The H&M x Balmain collaboration is anything but understated. From the grand reveal (on the red carpet of the 2015 Billboard Music Awards) to the collection itself, it's clear that from the very beginning this was going to be as opulent and extravagant as ever—it is Balmain after all. The runway show was no different. Honestly, it felt like I was walking onto the set of Empire.
Walking into 23 Wall St. things seemed normal. With the New York Stock Exchange (along with the vast wealth it represents) looming in the background, and having visions of gilded Balmain jackets in my mind, what felt like a bizarre location choice on the train ride downtown suddenly seemed to make sense.
Balmain and H&M had built a grand set up for the runway show. Guests walked into a futuristic metro station—artistically directed by Olivier Rousteing, Balmain, and H&M. PR reps checked in guests at the turnstile props to the giant, subway map-inspired bar. The room was modern, futuristic, and—naturally—packed to the gills.
Kylie Jenner entered the above area practically unnoticed (shocking, I know), her security team who—like giant dudes blessed with paparazzi "spidey sense"—blocked nearly every attempt to snap a picture at the teen reality TV star as she was escorted backstage.
As the crowds began to dissipate and attendees were ushered into their seating arrangements, I found myself herded into the venue and up the stairs to the dreaded standing section.
The runway itself was two-tiered and divided by stairs, so about as easy to figure out as a puzzle with half the pieces missing. After determining the pre-ordained “standing” section wasn’t going to provide a good vantage point, I hid behind a constructed alcove, so I could get a better sense of the space. The lower level was dominated by small squares of seating, filled with the major editors, and celebrities, like Kylie Jenner. The upper level, like an oversized balcony in a European discoteque, was filled with other editors, press, and fans.
The show was around 30 minutes behind its 8 p.m. start time, but then: the room, initially lit by purple, blue, and red lights suddenly went black. Dance troupes trotted out from every corner, and the full-length Balmain x H&M video campaign was projected onto a series of televisions scattered around the space. Kendall Jenner, the clear star of the campaign, was shown running into rogue dancers as she traversed between train cars. There was also vogueing and breakdance battles.
Naturally, as one of (if not the) most recognizable faces of the collaboration, Kendall was the first to start the show, followed by Jourdan Dunn and Gigi Hadid. Other notable models included Gigi's sister Bella Hadid, multimedia phenomena Karlie Kloss, Joan Smalls, and Victoria's Secret Angel Alessandra Ambrosio. Embodying the inherent sex appeal that Balmain’s gaudy aesthetics invoke, models stomped the runway confidently.
After the models snaked around the upper level once, they headed downstairs to circle around VIPs, editors, and recognizable celebrity faces. As the models climbed back up the stairs, they were quickly ushered backstage to change into their second looks.
After two rounds of runway walking, vogueing, and twerking (though, not necessarily in that order) the models took their final walk through, with Olivier wrapping the show with a final descent down the giant staircase.
But what happened next was completely unexpected.
Rousteing and his #HMBALMAINATION made their way to the base of the staircase. The DJ turned the music down—and for a moment, the only thing you could hear were whispers from the crowd. Missy Elliott performed at last year’s H&M x Alexander Wang runway show, so I knew there would be some kind of musical guest again (Balmain and H&M also confirmed this on the invite). But who would it be?
More dancers emerged from an alcove next to where I was standing. Then I noticed a group of guys, dressed far more extravagantly (and certainly a few years older than the dancers), slither out into sight. By the time the group of men hit their marks at the top of the staircase, the crowd’s anticipation had nearly bubbled over.
It was The Backstreet Boys. THE BACKSTREET BOYS.
The boy band serenaded a pit of models and VIPs with hits like "Larger Than Life" and "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)” as they made their way down the stairs, all in sync like they hadn’t lost a step all these years. Onlookers on the upper level rushed to the railing, snapping pictures of Kendall, Gigi, and Rousteing as they were, obviously, dancing front and center. In retrospect, the entire futurism of the entrance area, the bar, and the runway seemed to harken back to the group’s futurized video for “Larger than Life.”
Here’s where it gets even better. H&M and Balmain mentioned in the invite there would be a pop-up shop. So many questions ran through my mind, but mostly I wondered if this would finally be the moment I rub elbows with Gigi or Kendall. (I didn’t, they went backstage with the rest of the models.)
By the time I made it to the base level, there was another human-road block by a set of elevators and back staircase. Both were heavily guarded by security demanding to see guests' wristbands before they were allowed to enter (naturally, I didn’t have a wristband). So, I waited in line to see if I could sneak in. While standing in queue, some random dude didn’t seem to think I belonged. He looked me up-and-down then turned and said: “You don’t look like a Balmain shopper.”
Before I could even respond, the line began to move and, thanks to years of fighting my way into to fashion shows I wasn’t technically invited to, I slid into the hallway leading to the pop-up—literally hiding behind the dresses of a few women in front of me.
The shop was absolutely mobbed. Clothes were littered all over the place, like it was a college dorm room. The checkout line snaked around one corner of the already cramped space, and the only manageable section was the men’s. Lewis Hamilton, who was decked out in the lion-adorned gold blazer-style jacket from the collection, was seemingly alone, holding down a space in the back corner of the men's area. Ambrosio—who had evacuated the runway area quicker than some of her fellow models—was cashing out, carrying at least three mesh bags full of product.
As I was getting ready to leave, I was surprised to see a crowd of women looking at the items on the men’s racks. During the press conference that preceded the show, Rousteing said he thought the women would gravitate towards the men's pieces as well. He wasn’t kidding.
Overall, the collection up-close is actually pretty solid. While I personally didn't purchase any of it, I can respect the amount of time Rousteing and H&M put into the collection. Rousteing explained in yesterday's press conference that this would be a collection of his greatest hits at Balmain—and it is. From the textured beading, to the golden lion embroidery, these pieces were made to look luxurious.
Overheated and tired, I escaped from the pop-up shop and back into the entrance/bar area—only to find out the Balmain x H&M team had been handing out branded HAPPY MEALS. The irony of seeing cheeseburgers and french fries in ridiculous, black and gold lacquer-like boxes, was nearly nonsensical. While I missed out on my Happy Meal, I managed to swipe one from an older woman who agreed to let me take a picture of the lunch box. I’m not sure if she expected me to return with the box—which, by the way, still had some half-eaten food left inside. But, if we ever meet again, I definitely owe her a cheeseburger.