Sunday 1st November

| BY 10 Magazine

Ten Interviews: Olivier Rousteing

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Olivier Rousteing, the wunderkind creative director of Balmain – and no, wunderkind is not too extreme a word to describe the 29-year-old, who when he took over the reins of the house at the age of 25, became the youngest designer to head a Parisian house since Yves Saint Laurent was appointed head designer at Christian Dior in 1957 – is on the phone, discussing his forthcoming SS16 men’s show, which by the time you read this, will have been and gone. Anyway, it’s the first time he will show his menswear and he is very excited. “We’ve found an amazing venue that I think goes really well with the brand and the aesthetic, so I’m really excited. I’m also working on my resort, my womenswear, which I’m also excited about, because it’s the first time that the womenswear is going to be part of the menswear… ” What is even more exciting is the recent growth of Balmain’s menswear division. For, despite it being very much in the shadow of the womenswear, and slightly off the main fashion, it now accounts for 40% of the house’s total sales. Which, you have to admit, is pretty impressive.

NATALIE DEMBINSKA: “Tell me a bit about how you work, your process. What’s the first thing you do when you start working on a new project or a new collection?”

OLIVIER ROUSTEING: “I think my first thing is obviously finding an idea. I usually get the idea of my show, whether it’s menswear or womenswear, in the middle of the show before. So, when I’m starting my winter, I will get my idea in summer. It’s really weird. For example, if I present my show in September, for womenswear, I already know what I want to be presented in February. So it usually comes from a trouble or an emotion that can give me an inspiration, like something that is troubling somewhere in the world. It can be also a picture on Instagram, it can be from looking at magazines, it can be very different – watching MTV, watching new music videos. So many different sources of inspiration – it’s really, really diverse.”

ND: “It can strike you from anywhere.”

OR: “Yeah, and usually with that, after I get an idea, I come back to my studio with my amazing team and we work together to make it happen. So, after that, it’s all a process of finding the colours, the fabric, the craftsmanship. As you can imagine, the craftsmanship is the hardest thing with Balmain.”

ND: “Because it’s so important.”

OR: “Because of the couture aspect of the house. So when I decide to do a collection with, let’s say, woven leather or pearls, or raffia or big stones and chains, the difficulty is making those clothes couture. But it’s a really interesting process, because of the boundaries and challenges that I have to push. I feel like it’s a kind of battle, you know, a fight to… ”

ND: “To translate couture into ready-to-wear, almost?”

OR: “Yeah. You know it’s really hard when you know that it’s a ready-to-wear show, but you want to keep the luxury and the laboratory that carries the brand and what it’s known for. I think what is amazing in Paris – and what has always been amazing – is the fact that, today, Paris is all about modernity and trying to find new fabric, new textiles, new processes. And I really want to keep that DNA of Balmain, because that’s what Balmain was always known for – the new. New tailoring or new shape.”

ND: “New techniques.”

OR: “And I really want to keep that in mind. I want to make sure that my show is unique and that the buyers – the girls who are going to get the clothes – are unique, also in the Balmain way.”

ND: “And is that couture aspect and the craftsmanship something that you’re trying to do in your menswear as well?”

OR: “Yes. I think that this has previously been more evident in the womenswear, because the womenswear has allowed me to play more, because I think the woman that I have the fantasy of, if I were a woman – or it could be your girlfriend or the idea of a woman – for me, has always been more playful. And I think I have grown up a lot in the past five years and my vision of the menswear has become more and more clear, and I really want to reach the point where my menswear is as strong as the womenswear. So I think it’s really interesting today to actually present my new menswear show, which is going to be the show that is closest to my vision and closest to who I am. Before I was drawing the wardrobe for myself, whereas now I know more about the guys, and my life is way more open to the world, being creative director and travelling a lot and having the chance to meet different cultures more than ever. So my menswear is becoming something more open to the world and to different kinds of guys. And that’s what I really love about my menswear today, that it is really close to my vision, but also myself. Like, what I’m going to wear tomorrow or in a month, or wear to a party in Paris or a nice dinner in LA, but also imagining Kanye West in it, or Justin Bieber, or nice models. And really, my menswear is becoming more like my womenswear – like, the diversity – and I’m really happy with it.”

ND: “Is it easier to design menswear? You said you started designing it with yourself in mind, so does imagining yourself wearing it make it easier? Or does that make it harder?”

