncé couture collection. The result is a suite of A-side looks that honor both the history of the house and the musical heritage of the performer. Two of them have been seen already—glimpsed at the Grammys and the BRIT Awards earlier this year—and a few others are soon to be revealed elsewhere.
“I can’t help but be thrilled by the history-making aspects of this collaboration,” Rousteing said. “This appears to be the first time that a Black woman has overseen the couture offering from an historic Parisian house. And those designs were created in partnership with the first Black man to ever oversee all the collections at an historic Parisian house. Let’s hope those two firsts help inspire plenty of others…Thank you, Beyoncé,” he continued, “for creating the infectious, joyous music that launched this journey—and for partnering with me to ensure that we designed the collection that perfectly reflected the power of those compositions.”
Below is a piece-by-piece rundown of 12 of the 17 looks co-created by Rousteing and Beyoncé for this very special collection. Each was inspired by a certain track, and often even a certain lyric, drawn from Renaissance. Alongside these details are some exclusive edited notes from Rousteing on the shape and context of their collaborative connection.
“I’m That Girl”
LOOK: This fierce opener features a bustier in hammered metal by the sculptor Elie Hirsch, with matching spiked bracelets worn over a pareo skirt and gloves in black nappa lamb leather.
LYRIC: From the top of the morning, I shine (ah-ooh) / Right through the blinds (ah-ooh) / Touching everything in my plain view / And everything next to me gets lit up, too (ugh)
Rousteing says: “Beyoncé’s a strong woman of substance—and with these lyrics and this message, making the choice for which way to go for this first design was very easy… We turned to sculptor Elie Hirsch for this sublime sun-meets-crown metal bustier (I especially love how these spikes impart that perfect frisson of danger).”
LOOK: A feu d’artifice (fireworks) dress, in black velvet embroidered with pink feathers, accessorized with black velvet turban and boots.
LYRIC: Paint the town red like cinnamon / Yellow diamonds, limoncello glisterin’ / Rainbow gelato in the streets
Rousteing says: “To channel the stirring spirit of ‘Cozy,’ Beyoncé’s intoxicating, ballroom-flavored anthem about the importance of loving yourself, we pushed the artisans at Maison Fevrier to do something that they had actually never done before… Working closely with them, Beyoncé, her stylist Marni Senofonte, my Balmain team, and I managed to ultimately “paint the world pussy pink,” arriving at the perfect solution for embroidering an impressive number of bouquets composed of pink plumes de coq de poule, thereby creating the exuberant sensation of being completely enveloped by multiple explosions of fireworks.”
LOOK: A macrame gown crafted from a mix of multiple black silk, velvet, rayon and patent-leather threads. Its bodice is embroidered with black-dyed pheasant feathers.
LYRIC: Ooh, la, la, la / That’s the way them boys sound when I walk through the block-block-block
Rousteing says: “‘Energy’ may be one of the shorter songs on the album, but this design was one of the longest and most complicated for us to achieve… We wanted something extremely sensual: the type of exquisite modern-couture gown that makes it very clear that the woman wearing it is well aware of both her allure and her commanding power. The featherwork was crafted by Paris’s Maison Fevrier, which has long been celebrated for its mastery in creating the stunning plumage seen on both heritage couture runways and iconic cabaret stages. When examined closely, the gown’s complicated macramé pattern stuns with its complexity—it is definitely a true piece of art. The gown was created from a massive quantity of many different types of deep-black threads; silks, rayons, velvets and patent-leather, all meticulously woven and knotted together over a period of 15 days by the extremely talented French artist Laurentine Périlhou.
“Break My Soul”
LOOK: A hooded draped dress in shiny black velvet paired with a 3D-printed bustier that creates the illusion of a bare torso, electroplated in black chrome.
