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Balmain goes back to 1980s with ruffles, jumpsuits

Balmain’s 2016 spring/summer ready-to-wear show on 1 October in Paris
Balmain’s 2016 spring/summer ready-to-wear show on 1 October in Paris. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

You can debut your spring collection the old-fashioned way, in the gilt-and-frescoed salon of a grand hotel next to the Paris Opera with a select few hundred of the fashion establishment in attendance.

Or you can debut it on social media, giving Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid dresses from the new collection to wear to a party the night before the show, and letting Jenner post a close-up photo of the two supermodels’ bottoms – one in open-weave cobweb knit dress, one in a semi-sheer jumpsuit – to her 37.7 million Instagram followers.

Model on the catwalk at the Balmain show.
At the Balmain show.

No prizes for guessing which makes the most impact. By the time the audience fought their way through the rock-concert scrum outside Thursday afternoon’s catwalk show, the key looks from the show they were about to see had already been widely shared on social media.

But it is testament to the sophistication of Balmain’s strategy under designer Olivier Rousteing that he masterminded the supermodels stealing his show and the following day went ahead and staged the show with full pomp and ceremony.

Balmain is a brand which operates at two levels. The collection is expensive, and a high profile at fashion week helps to maintain favour with the elite world of red carpet fashion, which is controlled by a status-conscious coterie of stylists. TheParis fashion week show is no longer the unveiling of the collection, but essential maintenance of the facade of the brand.

Balmain designer Olivier Rousteing with models Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid.
Balmain designer Olivier Rousteing with models Kendall Jenner, left, and Gigi Hadid.

At the other end of the scale, Balmain has a huge following among young fashion fans, thanks to Rousteing’s close ties with the new generation of supermodels-cum-social media powerhouses, and his body-conscious, ultra dressed-up aesthetic, which appeals to a huge fanbase of fashion-obsessed young women.

The Balmain formula is straightforwardly hotblooded, and this collection was no exception. The look was 1980s Paris cocktail-to-club wear: skintight jumpsuits with ankle boots, suede jackets with pencil skirts, flamenco ruffles and one-shouldered leotards. No outfit is complete without assertive accessories: a 5in wide belt, or long power earrings. Hair was worn in high, tight ponytails.

There is little here that is new to the fashion pantheon. The cobweb knit dresses recalled the ones with which Julien Macdonald made his name over a decade ago; the bandage dresses called to mind the frocks in which Hérve Léger dressed an earlier generation of supermodels.

Model on the catwalk at the Balmain show.
At the Balmain show. Photograph: David Fisher/Rex

But most of Balmain’s new generation of fans – who will have the chance to buy into the brand when the Balmain collection for H&M launches next month – are too young to remember those references. And while the content might not be groundbreaking, the brand-building strategy is leaving the rest of the industry standing.