OR: “No. In the beginning, I thought it made it easier to do menswear, because, as I said, I was imagining what I’m gonna wear, but when you really realise that your first show… Balmain has become a huge business as a house, and I feel like, in the past couple of seasons, I have pushed myself more and, sometimes with menswear, pushing the boundaries and challenging myself to do something more creative is harder, because with menswear, it’s way more streetwear than womenswear is.”

ND: “More practical.”

OR: “Like, when you have those standards, and you want to make sure that men are going to wear your clothes, making it more creative but still real can cause difficulties in the creative part of the process. But at the end of the day, I would say that I am now enjoying creating for menswear way more, because I am pushing my boundaries way more. Before, I thought it was easier to do menswear, whereas today I feel like menswear is more complex, because you need to find the right balance, whereas in womenswear they can be like fashion victims and you can launch a big trend in one show, but with men it takes time to adopt the style and make sure that they will feel good in it. So there are a lot more limits in the menswear, but it’s also what excites me more today.”

ND: “Also, womenswear is largely based on fantasy and a vision of an idea. Do you think you can have that fantasy in menswear and men will come round to the extravagance seen in womenswear?”

OR: “What is amazing with men and the menswear of today is that they are way more open to fashion than 10 years ago. You can try more. What I love about my womenswear is that I play a lot with menswear garments and I feel like my muse can be Rihanna or Kim, it can be many girls, and the reality is that they love playing with menswear garments. And I feel like a lot of men want to have the richness and the iniquity of womenswear. I feel like a lot of requests are also for… ”

ND: “For menswear magazines, for the women’s fashion?”

OR: “Yeah. A lot of requests for menswear have been also for my womenswear. They want, for example, these embroidered jackets, the craftsmanship, the couture aspects. So I feel like my menswear today is becoming similar to my womenswear and also my icons, such as Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Prince. Those guys knew exactly how to play with womenswear garments and make it cool. So I follow my icons and play with those two styles. I feel like men are changing a lot – that’s what I love also – and I think it will get closer to my womenswear.”

ND: “So, have men become more open to extravagance? Is the Balmain man a man’s man?”

OR: “I think the Balmain man today is a traveller, someone who travels a lot around the world, someone who loves the exploration of cultures, loves the colour in cultures, but also is like, for me, the king of the world – loves being the king and having his queen and his princesses and his princes. I think he is a couture man, he wants to feel unique, sexy, he wants to feel powerful and he wants to be a winner. I love seeing Lewis Hamilton – he is a champion of race cars – and at the same time I love seeing Kanye West, who I think is the king of hip-hop and rap today, and I love Justin Bieber, who is the Prince of Pop II. I love seeing all those guys, who are so different, but they all have power and confidence. I feel like Balmain is for someone who dares, who knows himself and is confident to face the world. All those guys have to fight for many reasons in their lives and I think Balmain is a, let’s say, glamour warrior. It’s for someone who is pushing boundaries and challenging themselves and is confident and sexy and with all his queens around him.”

ND: “It’s almost as though the Balmain man is you. How much of you is in that menswear vision?”

OR: “I think the menswear vision is completely new, because what I feel when I create clothes is that I’m pushing boundaries, and obviously Balmain sometimes is a really controversial brand, because a lot of people are like, ‘Okay, Balmain has a success that we don’t understand’, because I’m not following the standard. And I feel like my fashion is not following the standard either, and neither are my kings following the standard ways of how they’re going to be famous and talented. So I feel like it’s completely me and I feel like my menswear is also about diversity and different guys from different worlds, different ethnicities, and I feel like my vision of the menswear is completely me today and I dress in all my own clothes. For example, for the last Met Ball, I was dressed in my couture black stone jacket, and Justin was wearing the dragon embroidery and I put a 1970s Balmain jacket with it also. I can wear my couture pieces, I can also wear my tailored jackets, I can wear my jogging pants, I can wear my boots. I think that the menswear is completely me today. I think it’s really, really who I am.”

ND: “So, is it kind of the same as your womenswear – all-inclusive, everyone has access to it, everybody can aspire to it, nobody’s excluded? How important is the idea of inclusivity? The idea and the dream being accessible to everybody?”

OR: “I feel like, for me, it’s really important. When we speak about accessible, I think it all comes from a dream, it’s about making a show that people can dream of and be part of. You know, when you dream of something, you don’t need to have the money to actually afford it, you can still dream. Some people don’t like this expression, but I think that dreaming is the start of everything. When you start to dream of something you dream of the world, of what you want to be part of, and I feel like my menswear is also like a dream. Today, I make my dream come true because I am doing my H&M collaboration and it can be more affordable. But I feel like, with menswear, you can also find so many pieces that are affordable, from the T-shirt to the jogging pant or hoodie – I’m really trying to make sure that everybody can get a piece of the dream, but I think I’m really trying to push my menswear to create amazing Balmain men, because I already created the Balmain woman. I really want to make the dream come true for the men.”

