Optical Illusions: At Balmain and Off-White’s Spring/Summer 2020 Shows, Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

Models walk the runway In the Balmain Womenswear Spring/Summer 2020 show during Paris Fashion Week on Sept. 27, 2019, in Paris, France.
Photo: Pascal Le Segretain (Getty Images)

As Fashion Week traveled from New York City to London to Milan to Paris, we’ve been waiting patiently to see what the fashion industry’s top two black designers would be offering for Spring/Summer 2020. And while they presented very different aesthetics, Off-White’s Virgil Abloh and Balmain Creative Director Olivier Rousteing are both taking an illusory approach to spring dressing.

There were lots of holes in Off-White’s story for spring—literally. Circular cutouts appeared in clothing, accessories and even footwear in the label’s latest collection, leading many to wonder if Swiss is Abloh’s favorite cheese (because, seriously, there were a pair of boots on the runway that looked like Swiss cheese).

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Shoe and bag details on the runway at the Off-White Womenswear Spring/Summer 2020 during Paris Fashion Week on Sept. 26, 2019, in Paris, France.
Photo: Pascal Le Segretain (Getty Images)

Another gaping hole in the runway show—which included sharp shirtdresses, cleverly draped silhouettes and sophisticated sportswear in a tightly-edited palette of neutrals with pops of fuchsia, mustard, red and emerald green? Abloh himself, who, according to Business of Fashion, has taken a three-month hiatus from his dual creative director roles at Off-White and Louis Vuitton Menswear.

But while Alboh was absent, there was no shortage of style on the runway. It may have lacked the cheekiness of Abloh’s earlier offerings, but in this writer’s opinion, it was by far one of Off-White’s most mature and covetable collections (especially the macrame-like lace-up sandals!), as most pieces could’ve strutted off the runway and into the street or boardroom.

At Balmain, Rousteing took us on a retrospective, combining elements of ‘60's op art and mod; ‘70s glam rock and disco; and ‘80s power dressing and over-the-top glamour (see: the predominance of double-breasted details, Dynasty-worthy glitz, exaggerated shoulder pads, and stonewashed denim).

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Grace Jones, an artist at her peak in at least two of those three eras (and a still-enduring and performing icon), was also a huge presence in Balmain’s colorful, graphic collection. Her influence could be seen in the combinations of sleek hoods and sunglasses that walked the runway, as well as in the numerous strong-shouldered, one-shouldered and one-legged looks that appeared throughout the collection (as in this post’s header photo).

Rousteing, a friend and favorite of Beyoncé, who recruited him to design her Homecoming wardrobe, clearly wanted to play with perception for spring. Over-long sleeves, oversized cuts, and optical illusions were all motifs with varying degrees of success. But where Balmain did succeed was injecting some much-needed excitement into spring before the first leaves of autumn have even begun to fall; even when questionably flattering, Rousteing’s use of cut and color remain among the most intriguing in the business.

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About the author

Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.