Vogue

Björk and Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing on Their Otherworldly Fashion Collaboration

Björk’s new concert series and theatrical production, which she’s performing at the Shed in New York City’s Hudson Yards for the next month, is touted as her most ambitious yet. The Icelandic singer herself describes it as a place where “the acoustic and digital will shake hands.” It’s perhaps why the opening minutes of the show, which clocks in at close to two hours in total, feel surprisingly unplugged. A young Icelandic choir, dressed in simple, almost folkloric garb, take the stage and sing a few songs. Then an animated version of Björk is projected onto the silvery threads that hang down across the stage like a moveable curtain, before we catch a glimpse of the real Björk onstage. She’s wearing two massive bows on her shoulders that look more like pearls, an ensemble fashion obsessives might recognize from Balmain’s Spring 2019 couture runway. A few moments later, the rest of her band joins her, including an all-women seven-piece flute section, all of whom are dressed in massive organza plissé folds that floated down that very same Balmain couture runway a few months ago.

Balmain and Björk might not seem like the most obvious fashion pairing. Olivier Rousteing, the creative director of the storied French house, acknowledges this himself, speaking over the phone from his atelier in Paris, where he’s busy finishing up his upcoming menswear collection. “I created the Balmain Army for eight years, that is composed of you-know-who,” he says, alluding to the house’s association with the likes of Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, and pop stars such as Beyoncé, for whom he designed Coachella costumes last year.

Those glitzy, jewel-encrusted, body-conscious outfits are a far cry from anything you’d expect Björk to wear in her everyday life, let alone onstage. But Rousteing has been a fan of Björk since her debut album—her Dancer in the Dark is his favorite movie, too—and Björk says that once she saw Rousteing’s couture collection (the designer revived the house’s haute couture atelier this past winter), she felt they were working within the same visual vocabulary. “It was a curious feeling after me and James Merry [her frequent collaborator] had been swirling around in our utopian hemisphere for a while to see Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain collection a few months ago and witness such an obvious overlap between both of our headspaces,” Björk says over email before her show last night. “We had been looking for plantlike uniforms for habitants of this sci-fi concert, and we were thrilled when we found it. These almost digital, soil-free beings wandering down that catwalk seem to only lack flutes,” she says. “They had fins and light prisms coming out of them, albino fur and peach blossom shadows . . . perfect !!!”

After looking at Balmain’s couture collection online, Björk reached out to Rousteing to collaborate for her new tour, which kicks off at the Shed. Aesthetically, Rousteing’s designs really do fit into the otherworldly vision Björk creates onstage with her show. Björk describes her latest album, Utopia, as “an attempt to imagine a soundtrack on a future island,” and her Shed series brings this island to life. “I imagined that after the apocalypse we would all go to an island and become mutants between plants and birds, break off branches and make them into flutes and start playing.”

Björk naturally wanted her performance wardrobe to further flesh out this world : “I went out of my way with the 360 sound system (the first of its kind) and clothing to try to reach a gentle equilibrium, an energy that can heal.” The sculptural Balmain pieces blend in well with Björk’s intricate stage set, which includes a podlike reverb chamber, a harp, a circular flute (yes, it’s four flutes combined into a circle that surrounds the Icelandic singer at one point), platforms that are covered in what appear to be mushroom gills, and obscure instruments, like water drums and an aluphone.

To allow for full movement at center stage, Rousteing had to alter each piece to fit the needs of this very particular environment. In total, Balmain dressed 15 musicians who play with the Icelandic singer, and created three different looks for Björk herself. There’s a slit in one of the singer’s pearl shoulders, for example, that allows her to maneuver the microphone. Similarly, the designer altered the harpist’s outfit, as the big bowl skirt that she wears needs to perfectly hug the curves of her instrument. “We had to re-create the image of the couture, made from pleated organza, silk, metal, plastic, some PVC, and embroideries, but making sure that you can walk and perform in that couture,” Rousteing says. The whole process was an organic back-and-forth dialogue—the singer asked Rousteing to create a dress in a very particular green-blue color that she’s been working with a lot recently—but overall, the two were working in a very similar visual language.

For Rousteing, the collaboration is a testament to the value of couture today, and another moment in which Balmain’s ever-expanding universe has left him awestruck. “The Balmain world is a world where you cannot predict what is going to happen tomorrow,” he says. “I think the fact that she has no boundaries with her music, and with my fashion, I don’t have any boundaries—that’s where we connected, and that’s what she loved about the last couture show. Is it fashion ? Is it art ? Is it furniture ? What is that ? There’s no name. You can’t put it in a box. You cannot label it, and I think that’s what she loved."

In Björk’s carefully constructed world, Rousteing’s designs help to communicate her new utopian vision of our future. “It’s an optimistic proposal to how we react to global warming and climate change,” Björk says of her new show. “Perhaps in a postapocalyptic world, plants, birds, and humans will merge into a new mutant species. On the album there are birds that sound like synths, synths that sound like flutes, and flutes that sound like birds . . . nature will still offer energy, optimism, and life. She always finds a way.” And witnessing the singer dance her way through this alternative universe, pearls sitting firm on her shoulders, she really does look like she can usher us into this enchanting new future.

Rachel Hahn

publié dans Vogue - 10.05.2019

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08.04.2019
In New York
10.05.2019
Dazed Digital