olivier rousteing gets by with a little help from his friends

If you’ve got the nerves, curves and a bullet proof credit card, then Olivier Rousteing’s creations for Balmain guarantee glamour to your get-up. But the French luxury brand isn’t the only thing benefitting from his Midas touch. Olivier’s candid...

by Adam Fletcher and Sarah Hay
13 December 2013, 9:15pm

Olivier Rousteing and Rihanna

It's 11am at the Balmain headquarters in Paris, a gem in the prestigious 'Golden Triangle', a high-end shopping destination headlined by Avenue Montaigne. Here the world's richest women stretch groomed heels from black cars and click-click into the Balmain flagship store accessed solely by buzzing a polished brass bell. The headquarters are high-ceilinged Georges-Eugène Haussmann buildings (naturally), the walls are snow white (obviously) and visitors are quietly offered a drink on arrival (yay!). Everything is quiet, but when the door opens to where Creative Director Olivier Rousteing works Ke$ha's album is popping from the stereo, photos of young stars and IT girls wearing Balmain are pinned to a big mood board and coffee table books are lightly piled in front of a marble fireplace. The vibe is casual, jolly and alive.

Rousteing, just twenty-seven years old, enters holding a large coffee and wearing a deep-scooped black Balmain vest top with matching low-slung trousers. He's hot and tall like a Balmain model, breezy and smiling as if we were friends of good friends being introduced at a party and he is "super excited" about the interview because it's hooked around his Instagram account. He looooves Instagram. He also looooves the 80s TV show Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which is what he was watching when he Instagrammed a photo of himself, feet up after a long weekend in the studio; a photo that pinpoints a point and time in fashion that is precisely his point and time in fashion.

Socially, old school luxury is about snobbery, excluding and precluding. But in 2013 this can feel like a haggard smoke and mirrors game created merely to uphold a façade of "us" and "you". The ivory tower act is odd when Silicon Valley millionaires look like skaters and companies or family businesses that snooze with the times clearly lose with the times. In 2013, true luxury is time, information and acute creativity so to possess all three means that you're interested in every kind of people, learning new things and feeling new experiences from a myriad of situations across the globe; Rousteing's multi-cultural team doesn't just embody this, they live it. Balmain's Creative Director has drawn a line in the sand where new school luxury isn't so uptight, the price tag on Balmain clothing is so high that, simply, it is what it is, no drama babes.

Just like any other twenty-seven year old, Rousteing is happy dancing to DJs on the open-air terrace at Wanderlust, Paris. The difference is that he creates pieces of clothing that are breathtakingly artistic. Key looks walking his runways are dramarama leaps of baroque imagination. The heavily beaded (diamond encrusted should you desire it) and intricately woven box jackets, cling-a-ling dresses or slashed mini-skirts aren't just bling, they're every kind of international bling. If you've got the nerve, verve and a bullet proof credit card then Rousteing's designs bring the fun: the Harlequin jumpsuits, the Cuban wicker chair dresses, the pearled 'n' padded leather tops, the OTT 80s power suits.

My dad loves my Instagram because he can see what I'm doing and where I am. Sometimes he calls me and says, 'Close your shirt button! - Olivier Rousteing, Balmain

A child of MySpace and Twitter, communicating and sharing on social networks is normal to Rousteing. He has a lot to say on the subject. Two of his Instagram photos show him chatting with Rihanna. "You're just a baby!" she exclaimed when she met him for the first time. "Well, you're just a baby too!" he replied laughing. Needless to say, they got on like a house on fire.

Olivier and his team

So, Olivier, Instagram, discuss...
Haha! The cool thing about Instagram is that people can interpret your pictures how they want. When I posted the pictures of me and Rihanna, I got lovers writing, 'You'd make an amazing couple,' and haters writing, 'Chris Brown will fuck you up!' It's so funny how people react.

Tell me about the Balmain studio…
It's a lab of creativity. Young people do everything and most of the team are girls. They're all really different, with different tastes, from different cultures and countries. Marie is from Copenhagen, I'm really French, my right-hand is from Puerto Rico, my PA is from Athens, the knitwear and accessories designer used to live in Switzerland, the girls who make the samples are from London. I push them a lot, they push me so much. We have no boundaries. I spend time with them working, or when I have a mouse in my house and I'm screaming. We cry together, we get drunk together, we work together, it's like a little family.

Looking at this embroidered jacket reminds me of a time I was left unsupervised in the Balmain showroom, no-one was looking so I went to try on the most embellished jacket but when I picked it up it was so heavy that I fell on the floor and had to cry for the PRs to help me! That's the Balmain effect. That's exactly what happens at Balmain every time.