LYRIC: I’m takin’ my new salvation
Rousteing says: “Co-written by Beyoncé, JAY-Z, The-Dream, and Tricky Stewart, ‘Break My Soul’ celebrates ’90s house music with a sample of Robyn S.’s classic ‘Show Me Love,’ and adds unforgettable vocals from bounce legend and NOLA rapper Big Freedia. Absolutely determined to release the wiggle, we knew that to best reflect the spirit of this song, we needed to build confidence and power into this design. So, we went all out for drama, pairing the striking trio of turban, hood, and expert draping with that incredible, gleaming bustier. This trompe l’oeil piece, suggesting a nude torso, was created via a 3D printing of our artisans’ finest conceptions. It was then spray-painted with the glossiest possible black—the type of paint that’s more typically relied upon for coating the chassis of race cars.”
LOOK: This look features a black-and-red velvet cape coat with metallic belt, a 3D-printed electroplated chest bustier in silver chrome, and a [vinyl] record-inspired, two-tone, flat, circular hat.
LYRIC: “I’m warning everybody, soon as I get in this party / I’m gon’ let go of this body, I’m gonna love on me”
Rousteing says: “With a pious title paired with Renaissance’s most explicit lyrics, ‘Church Girl’ makes it clear that it’s time to let go. Beyoncé and I wanted our design to reflect that self-confident spirit of someone who’s made it to the other side and is feeling no need to apologize for enjoying herself. After sketching out and then creating this bustier via 3D printing, we coated it with galvanized metal, creating a light and comfortable armor from shoulder to waist. The enveloping regal velvet wrap is powerfully belted, which creates a bow-like upper-body silhouette, a touch that spotlights Monsieur Balmain’s long history of constantly surprising with ingenious takes on classic bow shapes. And, for that flat couture black hat, by just giving it that addition of a red internal circle, we managed to create the perfect record-inspired crown for Queen Bey.”
“Plastic Off the Sofa”
LOOK: A bustier dress built around a pink chrome inverted bow.
LYRIC: Like it, I like it, I love it, baby
Rousteing says: “To channel the glorious, disco-flavored groove of the sultry ‘Plastic Off the Sofa,’ we turned again to the Balmain craftsmen, who helped us seamlessly meld together three very different concepts. The first is an extremely sensual silhouette that relies on impressively curved front-and-back boning to create that impeccably fitted, body-con tulle bustier. The second is a dazzlingly lustrous shine achieved by galvanized, pink-chrome fabric (allowing us to channel the slippery and slick title material). And the third is an unexpected combo of two iconic Parisian couture signatures: the bow and le smoking. Beyoncé and I were very inspired by the Balmain archive’s many mid-century examples of the founder’s brilliance in creating surprising couture silhouettes via new twists on bow sizing, shape, and placements. Building on that legacy, we decided to flip our glossy pink bow 180 degrees… this transformed what normally would have been a bow’s hanging fabric edges into the most reduced version possible of a classic smoking’s lapels.”
LOOK: A corolla gown and second skin in dusty pink velvet, with metallic décolleté by Elie Hirsch. The hat is based on a vintage Balmain design, reinterpreted in hammered metal.
LYRIC: Baby, come over / Come and woo me through the night
Rousteing says: ‘Virgo’s Groove,’ named for Bey’s astrological sign (and incidentally mine as well), is six funky minutes of sex-positive, disco-infused intensity. For a siren song like that, we knew that it was time to turn up the heat, so we created sleek lines that flow around beautifully exposed shoulders. We then turned again to sculptor Elie Hirsch to craft the neckline for this ensemble—his smooth and sensual metal décolleté peeks up perfectly from under the structured pink couture gown, and echoes the metallic twist on one of Pierre Balmain’s most iconic couture hat designs.”
LOOK: A draped dress in thermo-strass bleu-gitane jersey with matching thermo-strass hat and corne headdress.