ND: “What is the Balmain army?”

OR: “I think the Balmain army is like glamour, fierce and an army of diversity, with strong people in it who have confidence and love fashion. They are not just fashion victims, they have a fashion vision, and I feel like, with my clothes, sometimes people just see sexy and say, ‘Okay, it’s over the top’, but they don’t understand that it’s not only the clothes, but a lot of things around it, like when you see my casting, my story and my idea of fashion. When you wear Balmain, you are not just wearing a $10,000 jacket, you are wearing a story, a vision. And that’s why my people, and why Balmain people, are kind of strong. And sometimes there is controversy, because they know that, with Balmain, they have this amazing glamour that they can wear to go to fight against the world. And also, with Balmain, I feel like they also know that they feel unique. The Balmain army is about uniqueness, exclusivity and richness, and when I say richness, not only dollars, but also the richness of mind and of soul.”

ND: “It’s almost like an attitude. How important is attitude?”

OR: “I think attitude is 150% an important thing when you buy clothes.”

ND: “How much attitude do you need to carry off Balmain? Because it’s not exactly wallflower dressing, it’s quite extravagant.”

OR: “Yes, I think I can’t quantify attitude. I just know that, when someone goes to Balmain, they need to like the clothes and I think it is extravagant. But the girl who’s gonna wear it does make it extravagant, because they show comfort in it. If it appears extravagant, then it is because you don’t know how to wear it.”

ND: “You have always very much embraced social media – what is it about it that appeals to you so much?”

OR: “I think social media is the most beautiful thing that could have happened today to fashion, because I think fashion is too elitist and close-minded sometimes, but I think that social media can be something very natural and real. I feel like my strategy of social media is, if you want to follow me, follow me, if you want to unfollow me, unfollow me. I think there is something really natural and more honest today, because I think fashion needed this kind of honesty. Instagram has also helped me to show myself as a human being and not only as a creative director, but also show things about my life and about my personality – I can be young and have fun with my friends, or go to LA/Dubai/Paris. I know a lot of famous people and I think it’s also really important that they see there is a human being behind all those clothes and the whole fashion. I also think that, with Instagram and social media, you give a piece of you to the world, and I also think that it is so generous and humble. A lot of people can view Instagram as a selfish aspect or arrogant or pretentious, like promoting yourself, but I feel like I am sharing something with the world. I think a lot of people wouldn’t have dared go into a Balmain store because they think it’s luxury. Also, my story that I express on Instagram – like when you see my parents and where I come from, a lot of people are like, ‘Oh my God.’ I feel like, today, I could actually dream of being a fashion designer, wherever I’ve come from – black/young. French luxury can allow me to have those dreams. I did the Vogue festival in London a month ago and there were, like, 800 people in the room, and I was giving a speech with Alexa Chung, and she was asking me a lot of questions, and afterwards a lot of guys asked me a lot of questions. But the most important thing that was actually really inspiring for me and inspiring for them was that a lot of people in the room were like, ‘Oh, we follow your Instagram and now I dream of becoming a designer.’ I feel like I am giving an access to fashion and also fashion to people that maybe they didn’t have at one point and that is what is really important to me today – making dreams for people, and from a dream it can become a more beautiful thing to happen for the world, because with no dreams, you are not pushing yourself.

ND: “It also means that you are having a constant conversation with your customer.”

OR: “Yes, completely! I love the feedback of my customer because I feel like when they don’t like an outfit, I know what we can push and what we cannot – we have also haters, we have lovers, and I can read their comments. I feel I read my comments on Instagram more that I read my reviews in magazines because…  my customers can tell me what they think about the show or I can see how many Likes I get on an outfit. I think that’s the future of a new generation, and you have to be careful, because obviously you have some good comments and some wrong comments, but I feel like there is something really natural and honest when you click, when you like and when you don’t. When you comment it’s because you really put your brain, your mind and your heart in it and, whether you are a hater or a lover, you are expressing something.”

ND: “So you grew up in Bordeaux and you were supposed to go to law school. When did you discover that you wanted to design?”

