Paris – Balmain’s new 600-sq-m flagship on Rue Saint-Honoré, designed by Studio AMV, is decadent. ‘Let them eat cake’ decadent. It’s a place – mortality aside – you wouldn’t be so shocked to find Marie Antoinette, Kim Kardashian, Georges-Eugène Haussmann and Louis XIV convening for tea in.
Kim Kardashian may seem like an outlier in this imaginary tea party, but she’s indubitably the most prominent icon of exuberant wealth and indulgence that social media has to offer the public today. She’s also best friends with Olivier Rousteing, the 33-year-old creative director of Balmain, who in 2016, dubbed himself part of the ‘click’ generation.
The ‘click’ generation is the clear target audience of the shop: almost every element in the space is bait. Inside, black velvet seating is perfectly photogenic, a gigantic, unlit Cire Trudon candle sits atop a coffee table and the high-contrast marble floors are intoxicating. The lighting feels suspiciously similar to that of those infamous selfie ring lamps. And there are mirrors everywhere – all eyes are on you… or at least it feels that way; the space, like Rousteing’s work, is designed to provoke the spotlight.
Anna Philippou, Marie Prosperi and Victoire Guerlay met in 2012 while working at Ateliers Jean Nouvel. In the beginning of 2017, the three decided to start their own practice: Studio AMV was born. It wasn’t long after that Rousteing brought them on for their first project – his private apartment. The remodelling of his office at the Balmain headquarters followed, and then, they began development of the company’s new retail concept.
The flagship opening expands upon the idea of ‘Revisited Paris’ that was unveiled in Milan last year. Eleven flagship revamps followed, Rue Saint-Honoré being the last and most grandiose. It’s the one they’ve needed to get just right – how do you translate Paris to Paris? The spatial interpretation is certainly Francophile, each element, in some way, refers back to what the country has long mastered – la bibliotheque, le jardin, le galerie des glaces: each are represented in all of their traditional fanfare, expressed in a way that the increasingly younger luxury consumer can relate to.
Off to the side, before you ascend l’escalier d’honneur, Oculus VR headsets – with Balmain branding, of course – sit atop mirrored stands. ‘As the fashion industry and media landscape rapidly evolve, Balmain is intent on always remaining two steps ahead…,’ the display proclaims. ‘This Oculus headset embodies Balmain’s’ desire to democratize and modernize fashion. For too many years, the legendary runways of Paris fashion week, as the doors of our atelier, have been open to only a very select few. We are determined to change that...’
Perhaps it will be that even those who cannot afford the price tags at Balmain will be tempted to visit the store, strap on the headset and dive into the VR runway – inclusivity, especially in luxury fashion, is a loaded goal. But the flagship is successful in one of its aims already – selling French-ness to the French – and to visitors – in Rousteing’s language: youthful and luxurious, both exaggerated and ostentatious in a way that’s surprisingly forgivable.