LYRIC: When the Queen comes through, part like the Red Sea
Rousteing says: “This design aims to capture some of the commanding power and confidence that the dream trio of Beyoncé, Grace Jones, and Tems imparted to ‘Move,’ their assertive reggaeton anthem. Starting with the idea of playing with a simple pareo, we then relied on our Balmain atelier’s draping expertise, pulling the hood, cape, and skirt all together via that hanging front fabric. The striking bleu-gitane is one of Beyoncé’s favorite colors… The look’s amazing shimmer is the result of the addition of a massive quantity of strass. The flat, exaggerated lines of the Maison Michel hat, combined with those strong Balmain shoulders add the ideal horizontal counterbalance to the dress’s distinct vertical line. The eye-catching corne—that finishing sculptural exuberance that tops off the entire look—references the sleek stylings of iconic Grace Jones images from the ’80s.”
LOOK: A hammered brass and crystal pendant illusion bustier worn over a black-velvet bodysuit with black-velvet turban and tassel chandelier earrings.
LYRIC: He thought he was loving me good, I told him, “Go harder” / She thought she was killin’ that shit, I told her, “Go harder”
Rousteing says:“Beyoncé and I managed to make one of our most outlandish dreams into a reality, thanks to expert couture artisans, inspiring Parisian chandeliers and the patient and skilled craftsman of Le Chemin des Maquettes. I love how the beauty of our final result appears so simple and so very right—it doesn’t even hint at all the complex construction, mathematics, tech and engineering that went into the creation of our ‘Thique’-inspired, extremely ballroom, couture chandelier design.”
“All Up in Your Mind”
LOOK: A feather-embroidered fan paired with black velvet and satin jumpsuit along with gloves and rhinestone adornment.
LYRIC: Be careful what you ask for ’cause I just might comply
Rousteing says: “Beyoncé and I dreamt up this exuberant trompe l’œil as a tribute to New York’s legendary ballroom scene—and it was our Balmain artisans that made it all possible, beautifully creating the boning, baleines, precise tailoring, plissé—everything!—which was then finally combined with exquisite feather embroidery, to create this striking, life-sized éventail (fan) for the ballroom.”
LOOK: A graphic ensemble embroidered with sequins and feathers accessorized with draped earrings in metallic mesh and a black jersey turban.
LYRIC: You know it’s Friday night and I’m ready to drive
Rouesting says: “‘Pure/Honey’ pays tribute to the ballroom community, sampling legends Moi Renee and Kevin Aviance, along with MikeQ’s Feels Like (Featuring Kevin JZ Prodigy). Beyoncé and I were determined to channel that same infectious club bop and exuberant joy into this design, so we agreed that an attention-demanding luster paired with a wild mix of maximum-graphic patterns was the way to go. Our artisans’ flat-sequin embroidery work helped to generate the boldest possible statement, blending together elements of psychedelic, harlequin, marinière and zebra patterns. Their embellishment work is beautifully complemented by the exquisite black-and-white featherwork from Maison Fevrier. And to give the corset that eye-catching shimmer, our traditional laced-corset design was reimagined via 3D printing, and then given the perfect gleaming finish by the same experts who are responsible for the high-gloss sheen on France’s sleekest jets and high-speed trains. Finally, because too much is never enough, once they finished with their spray painting, we made sure to add a final coat of varnish, to ensure max shine.”
LOOK: A short strapless dress with wig and cape, all embroidered with lurex fringes, crystals and rhinestones
LYRIC: I want, want, want what I want, want, want
Rousteing says: “To match the joyful spirit of this disco-flavored final track on Renaissance, which blends rounds of applause and those amazing high notes from Beyoncé as she channels Donna Summer’s classic ‘I Feel Love,’ Bey and I knew that we had to aim fo absolute celebratory extravagance. The minimalism of the short, perfectly tailored Balmain dress, with its bustier construction and horizontal lines, pairs with the maximalism of the long cape that is definitely designed to be placed upon the shoulders of a disco queen… It’s all pulled together by the multitude of silver fringes. Each of those strands were constructed by our house artisans, who melded together three different sparkling, shining and shimmering materials to create every perfect twinkling filament. Once they’re all grouped together, they form an it’s so good ensemble for our ‘Summer Renaissance’ dance floor.”
This article was originally published on Vogue.