Remember, remember, the 5th of November, because it shall now been known as the day Balmain broke the internet, H&M shops, and bank accounts everywhere. The supper media savvy fashion company lead by marketing genius Olivier Rousteing paired up with H&M to create a sell in stores collection, or more like sell out in stores as in under 6 hours after opening there is not a piece to be seen. Balmain fans have been anticipating this collection since models Kendall Jenner and Jourdan Dunn stepped out on the red carpet wearing outfits that would be able to be bought in store and online at H&M. The best part about this collection, and what I will probably being saying a lot, is that the clothes available at H&M were true Balmain. They did not skimp on creativity or quality even though being a mere fraction on the price. The only price that us regular people would have to pay, to get our hands on the collection, was campouts in line, getting up early to click refresh for an hour and a half, and even fighting.
To understand how we have gotten to the point of fighting each other for jackets here’s a quick back story of Balmain over the past year before and since Rousteing stepped on the scene. Balmain was founded in 1946 by French designer Pierre Balmain, who severed a long career and made the Fashion House known for high couture. After his death in1982 the House was passed over to Erik Morensen, who was Balmain’s right hand man. Morensen was a well-respected designer and kept Balmain at the same standards as it had held for the pervious years. In 1993 the name that gave great weight to Balmain, Oscar de la Renta, took over the house. While already well known and well respected in the fashion industry Renta wished to keep the brand as one that was couture but also simple and classic, making it wearable in a time period where couture was declining.
It wasn’t until 2005 that Balmain took a major turn. This was when Christophe Decarnin became in charge, and did he ever take charge. He wanted to bring the brand into the 21st and to do so he made the pieces flashy and many would say over the top. As well as doing this he raised prices even more than couture, if you couldn’t afford couture before there was no way you were affording Balmain now (Starting to see why we stampeded H&M?). With Decarnin’s revolution of the classic brand much of the attention turned away from the actual clothes and became about him.
In 2011 Balmain announced that Decarnin would be replaced with current head Olivier Rousteing, at the age of 24, only 2 years out of university, makes you want to step up your game. Rousteing created magic when he kept Decarnin’s new generation vibe but also brought the label back to its original standards of French couture. Rousteing has done more than designing though he had literally brought the brand in to this century through his presence on social media. With 1.6 million Instagram followers there’s a good chance you follow him, or at least you follow someone who has photos with him. From the Kardashian/Jenner/West clan to Cindy Crawford, he seems to have everyone who is anyone at his parties, snapping pics, and most importantly wearing his clothes. While its easy to think that social media is just selfies and hash tags this strategy is clearly working for Balmain, while no official numbers have been released it is estimated that Balmain’s revenue has increased up to 20% over the past three years.
Since regular people are seeing Balmain constantly on their feeds the brand also had to become more accessible. The first Balmain store opened in London this past year, the first store outside France, and this fall there will be a store in New York. Rousteing also added Asian inspirations into his collections, which has cause the Asian market for the brand to grow massively. (My boyfriend referred to the men’s line for H&M as, “A bell-boy, in Tokyo, in a gangster movie.”) People camped out for three days in Singapore! And finally this brings us to H&M, the ultimate accessibility, or so we thought.
I knew that this launch was going to be big, being promoted for almost a year, a runway show with an elite guest list, endless social media, and even a dance! But I think that it was hard for any of us to anticipate just how massive it would be. In London 9am was the official time that everything, online and in store, would go a sale. I, like a true Internet person, planned to stick to online shopping. Turns out as well prepared as I thought I was I did not stand a chance compared to those ready for battle to join the Balmain army. H&M’s sight was closed from 8:30 until 9:00am in order to prepare for the rush. When it hit nine all you could do was refresh, pray, and wait. I was clicking while brushing my teeth and buttering my toast for an hour and a half and still did not get through. After that long I realized that, one I was going to be late for work, and two everything would be sold out. When I checked back later that day everything was sold out except for the two bando tops, which I had no shame in coping and can’t wait until my pretty Balmain package arrives.
