If the familiar is a safe space for Mr. Van Assche, a more adventurous designer like Olivier Rousteing, of Balmain, explores cultural déjà vu as a thrilling danger zone. For a show so chauvinistic in its orientation it was a wonder he didn’t screen Jerry Lewis movies afterward, Mr. Rousteing seemed determined to remind everyone of his deeply rooted Frenchness.
Yet what does it mean to be French at a time when a brilliant young technocrat is elected president on his promises to restore a flagging economy and mend a fragmented polity? Can the inclusive and modernized country imagined by Emmanuel Macron be found compatible with the nostalgic France the innovative French chef Alain Senderens once derided as stuck in “tra-la-la and chichi”?
Mr. Rousteing seemed to choose for the latter in a show whose soundtrack featured hoary tunes by Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg and models of either sex strutting the catwalk in fussily ornamented clothes that, even when they overtly referred to Americana, did so in a way that brought to mind Top 40 hits in nutso translation.
It was delightful, if mystifying, the designer’s largely monochrome array of leather tunics, semitransparent Breton stripe sweaters, Old Glory tunics, studded motorcycle jackets, steel tip boots and stretchy black jeans with meek peekaboo slits at the knees. As a demonstration of French craftsmanship it was impressive. As an example of image-making it seemed strangely anachronistic, yet another attempt at resuscitating the giddy look of Paris night life circa 1978, when people still frequented spots like le Palace, le Bronx or le Sept. As someone who danced away part of his youth in those very places, I…