Tell me about this photo, there's a real Balmain glamour girl moment happening here...
These girls are all so different, but they all love Balmain. Rosie Huntington Whiteley is super hot and sexy. We were seated next to each other at dinner in LA and we had so much fun. We were talking about sex and my PRs were like 'Ummm…!' But that's Balmain. There are no boundaries, no limits. We can speak about an amazing exhibition or the last time we had sex. Nicole Richie was sat infront of me, she's adopted like me and she loves Balmain. She's super fierce. Liberty Ross is really chic, but quite shy compared to the others. It was my first time in LA. I really enjoyed the town, the people, having fun. I went to Beverly Hills, Venice Beach, Bel Air…

Tell me about this photo, 'Keep Bel Air beautiful'…
I wanted to see the really over the top richness of LA, so we went to Bel Air. All the architecture is so different. You can have a house that looks like a mosque, or a manor, or a French palais. Bel Air means a lot to me because they build their houses in the same way I build my clothes, over the top. It's like Babel. You build and build until you reach the sky. That's what I try to do with my clothes, make the most unique piece. I make embroidery, I work on the shape, I start to be over the top and I don't even think about the base. That's how they build their houses, they're crazy. We saw the house of Hugh Hefner, I was like, seriously… you've created an empire. I love Fresh Prince of Bel Air, I was playing the music in the car and everyone was looking at me like I was crazy, but I was like 'Fuck you! I love the Fresh Prince of Bel Air!' Beverly Hills 90210 is important to me. You dream about those kinds of things when you're young. A lot of designers are already living in huge houses. Me, I'm 27, so my childhood is different to theirs, my generation is different to theirs; even my dreams are different to theirs.

Do you ever post pictures of your family?
I posted a picture of my dad for Father's Day. My dad loves my Instagram because he can see what I'm doing and where I am, I don't even need to call him. Sometimes he calls me and says, 'close your shirt button!' My dad's white, so people thought I was mixed race, but then I posted photos of my mum and people wrote, 'I don't get it, both his parents are white. Maybe he's adopted?!' The comments are genius. They're the best part of Instagram.

What's the story with Rihanna, what are you whispering into her ear?
Rihanna came to the studio and was so down to earth. She said, 'Fuck baby, you're young like me! I respect your work; I know that you like my songs…' We spent the day chilling, trying on clothes, playing her music. She explained her songs and I explained my clothes. It was a great moment. She invited me to her concert, which was obviously amazing. I sat with Alaia, the Givenchy team, the Lanvin team, everybody was there. We went backstage after the show, and Rihanna turned up wearing all Balmain; shoulder pads, white stilettoes, earrings... In the black and white photo I was trying to speak to her without people listening. When she started to kiss me I was really talking. We spoke about love, many, many interesting things. I admire this girl a lot. She's more than just a singer; she's an idol for women who want to fight, who want to be stronger. I think she's the goddess of 2013. She's a big star and a big wow, but when you meet her she's just like a young girl, she's 25. She's hard, tall, blonde and fierce, but you can still feel that magical emotion a girl has.

From top left: The Balmain design team. Amanda, Balmain. Rosie Huntington Whiteley, Nicole Richie, Olivier and Liberty Ross. Bel Air. Olivier and his dad. Olivier Rousteing T-shirts. Olivier and his team at Wanderlust, Paris. Olivier and Kim Kardashian. Kris Jenner, Olivier, and Kim Kardashian.

Where did you find these T-shirts with your surname on?
I went to Canada and saw these T-shirts in a boutique, with my name on and the number '85', which is the year of my birth. I took a photo and posted it on Instagram. Two weeks later I received a package from the guy who made the T-shirts saying, "I love your Instagram, I'm so proud of you and your career, please accept my present for you and the Balmain team." When my friends saw the T-shirts they all wanted one, so I put in an order for some more.

Why were you in Canada?
For love. This picture of my packed bags marks the beginning of a lot of new adventures in my life. When I went to the Met Ball, I went to a party and I met this guy from Montréal, we spent the night together. It was amazing and we kept in contact. He sent texts and I sent texts, we wanted to see each other again. He sent me a text saying 'What are you doing now?' I was in bed watching Un Jeu D'Enfants with Marion Cotillard and Guillaume Canet, where they play a game we call in France "cap ou capable" - capable or not capable. It's a game of love between two characters. He said, 'I love this movie, are you cap or capable to come and see me in Montréal?' I said yes and took a flight two days later. They were the most amazing days I've ever had. I'm scared of flying, I'm super impatient, I get bored really fast. So when my friends saw this photo they were like, 'fuck something happened in his life!' I didn't speak about it, I just went. We stayed together for three months, he came to Paris, but then he left me a week ago, which is ok, life is like that. I had an amazing three months with him. 

I love your spontaneity, that's the way to live life huh, just get on a plane.
Exactly. This photo of me and my friends at Wanderlust was taken after we left the office one Sunday after working on the show. It was like being in Ibiza or Mykonos with people dancing in sunglasses!

I love dancing on a Sunday
Me too, it's the best. Can we include my Eiffel Tower moment with Kim Kardashian? Of course! 

How did you meet?
Kim is a big Balmain customer, she loves it. Some people hate her and some people love her. I'm not the kind of guy who hates people. You have to meet people to understand who they are. I met Kim at the Met Ball and she was so much fun. People were saying good and bad things about her dress, but she was so cool and said, "who cares, tomorrow you'll see, everybody will talk about me."

