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Balmain christens its new Milan store with a first-of-its-kind VR experience

When Balmain’s new Milan store opens at Via Montenapoleone 27D today, passersby in town for the annual Salone del Mobile will witness an unusual site: shoppers strapped into Oculus VR headsets designed by Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing in the window.

Rousteing is making a habit of christening new stores with tech-world collaboration reveals. At last year’s Melrose Avenue opening, he unveiled a custom headphone collection for Beats by Dre. The difference this time: You can’t walk away with a Balmain Special Edition Oculus headset, but you can queue up to take it for a spin. In addition to putting his Midas touch on the headset, Rousteing has created the virtual experience inside it—a metaphorical journey through the creative process designed to trigger the feelings Rousteing experiences during the genesis of his collections: everything from risk and doubt to elation.

“I wanted to make sure people are in my brain,” the designer said via phone from Paris. “I want them to discover my feelings.” The development process was all-new for Rousteing, who had never experienced VR before this project. He’s excited about the platform’s potential to alter the design process. “All my own sketches, I was doing them around me in 3-D,” he said of wearing the headset. “It’s a new way of approaching fashion, it’s exciting.” He also seems confident that VR or other technologies will soon be impacting the fashion show system. “Fashion is more inclusive that ever,” he pointed out, “and there’s no better way to include more people than through technology and digital.”

As for the 280-meter, two-floor store, Rousteing designed it in collaboration with Paris’s Studio AMV in the spirit of a traditional Paris hôtel particulier. The paradox is apparent, and Rousteing is comfortable with it. “You know me, for seven years at Balmain I’ve been loving French classicism and tradition, but at the same time I’m part of the click generation.”