July 29th 2016 saw the new BALMAIN PARIS campaign open up to the world; scandalous, decadent and breath taking, the advert was darkly sublime and encapsulating.
It’s a known fact in the world of Kanye West that he’s not only a rapper, but an artistic collaborator too. With his own fashion and shoe line initially in partnership with Nike and now with Adidas, the rapping superstar is no stranger to working as part of a creative team. His most recent collaboration with BALMAIN PARIS features his media mogul wife Kim Kardashian West, which also serves as no surprise as the fashion powerhouse is known to frequently dress the Kardashian-Jenner clan; especially due to the family’s close relationship with the owner of the fashion house, Olivier Rousteing.
The ad is a visual masterpiece; opening up with a black and white scene of a full moon beaming through branches which stretch out like skeletal fingers, the echoic beginning of Kanye West’s Wolves starts up in the background. The scene cuts to a darkened room, lit only by one low hanging light, swinging ominously from side to side and illuminating the voluptuous figure of Kim Kardashian-West. Setting a tone of fear-inducing mystique, the senses are heightened and it’s evident that we’re being opened up to something entirely unique.
One by one, BALMAIN clad models are all lifted up off the ground like lifeless marionettes. The scene evokes a Frankenstein-esque tone as one nameless yet beautiful model proceeds down the line of incandescently dressed and glamorously made up models, breathing life into them and allowing them the ability to stand on their own. A striking image by itself, it’s improved with BALMAIN PARIS’ use of multiracial models; they are all beautiful in their diversity and foreboding in their own right.
The backing track of Wolves definitely sets the scene for the brooding models to stalk their way across the shot, creating a lifeless, angry, sauntering image for the viewer. With this ever escalating excitement facilitated, Kanye soon dissects this crowd wearing dramatic grey lenses and bejewelled Balmain jacket.
At this point, the campaign is already prestigious beyond compare; with black and white shots throughout, light reflects off of every single jewel on the BALMAIN PARIS pieces, performing an iridescent light display for all to indulge in. It screams glamour, yells luxury, and whispers effort.
The main shots are interjected by ‘old style’ shots from a party – the filming style shows a sense of old money, revealing the unapologetically decadent style behind the campaign. As a beautiful male model stares at the camera, his unnerving fixation with the camera sends shivers through spines as he sings along to Kanye’s track, implementing yet again the initial tone of fear. This is only dramatized with West, Kardashian West and the surrounding models all having tears run down their eyes.
It’s not all about the media world’s power couple; Sia’s cameo is hugely symbolic. With her signature wig hiding her identity as usual, her personality and glamour still shines through with the head-to-do bejewelled BALMAIN PARIS gown. Her wig, however, is dishevelled, wild – fitting in with the somewhat anxious setting of the film. She looks incredible – her style is the same as always, but heightened by the glamour of BALMAIN PARIS and made edgier with the rough and tumble style of her classic wig.
Whilst the campaign has many interesting and chilling attributes, Kim Kardashian West’s cameo particularly provokes interest. With models pawing at her, stroking her face and her dress, fumbling over her facial features, we hear Kanye’s lyrics; “you tried to play nice, everybody just took advantage / you left your fridge open, somebody just took a sandwich” which paints a picture of Kim Kardashian West’s life; everyone is always wanting a piece of her, always seeking to see her in the flesh, to get her autograph, to get an interview – to get anything from her. The image of everyone touching her creates this image that people do take advantage of the world famous reality TV star.
The most striking symbolism within the ad has to be the image of Kanye stood behind a silent, tear stained Kim Kardashian West, rapping the lyrics “I know it’s corny n****s you wish you could unswallow”. Whilst it could mean any manner of things – art is always up to individual interpretation – there is a huge unspoken reference to Ray J – the person whom Mrs Kardashian West had various filmed sexual relations with, leading to the world wide famous sex tape being deliberately leaked to the world; a video that was filmed in private and intended to remain private. Whilst it did propel Kim into worldwide fame, getting her where she is now; wealthy, married to the man of her dreams and with a hugely successful family; she must, as Kanye says, feel taken advantage of – or at least did at that point of time.
The theme of senseless ‘predation’ by ‘wolves’ is nicely concluded with Kanye’s lyric “cover Nori in lamb’s wool, we surrounded by the fuckin’ wolves, cover Saint in lamb’s wool, we surrounded by the fuckin’ wolves.’ Portraying the fact he doesn’t want bad things to happen to his aforementioned children, he uses the classic parental metaphor of wrapping up children in wool to protect them. The reference and link to his family unit is an effective way of showing the audience that despite the glittering glamour of his lifestyle, they are still just people.
The question remains; why is BALMAIN releasing an ad? BALMAIN is a major fashion power house targeted towards the excessively wealthy – they certainly don’t need or want to pander to high street shoppers. Highlighting the first item on the Balmain site, an embroidered off-the-shoulder dress is priced at $10,465.00. So what is the purpose behind its heightened exposure? Is the campaign shedding it’s ‘hidden’ exclusivity? Does the top end brand actually need sales? Perhaps BALMAIN’s partnership with both West and the Kardashian-Jenner clan is a way to discreetly recruit a bigger, wider high profile BALMAIN alumni? Or is it simply a tactic to appear even more high profile and exclusive than they already are – whatever the motivation, it certainly provokes, excites and delights the mind in terms of visual aesthetic.
All in all, the campaign is delectable; Olivier Rousteing’s creative direction paired with Alex Lockett’s cinematography fantastically showcased both BALMAIN PARIS’ high fashion, whilst simultaneously providing interesting insight into the world of West.
You can watch the Balmain campaign here.
Photography: Steven Klein Photography for BALMAIN AW16.