This brings us to the stores! H&M was cleaver on how to handle the crowds; give out different coloured wristbands the first few hundred people in line to determine when they would get in, and after that a one-in-one-out system. Everyone had ten minutes with the collection and it was one of each item maximum per person, this rule is my personal favorite as it stopped a lot of the re-selling that would have happened. I work at the Top Shop at Oxford Circus so I was able to easily see two stores planning to sell the Balmain. When I stepped out of the tube, though, I was not prepared for the mayhem outside the store. While there was an organized queue of people waiting to get in, hoping that something was left, the spectacle was the people who and bought and were re-selling on the street. The road was lined with young people with Yezzus shoes, supreme hats, and piles of black Balmain shopping bags. With people walking out the store holding a Balmain shirt, originally selling for 22 pound, and yelling, “Who wants it for 200 quid?” The scary thing was that it was easily snapped up. People with mountains of bags were selling for easily five times the price, and again easily getting it. This is nothing compared to the Ebay wars already going on. The pearl and beaded jacket, the stand out piece of the collection and truly gorgeous, is going for thousands of pounds, and this is only the first day. Seeing this in real life did make me a bit disappointed. As a lover of fashion and someone who appreciates beautiful clothes it seems selfish to make such a profit off people who genuinely want couture clothes but could not normally afford them. With saying that many for the pieces are now going for more than many ‘real’ Balmain pieces. Lastly, and worse of all, we’ve now seen the fight videos of what went on in the store. Pushing, shoving, and grabbing – were not doing the Balmain dance anymore.
Theses fights really raised the question in me whether people were fighting for the clothes or to be a part of what so many of us know as the “Balmain Army.” Rousting has done an incredible job of pairing his designs with the biggest models and celebrities of the moment. He describes his muses as, “strong powerful girls who have something to say.” These girls also happen to appear flawless. So, really, who wouldn’t want to be part of this army? There is nothing wrong with this; in fact it’s doing everything right from a marketing stand point. What we have to ask ourselves is would we love the jacket if it weren’t on Gigi Hadid? Would we line up for nearly a day if we hadn’t seen the clothes at exclusive parties in the Holiday Hills? If the answer is yes, like it is for many people, than I hope you got something. It’s when people care more about the image of the brand than the actual art of the designs that there begins to be a slippery slop into the mundane mainstream.
Now, what I did love about this event; the people who really did want the clothes and were beyond thrilled to get their hands on them! I was able to speak to people in line and security guards in order to gain some insight into what went on the day, night, and morning before the doors opened. The very first women in line stared lining up at 3:00pm on the 4th, that’s a full 18 hours before the doors opened. The piece she had in mind was the coveted black beaded jacket, and she got it of course! The security guard who was working the doors told me that she was, “so excited” as it was the “most beautiful thing she had ever owned.” Also that she was, “going to pass it on to her children and they would pass it on to theirs.” These are the kind of the people that collections like this should be for, the true fashion lovers and appreciators. No greed and the only profit made is how good they feel in real couture.
The Balmain x H&M collection will bring joy to so many people, including myself. This is because while inexpensive it is real designer goods. I was able to have close looks at the garments on the side of the street by the people selling them and you could honestly be able to picture any of them at a Balmain store, down to the packaging and golden velvet hangers. Nothing was spared for a price drop. Nothing expect the quantity. It’s been 12 hours since the drop and everything is long gone. By 2:00pm the H&M was closed for “healthy and safety” reasons. Even though security was telling people that Balmain was sold out there was still a line around the block, “just incase”. The success of the collection will be one for the books. I congratulate everyone in London who was outside, baring the rain, since last night in order to get in. It surely paid off over the comfort of my bed. Enjoy your Balmain goodies! And Olivier, a can not wait until we see what you’re going to bring us next.