To Olivier Rousteing, inclusivity has always been the name of the game. This year, the French fashion designer celebrates 10 years as the visionary behind the house of Balmain—a role assumed when he was just 24 years old. Looking back on a decade of culture-defining moments, he admits, is surreal: “I was the Balmain baby and now Balmain is my baby.”
In his glamorous Rolodex are moments that have set both runway and social media ablaze. He recounts some of his proudest milestones: the spring/summer 2014 campaign featuring Rihanna, a nearly soldout collaboration with H&M in 2015, and a style takeover of Beyoncé’s Coachella performance three years later that included dressing 300 dancers and Beyoncé herself.
Monumental moments aside, he highlights one thing they all had in common: a call for diversity. “I’m really proud of this decade because I’ve had many fights for topics that fashion wasn’t ready for, such as diversity and inclusivity. Ten years ago, it might have been weird to talk about. Ten years later, it feels completely banal and normal.”
His penchant for being ahead of the curve hasn’t stopped there. For a new generation of consumers, the online sphere has served as fashion’s biggest democratising force. Through technological innovation, Rousteing has been able to push for diversity on a much bigger scale.
Prior to the pandemic, the lauded Balmain Army—Rousteing’s endearing name for Balmain-wearing celebrities and consumers alike—welcomed multi-ethnic CGI models such as Margot and Zhi, who served as beacons of inclusivity in their own right. This would prove to be just the beginning of the brand’s dance with digital.
Last year, the maison unveiled its collaboration with Singapore-based gaming company, Altava in the form of a Balmain virtual showroom. The immersive and controllable experience was the first of its kind, giving users access to a life-like experience of the brand’s savoir faire in the form of digitised looks.
I’m really proud of this decade because I’ve had many fights for topics that fashion wasn’t ready for, such as diversity and inclusivity.
Users also came face-to-face with a digitised avatar of Rousteing. “We created a showroom that everybody could have access to because no one could travel. [Altava and Balmain] worked together to digitise all the clothes, my face and even me talking. It was such an incredible experience. They were so precise and they made such an incredible trajectory of my vision and the precise craftsmanship of Balmain, which is not an easy thing to do,” Rousteing shares.
Helmed by entrepreneur Andy Ku, the gaming and 3D interactive capabilities enterprise has established its place in the fashion sphere. Working with developers in South Korea, the platform melds key components of e-commerce, gaming and social media tailor-made for a digital native audience. Its fashion-focused extension melds 3D gaming components and real-time purchasing power. Players can create avatars, try on and purchase virtual garments from brands, chat with other users and even earn virtual money.
What truly sets Altava apart from a competitive online-first market, however, is the varied background of its co-founders. While Ku has established his gaming expertise, Altava’s co-founder and editor-in-chief of fashion publication System Magazine Elizabeth von Guttman brings with her a seasoned understanding and connection to the fashion world.
“I’ve been working in the fashion world for over 15 years, so this is a world I understand well. And Andy is one of the leaders in the gaming and virtual space. I think it’s the combination of those two worlds that make us quite unique,” von Guttman shares. The pair’s overall aim? To democratise luxury fashion and give users around the world the chance to interact with it on their own terms.
Now, Altava and Balmain are coming together again to collaborate on another project that is set to shake up the metaverse. The partnership will make pioneering strides in the non-fungible token (NFT) space by digitising and subsequently minting key pieces from its autumn/ winter 2021 collection. The collaboration includes a Vogue Singapore-exclusive NFT designed by Rousteing, which you can purchase on Brytehall—a premium NFT platform developed by Media Publishares in partnership with VIDY and Binance—alongside two other NFT garments.
Immortalised by a girl on fire, the one-of-a-kind look encapsulates Rousteing’s affinity for glamour. Keeping in line with Vogue’s global September issue theme, ‘New Beginnings’, digital fashion enthusiasts will be treated to an off-shoulder emerald green gown complete with a thigh-high slit and a matching headpiece, propped against an apocalyptic backdrop, with the entire look set aflame.
To bring a luxury brand into the metaverse and have them create a virtual-only asset is really exciting.
For fashion’s uninitiated, the NFT phenomenon might as well be the latest style trend to get on these days—akin to snagging the hottest shoes of the season. The blockchain-stored data block is accompanied by a hash, which makes it one-of-a-kind and non-replicable. To date, artwork, GIFs and entire outfits have been ‘minted’, certifying them as official blockchain assets.
And while plenty of digital-only fashion houses have explored the realm of NFTs, the involvement of century-old luxury maisons is set to revolutionise the wave even further. “To bring a luxury brand into the metaverse and have them create a virtual-only asset is really exciting. Collaboration should take different forms. It’s not only about creating an actual capsule collection. You have to think bigger these days and to be able to collaborate in the metaverse, I think it’s pretty awesome,” adds von Guttman.
And while the movement’s creative and collaborative advancements are evident, virtual fashion and its subsequent developments serve a purpose beyond curation, self-expression and designing a life of one’s dreams. Like many digital-focused businesses, it also hopes to play its role in addressing the harrowing problems that plague the fashion industry, from waste and overproduction to inclusivity and gate-keeping.
Platforms like Altava seek to bring the thrill of a largely elusive universe to the far corners of the globe and in the process, foster a sense of understanding and better yet, creativity. Achieving this in conjunction with one of the most storied French fashion houses in the world, no less, is all but a confirmation of fashion’s unparalleled ability to evolve with the times.
Purchase the NFTs: Own a part of fashion and art history
The September issue of Vogue Singapore is a special NFT issue that explores the new creative renaissance born out of technology.
The ‘Flame Dress’ designed by Rousteing exclusively for Vogue Singapore will be available for purchase as an NFT. It forms part of the Vogue Singapore September NFT collection, which will be available for auction on the Binance NFT marketplace starting from 20 September at 8PM SGT till 25 September 8PM SGT.
The winning bidder for the ‘Flame Dress’ NFT will receive Rousteing’s sketches of the dress, an authenticity certificate card, the ability to redeem the virtual dress in the ALTAVA fashion gaming app, and to wear the dress in AR on the DressX app. If the winning bid surpasses 75BNB, the collector will also receive one virtual photo look by DressX.
The auction is in collaboration with Brytehall—a premium NFT platform developed by Media Publishares in partnership with VIDY and Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange.
Enter the metaverse: Visit the Vogue Singapore ‘New Beginnings’ microsite
Vogue NFT Covers: Discover the two digital-only September covers for Vogue Singapore inspired by the global theme of ‘New Beginnings’
Beauty NFTs: See the surreal artwork created for Vogue Singapore by make-up artist Dain Yoon
Design NFTs: Witness the eternal flowering vase for Vogue Singapore by Singapore-Italian design studio Lanzavecchia + Wai