Balmain’s Fashion Show on Paris’ River Seine Supported Black Lives Matter & Was Livestreamed on TikTok

Stephanie Hirschmiller

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Balmain‘s Olivier Rousteing kicked off Paris’ Digital Couture Week tonight with #BalmainSurSeine, a physical fashion show and live music spectacle on a barge cruising down Paris’ River Seine.

Livestreamed on Tiktok, the artistic director said it was conceived both to celebrate the end of France’s COVID-19 lockdown and as an artistic response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

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The event was art directed by Andrew Makadsi, who also works with with Beyoncé, choreographed by Jean-Charles Jousni and featured a cast of Black dancers who performed in Rousteing’s fall ’20 Balmain men’s fashion show, which took place in Paris in January.

It also featured a musical performance by French singer Yseult who was resplendent in white and looked just like the masthead on an old fashioned sailing ship.

According to Rousteing, the event’s democratic outdoor staging was influenced by recent time spent in confinement.

“Today, reunited with friends (while continuing to practice social distancing), we celebrate our return to Paris, as well as our recent rediscovery of the strengths of those eternal values,” he said in a statement.

“I think every one of us will forever remember this past spring as being a dark one, marked by strange new fears and mandatory isolation,” he continued.

“Forced apart, we suddenly realized that we depended on being together. Locked inside, we longed for the beauty of the outside public spaces of our hometown, Paris. And, faced with the unending reports of unbelievable losses, we came to truly understand the transformative power of solidarity.

While some detractors questioned the wisdom of drawing crowds to the river banks in the wake of the pandemic, the fact that the barge moved pretty speedily along the length of the river (so much so that when FN got tired of running she hailed a taxi and told the bemused driver to “follow that boat,” yes, really) it actually meant that there were no social distancing issues at all among the spectators.

When it came to the Black Lives Matter movement, the reference was more tangential but everyone knew the significance.

“As we all know, other struggles continue as well,” he said. “Renewed calls for justice and equality — heard on streets all across the world today — are in reaction to tragic losses, but their growing strength and force allow us to dream of the possibilities of long-delayed changes, pushed forward by a newly energized and impressive mix of young, determined and diverse voices.”

“Today’s dance draws inspiration from this moment and our shared longing for actual progress,” he noted, citing his cast of performers.

He said that his optimism for future change and progress is “a reflection of my own personal history — after all, it was not too long ago that someone like me was never meant to end up in the position that I occupy today.”

When Rousteing joined Balmain in 2011, he was the first Black creative director to helm a major luxury house.

“I love that I work for a house that supports me and has joined with me in pushing for inclusion and changes from the very first day that I began working here, he added.

The socially distanced display also scored high in the social media stakes.

As well as providing free live entertainment for Parisians watching from the river banks, the event was livestreamed, not on Instagram, but exclusively on the Balmain TikTok account. According to Rousteing the event marks first time the social media company will live stream a luxury brand event.

Notably, throughout the pandemic, the Bytedance-owned social media platform has been gaining ground incrementally.

According to Wallaroom Media, TikTok’s monthly active users have jumped from 680 million to about 800 million in just over a year. According to Sensor Tower, the app had 315 million downloads in the first quarter of 2020 — the best quarter by any app, ever.

Balmain’s harnessing of the platform demonstrates the increasing importance major luxury fashion brands are placing on the medium as well.

As for the fashion content of the show — a combination of archival looks from the house’s 75 year history and its evolution over his own stewardship — Rousteing said this was to demonstrate how “the 21st-Century Balmain silhouette channels the spirit of past masters.”

He mused that he’s always found it interesting that his own optimism for a better future echoes the legacy of house founder Pierre Balmain. “It was 75 years ago that our founder decided to take a risk during an uncertain time and open his eponymous couture house.”

And, just for the record, there wasn’t a high heel in sight among the model cast, all of whom walked the mirrored runway (deck) in bare feet. First rule of sailing: leave your heels at home.

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