The soundtrack waned David Bowie’s “Lady Grinning Soul.” Stylist Melanie Ward—famous for her seminal work with Helmut Lang in the ‘90s—brought a softer, lighter touch to the French fashion house’s notoriously narrow high-shoulder blazers. In silk lame, cropped trousers over thigh-high leather boots projected an air of confidence, while heavily ornamented jackets, in bronze, silver, and gold, were clearly a nod to Ziggy Stardust. Though critics were impressed with Balmain’s latest effort, one question persisted—where was the designer?

At the Fall/Winter 2011 ready-to-wear show, creative director Christophe Decarnin failed to make an appearance, marking the end of an era that defined mid-2000s fashion. While initially the house informed press that Decarnin was busy recuperating following an unconfirmed illness, rumors ran rampant of forced hospitalization due to depression or exhaustion. Still, despite murmurs of fatigue and hardship, Balmain PR insisted the designer would return in due time. A month later it was announced he was no longer with the brand. Shortly thereafter, his design assistant, current Creative Director Olivier Rousteing, had taken creative control. All was clearly not well.

Why would a brand whose fortunes had so drastically changed part ways with the designer who spearheaded their revival? Could Decarnin not handle the pressure of leading a suddenly booming business? These questions, for the most part, still remain unanswered. What is known, though, is how a reclusive country boy brought a staid couture house back to life from the brink of bankruptcy, and once again made glitz, sex appeal, and ornamentation part of the fashion vocabulary—a feat on par with peak Gucci-era Tom Ford, and reminiscent of the late, great Gianni Versace.