image: Vogue

image: Vogue

Originally published in 2011, this throwback post remains an apt topic of discussion on the Fourth of July …

Before officially parting ways with Balmain in mid-2011, Christophe Decarnin made his mark on the French house and on the fashion industry at large. Beginning his tenure as creative director in 2007, Decarnin reinvented the famed fashion house, one that was once considered a stuffy couture house, with “skimpy dresses and spray-on jeans that were shockingly priced,” as the New York Times stated in 2011.

Decarnin – who has since reportedly taken a ghost-designing role at Faith Connexion –  is credited with creating “Balmania,” a rocker-chic vision that consisted of t-shirts and tanks with rips and bleach stains (which retailed for thousands of dollars) and deep plunging jackets with nothing underneath, which were often paired with low-rise leather hot pants adorned in with zippers and belts slung at the hips. 

Or in lieu of pants: a sequined, beaded or embroidered bodycon dress or a similarly short and tight frock but one with long sleeves and exaggerated shoulders (not terribly unlike the ones Decarnin’s successor, Olivier Rousteing has continued to show in recent years).

While Decarnin’s ousting was a major bit of fashion industry conjecture (word on the street and in the New York Times was that the designer was in a mental institution recovering from a nervous breakdown, though the house swore he was just exhausted and resting), one of his last collections (in fact, his last Spring/Summer collection) consisted of a garment that caused an arguably equivalent amount of discussion. The “Embellished flag-print tank,” a starred and striped shirt punctuated by burn holes and attached at the seams with safety pins. It was yours for only $1,515, until it sold out. 

On the website, the $1500 tank, was described as: “The iconic ‘Star-spangled Banner’ gets a rebellious Balmain twist with burn holes and safety pin embellishment. Wear this cream, red and blue silk tank with studded heels and distressed denim for true statement style.”

The seeming popularity of the garment spawned no shortage of knock-offs and similar styles,  stocked at Forever 21 and Topshop, and spotted on celebrities like Kate Bosworth and Kesha. 

For some, the design was an outrageous depiction of disrespect to the American flag. For instance, upon hearing about the tattered tank, U.S. Veteran George Alatzas told the New York Post, “Our flag has witnessed many sacrifices. It is the glue that holds our patriotism together. Shame on those who defile it in any way.”

Other, such as fashion writer Hillary Moss, pointed to the price tag as a potential point of contention. Writing for the Huffington Post at the time, Moss stated: “For us, the most upsetting bit is the four-digit fee to, essentially, look like you were in a freak fire on the Fourth of July.”