In August, Olivier Rousteing announced a new, virtual version of the #BalmainArmy where anyone is welcome. The Balmain creative director — one of three Black men to ever helm a major fashion house — worked with a CGI artist (the same one who designed controversial CGI model Shudu) to create two Balmain-exclusive digital supermodels who embody the beauty, individuality, and confidence of the Balmain woman. It didn't take long before critics claimed Rousteing was simply "paying lip service" to diversity by choosing to work with virtual models, instead of human ones. Well, on Friday, the 33-year-old showed an array of diversity, in real life, at his spring 2019 show in Paris.
“I created the virtual reality army in the same way that I’m creating my collection,” Rousteing told Refinery29 exclusively in August. “I’m really obsessed with music [his collaborations with Beyoncé and Rihanna are proof of this] and what I really love about it are the icons [who brought the sounds to life].” Rousteing specifically called out Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Tina Turner, and Prince as inspiration, so it wasn't too surprising that the show opened with Cara Delevingne lip-syncing to Quindon Tarver’s version of Prince's "When Doves Care" from Baz Luhrman’s William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet.
Delevingne's rumored girlfriend Ashley Benson, sat in the front row, filming Delevingne just one day after the model opened up on Twitter about why she didn't report her sexual assault. Delevingne took a more celebratory tone on Instagram on Friday, cheering on Rousteing, writing: "Thank you for having me @balmain so many exciting things to come, I cannot wait to tell you guys. I love you @olivier_rousteing your heart, support and infinite talent is so incredible to be around and I feel so grateful even when you don’t let me kiss you."
Balmain's latest presentation was also a continuation of how Rousteing uses virtual reality to make fashion available for everyone. "In a groundbreaking partnership with [Facebook] Oculus, I'm democratizing the runway," he wrote on the show's invite, "to allow a new audience from around the world join me for an exclusive, up close 360 view of the collection. This year, I'm excited to announce the same number of people will be watching my show in virtual reality as in real life."