OR: “I think it was something that has been in my brain and in my heart forever, but I didn’t at one point associate the fact that my passion could be a job. I think I had to grow up, and I think I was about 15 and I realised that you can turn your passion into a job. I think, when I was around 16, I travelled and I started to sketch more and more and I immediately understood that fashion could become my job. I have to tell you that I have always loved fashion – from day one, I always loved clothes because there was something about identity, and maybe because I am adopted I feel I don’t have an identity, but I always felt with clothes you can play with identity.”

ND: “What is your first fashion memory?”

OR: “I think my first fashion memory was with an old Yves Saint Laurent show with Catherine Deneuve. And I remember I was with my parents, watching this show, and my parents are really not into fashion. But I feel like what was amazing about French fashion culture before was that it was way more pop in a way – people knew Gabrielle Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior. I feel like fashion was way more popular and my first memory was of my parents watching Yves Saint Laurent and I thought that Yves Saint Laurent was like a god or a hero, and that’s a memory that I will have about the careers of fashion designers of that time – they were seen as heroes in France.”

ND: “It’s almost as if you’re bringing that back, making fashion more popular again.”

OR: “Yeah, I think the designers were way more pop because they were always with the celebrities and they were always being associated with strong women. For example, Pierre Balmain was always with the Thai princess, or Monsieur Laurent was with Catherine Deneuve. Designers have always been close to strong women, which, in a way, changed the world, so I really remember the old shows that celebrities attended. You know, you had Jeanne Moreau in the front row, or Vanessa Paradis; there were all those strong girls.”

ND: “When you design, – do you take into consideration, for example, that nowadays everything is viewed as a grid, like the grid or the Instagram grid?”

OR: “I think social media or the internet is always part of my creative process, because I feel like I am really an online guy. I love to be online. So obviously when I create something I am always thinking what kind of image it is going to give to the world and how it’s going to look on or how it’s going to be seen as a trend, or how many Likes it’s going to get on Instagram, because people think that Likes are what matter more – having Likes means likability. So 30,000 Likes is equivalent to when you do a magazine cover and this magazine is selling a lot. It’s just different, because on Instagram, they don’t have to pay to see my clothes. Also, for example, on, when you see the first page with Kendall in your clothes, people are going to say, ‘Oh, Kendall wore this outfit!’ and that’s something that people remember today, so I think it’s important to consider who is gonna wear what and how the picture will look online. A lot of brands today use amazing photographers just to take their Instagram pictures, and I think that’s really interesting. I think now photographers are also contracted for Instagram – it’s like a campaign now. The models also have a contract – you need to buy a contract for them to put some pictures on Instagram, so it has become like a new magazine. It’s just that, instead of being one specific magazine, it is a magazine of the world and I think that is a pretty amazing concept.”

ND: “It also allows you to curate your own visual image.”

OR: “Yeah, I feel like, sometimes, magazines forget the soul of the brand, because they want to make a story that follows a trend, so they are going to shoot your outfit in the same way they are going to shoot everyone else’s outfit. And I think that’s wrong, because you want to see Balmain differently from how you see other brands, and I think that’s the same for every brand. Like, if the trend is a black sweatshirt, they are gonna shoot 100 black sweatshirts for different magazines, but they will be shot in the same way, and the stylist will go also with the same trend. So I feel like, at least with social media or Twitter or Tumblr, you are able to push your vision, because at the end of the day, you are your own stylist – you are the soul of your brand. I also think that, sometimes, a stylist will push an idea of society that maybe is not so… I feel like, at least with my social media, I can control the image that I want to give to Balmain and to my girls and to my boys and to myself. I am kind of a control freak in my private life, too, so I have a certain way of showing things that makes me more satisfied.”

ND: “You get to tell the story behind it. Basically, you get to explain and communicate your vision.”

OR: “Yeah. Sometimes I feel like… For example, after my winter show two years ago, a lot of people were like, ‘Oh my God, so many black models on your runway, and so many different ethnicities’, and honestly I didn’t even realise. I realised afterwards. I realised that I wanted to be more myself and about diversity, because I thought that was missing in fashion. I think, sometimes, my shows have been more interesting than some shoots because in my show there is a big vision of my world, of the new world that I want to present in fashion. And some people just shot my green army outfit in a different way, which was nice, but they were more than just fashion clothes – there was a concept behind it. I think, when you get Balmain, you get the entire world, not just this amazing body-con dress. There is also something else in that. I think, with my social media, I can express more and give a concept that’s more than just clothes.”

Text: Natalie Dembinska
Photographer: Andre Wolf

Taken from Issue 42 of 10 Men, on newsstands now…