Interview: The Young Heart of Balmain

by Roza Sinaysky | 28.02.14

Olivier Rousteing (creative director and head designer at Balmian) is a rare bread of fashion designers. He is the youngest designer since Yves Saint Laurent to take over an established Parisian fashion house. Since the French are not known for the open minded approach when it comes to fashion traditions, this is a big deal. To be 27 years old and have a whole fashion empire like Balmian in your hands takes a lot of confidence, knowledge and motivation and Olivier certainly got all that.

Olivier greets me in his atelier (or as he likes to call it his “universe”) his energetic and friendly and interviewing him was an incredible experience. I wrote all about it on Buro.24/7.ru and I thought it’s time for the English version (demanded by many). So here goes, my interview with one of Riri’s besties and the most exciting young voices in fashion today. All images by Nicolas Kantor

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We can really see the Balmain spirit and your individuality here. Please tell us about this space.

You can really see all my moods and inspirations here, but it’s not only about the clothes and the work, I also like to have my personal objects around me so I feel connected to myself all the time, like the Miami Vice dvd’s and some letters from friends and family. What I like about it is that it’s in central Paris, my office, the atelier and the shop are very near each other so it’s very convenient.

Looks like you turned Balmian into a young and a more fun and sexy brand, does it has something to do with your age and connection to the modern couture?

First thing I did when I started my job here is deciding to style the looks and the show myself, for me it seemed very old fashioned to have an outside stylist or consultant to tell me how my clothes can look good. I have my own language, my own aesthetic that is transformed in everything that we do here at Balmain. It’s all a way to express myself and I want people to see that.

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You joined Balmain when you were only 25 – and just after Christophe Decarnin’s, the man who put the house in the highlight again, departure. How did you deal with that pressure?

I am a very independent person. I left my parents home in Bordeaux at the age of 18 and went to study fashion in Italy. Shortly after I was an intern at Cavalli and from then things moved really fast and I got a job at Balmain as a design assistant to Christophe Decarnin when I was 23. When they offered me the position I couldn’t believe it, I thought they will give it to some big designer like Tom Ford for example but they really believed in me and in my vision and although it was a risk to take on someone so young they offered me the job. The pressure can be scary but I come from a background where I had to fight for what I have, I am adopted and had to prove myself all my life. But I know I always get my way by working hard and fighting for it. It’s important to remember it’s just clothes and have proportions in life and I want to keep this spirit. 

And how is you Balmain team – you might have taken a lot of young and talented people with you when came to the house as a creative director.

I love my work because I work with a great team, and even though this is a very traditional maison all my team is so young. We are like a family here we spend all our week together and so it’s important for me to have a good environment. I don’t feel like I am working so hard because I am in good company all the time. We stay late in the studio and we like to play loud music and dance. The team has been here since I worked here as an assistant so we already developed a good dynamic. It’s important to have fun and enjoy your work.

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You are an active user of Twitter and Instagram. Do you feel that social media has any influence at you and at fashion in general? Do you ever worry you’re sharing too much?

Fashion seems like such a closed world, very elitist and unapproachable, with social media I want to change that, I want to show that I am human I can take a selfie after a night of party and say “I am tired”, or take a snap of chicken nuggets as my lunch, and that will make me connect with people. Everyone can relate to that. 

Many great designers of the old generation loose their sense of humanity under the fashion pressure and drama so I think social media keeps you connected to your crowd and keeps your feet on the ground, even though my lifestyle seems very glamorous I want people to see I am still very much human and I want to be treated  like that. I want to give hope and tell a fairy tale through my clothes and through social media.

You made Rihanna the face of your new spring campaign and called her a new icon not once. Why is she the perfect fit for Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain?

This campaign happened in a very natural and very quick way. Rihanna is my friend. She really has the spirit of Balmain, she knows exactly what fits her, and she is strong but also very humble. She can wear a pyjama and look like a red carpet dress and the opposite, she has the right attitude. The whole idea started from me dreaming about her starring in a Balmian campaign. The morning after I texted her and asked “Will you make my dream come true?” and she said yes! Working with her was so much fun, I wouldn’t even call it work! It was just a fun day in New York with loud music, good team of people and good food, she was trying things on and we just had a lot of fun.

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Do you think a woman can be glamorous without spending a lot of money on clothes?

Of course, when I design a collection I sell a fairy tale but it’s a real fairy tale, a woman doesn’t have to buy one dress for 25K she can go to our store and get a really nice blazer that she will wear for years. I design for all women and want to see my clothes on different types of girls. I see a lot of Balmain “copies” on the high street, so that is also a good way to get the Balmain look without paying the high price.

You don’t mind finding copies of you work in cheaper shops?

Not at all, I think it’s old fashioned to be in denial about coping in fashion, everyone is copying now, I am proud that my clothes are inspiring others. It means that Balmain is a trend setter and I am very flattered to see young people mixing the Balmain ideas in a more trendy nonchalant way, for example my assistant coming to work one day in a black and white diamond sweatshirt she bought in H&M or Zara that was exact copy from our diamond collection. I thought it was funny and I like the combination. I think fashion should be even more popular now, I want it to be like music or movies, it is a big part of today’s culture and it’s important people will be aware of it. 

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What are you planning next for Balmain?

For me, even though Balmain is a traditional French house I still want to take it on an international level, so I always looks for inspirations and references in different places, like the pre fall 2014 collection will be all about safari. I love mixing different cultures and ethnicities as the women I design for are so divers. For example, I designed a collection inspired by the Faberge egg and now my collection is inspired by the safari, so I change my reference every time but it’s still speaks the Balmain language. 

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