10 things we learned from olivier rousteing's talk at the met
From hints of a Balmain accessories line to why he has a crush on Tom Ford, and what he thinks about fashion’s diversity problem, peek inside Rousteing's mind.
Image via @olivier_rousteing
On social media, Olivier Rousteing forever appears to be the life of the the party, mugging for selfies with any number of his friends, from Cindy Crawford to a bevy of Kardashian-Jenners. But over the course of his conversation with Alina Cho last night, the sixth instalment in the Met Museum's ongoing fashion interview series The Atelier with Alina Cho, the difference between the designer and his hyper-public persona became clear. While Olivier on Instagram sucks in his cheeks and poses with celebrities, Olivier in real life blushes over childhood photos and begs for his nude Têtu magazine cover to be taken down from the screen behind him.
But whatever his personal feelings might be, living under the spotlight 24/7 has become a simple fact of Rousteing's professional life ever since 2011 when, at the age of just 24, he became the youngest person to be appointed creative director at a major Paris fashion house since Yves Saint Laurent. Since then, he has catapulted the storied couture house into the centre of modern pop culture, making it one of the most influential brands of the 21st century. With an uncanny understanding of youth culture, a deep-seeded passion for diversity, and an unparalleled eye for creating exactly what women want to wear, the designer has found devoted fans amongst social media It Girls and old guard supermodels alike — a following he's dubbed his Balmain Army (although considering how numerous they've become, he joked, they're now "more like a nation").
Rousteing made it clear in conversation with Cho that, despite his young age and perhaps because of it, he fully understands the critical role he plays in bridging the divide between Balmain's artisanal roots and its emergence as a force to be reckoned with in our current digital age. After all, he may be responsible for leading the industry towards a more inclusive, compassionate, and well-dressed future, but he's still just a man of the people as only the most followed French designer on Instagram could be, posing for every single selfie asked of him long after the Q&A was over.
Here's what else we learned.
Olivier will be launching a Balmain accessories line in the very near future.
Rousteing has always been interested in challenging himself and pushing his own boundaries, saying, "I've grown up for five years as a designer and I think now Balmain has to grow. I want to expand Balmain into a very big, global brand." So of course, the next logical step for any designer on the verge of world domination is an accessories line. "It's like a new world, opening the brand to a new type of crowd," he said of his plans for the house, "Balmain is obviously an expensive, luxury world, but I also love those people who might not be able to afford my clothes."
He was adopted from an orphanage.
When Rousteing was born he was put into an orphanage in France but adopted five months later by white parents and raised in Bordeaux. Though his race was never an issue at home, "because when your parents adopt you, they explain to you, it's not about the blood, it's about love," the outside world's prejudice began to affect him around the time he turned 11. He got into fights with kids at school who called him names like "bastard." He continued, "I spoke to my parents a lot about that, like I don't want to be in that type of world, that's not what I believe in. And my parents told me, there are no colours. There are cultures, but there are no colours." When asked if he ever thought about finding his birth mother, he says he's ultimately decided against it, adding, "I don't know where I come from, but I know where I'm going to go."
He got a job at Balmain by writing Christophe Decarnin a love letter.
While working at Roberto Cavalli under Peter Dundas, he was hugely inspired by Balmain's then creative director Christophe Decarnin. And so Olivier sent him his CV along with, "a letter explaining why I love Balmain. I love Balmain from Pierre Balmain, I love Balmain from him as well, I love Balmain from Oscar de la Renta. So I was explaining that I've always had a big crush for the house." And clearly, it worked because after that he became the creative director's right-hand man. 18 months later, after Decarnin's abrupt departure, he got promoted to the role of creative director himself, and the rest is history.
He thinks the fashion industry needs to take a serious look at its diversity problem.
"I think the fashion industry talks a lot, but they don't act a lot about diversity," he told the audience. "When you have the chance to express an art, being a designer is one thing, I love making clothes, but I also love expressing my world, and my world is about diversity. I consciously try to present all the cultures that I can. This, for me, is the most important thing." And if the industry wants to catch up with his multicultural vision, Rousteing adds, "they're going to have to start working really hard now." While many reviewers and editors may praise these big designers with whitewashed casts, he insists, "when you see some shows where there are no colours in the show and they call that modern and chic, I wouldn't call that modern. I'm sorry. We have the chance to represent what is the world and how we want that world to be."
Kim Kardashian is his dream woman.
While the pair are now inseparable, Rousteing and Kim Kardashian actually met only three years ago at the Met Gala after what began with the designer having "one of the biggest crushes of my life." He continued, "She was really shy, I was really shy, but I saw Kanye and I knew him from Paris and he introduced me to Kim and I fell in love with her straight away. She's probably the woman who inspires me most in my life."
He's turned down dressing and collaborating with major celebrities.
The designer considers authenticity to be the most important factor in choosing who he'll work with, saying, "I will never dress someone I don't believe in, like, if I don't like the music, I don't like his or her world. People that I dress are people I believe in, that I love, that inspire me. People that you see in Balmain are people that I have a huge respect for. I will never dress someone I don't like."
Anna Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld, and Tom Ford as his biggest supporters.
Of course, Rousteing wouldn't be where he is today without the encouragement of one of the most influential editors-in-chief in the world. He said, "I think you can tell from all of her covers at Vogue what kind of character she is. She believes in the new generation, she has a mind that is really strong and modern, and she's very supportive about talent, colours, cultures, fashion, and she has always supported me." He also sees himself following a similar career trajectory to Chanel's creative director, Karl Lagerfeld, saying, "He's built his image so strong, but at the same time he's really ironic with it. I admire the history that he's built in fashion. He's one of those designers that believes in pop culture, but at the same time luxury and that's something genius." As for the last name on that list, he laughed, "I mean, it's Tom Ford. That's my crush. Hi, Tom Ford!"
Elizabeth Taylor inspired his H&M collection.
When asked by an audience member if he's ever influenced by fine art when creating his work, Rousteing said, "I was crazy for the Christie's auction of Liz Taylor where she had all those Fabergé eggs. I was obsessed with them. So I did my entire collection with pearls, and actually that's the one the H&M collection is based off."
He'll never get to dress his dream celebrity.
When asked what star he hasn't dressed, but would like to, Rousteing said after a brief pause, "Whitney Houston. That was my dream," eliciting an immediate sigh from the audience at what an incredible collaboration that would have been.
And his advice to young designers?
He says, "People love you when you are on the floor and they start to hate you when you stand up. Always stand up."
Text Emily Kirkpatrick