Oh yes, the Givenchy dress, with the gloves, that the papers nicknamed 'the sofa'!
Which I thought was amazing! You remember Kim Kardashian's dress more than any other actress that was there. Kim was like, "I don't care, I'm at the Met and it will be my night", and it was. We swapped emails and she came to see me in Paris with her mother. It was so interesting to talk to them. They lead such interesting lives. The mother is so powerful and, wow, so fierce. She protects the family like a lioness. When you watch that show you feel part of that family. Whether you like Kim or not, she has made a new statement about what it means to be famous. She's a symbol of society today and she knows what she's doing. I found her interesting.

Is she fearless when it comes to dresses, what kind of looks does Kim go for?
I'm now the biggest fan of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Sometimes I'll watch an episode I love and email her. She can pull off so many Balmain pieces. She can go to Cannes in the most beautiful embroidered piece or a long floaty dress. She's a great customer, she loooves our clothes, she buys them all around the world. For her last night in Paris, we had an ice cream together under the Eiffel Tower. She's a woman with everything but it was a magical moment for both of us.

Olivier Rousteing and Rihanna

What amazes me about Parisians is that the magic of the Eiffel Tower never dies.
Never. Paris offers this magical emotion to everyone around the world. I could go to the tower with my father one day and feel one emotion and go the next night with Kim Kardashian and still feel a magical emotion. People say Paris is about love, you fall in love with the city and you fall in love with the people. This was my magical moment with Kim.

Does Paris still inspire you?
A lot. You discover a different side of Paris with different people. I like opening my eyes when I see beautiful things, even more so now that I have Instagram. I want to shoot every moment of my life, to remember. When people say social networks are bad, I think they're not bad, my generation want to shoot and capture every fucking moment of our lives. My Instagram is like those photo albums from the 90s that your mum used to dig out but instead it's on my iPhone. I love taking photos of Paris. It could be a drink with my friends, or the Opéra Garnier. A lot of my team had never been to the Opéra Garnier because they work like psychos, like me, so the other day we spent an entire morning there. Through Instagram I've really rediscovered Paris again.

Who's this [points to picture of young girl]?
Amanda. Amanda is one of the most important people in my life. We worked together before Balmain. When I took the job she became my right hand, creatively and personally. She's an amazing, amazing person. She's young like me, we believe in each other. You can be a good Creative Director, you can have talent, people can love your work, but you cannot stand if you don't have amazing people around you to support you. Amanda knows me from before Balmain, which is very important to me. I didn't want to be surrounded by people who only know me for who I am now. I need to keep my feet on the ground. She's the one that always reminds me what I was before and not to become someone that I won't like.

So she's seen it all?
She's seen it all! I might be super pissed in the morning because the cab driver was mean to me, or crying because my boyfriend just left me and she'll say, 'Ok, maybe we'll move the shoe appointment today...' We get drunk together, go on holiday together, go to exhibitions... She's the first person I turn to when I get bad reviews and I'm sad, I read all the reviews.

You're brave.
I'm from the Twitter/ Instagram generation, I need to know and understand why people hate and why people love. Instagram allows me to find out what the people on the street want. It's interesting that Emmanuel Alt follows me and buyers answer my questions. Feedback is important. I think it's so old minded of designers who stop communication with the world, it's really sad and not cool.

I'm reading a book about Cristobal Balenciaga, which explains how he shied away from public attention. I think there's only one photograph of him. Then I checked Instagram and there you were - the Creative Director of Balmain - posting a photo of your feet up on the sofa watching TV. That's change!
Because of my age, this is more than just a job to me. It's a mentality and a dream come true. I have an opportunity that most people only dream about. I think about where I'm from, the fact that I'm adopted, that I don't know my parents and it proves that anything can happen. Instagram enables me to touch people of different ages and backgrounds, from fashion people to painters and waiters. I am one of the super happiest people in the world and I want to share that and give a message of hope. I didn't have a super easy start in life, but I'm presenting a story that I'm really proud of.

Do you ever worry you're sharing too much? I had this discussion with Haider Ackermann the other day. He said, "Apparently you have a huge Instagram account, everybody talks about it." I said, "Yes, let's take a photo together." But he didn't want to. He didn't like it. I said, "You know what Haider, sharing a photo with the world doesn't mean you're sharing something private." Intimacy is so much more than just a picture. Instagram is how you show your life to the world. You play a role. Since getting this job I know where I have to go, what I don't have to say, when I have to stop. I'm the most sincere and honest person I can be, but I can also keep my secrets. It was super interesting talking to Haider. We're a different generation. Haider is a designer I love, but I don't have him on my Instagram... But that's his choice. He likes to keeps things private and I respect that.

Can we finish by taking a picture for my Instagram?
Of course!



Text Sarah Hay
Photography Olivier Rousteing
Portrait Quentin de Briey

Kim Kardashian
Olivier Rousteing
creative director
fashion interviews
shoulder pads
sarah hay
quentin de briey
the creative collaborators issue
rosie huntingdon-whitely