The countdown to meeting Olivier Rousteing has just begun around here. As many of you have already noticed, Istituto Marangoni Paris has started a privileged collaboration with Balmain's creative director. He has been appointed as a mentor for the Fashion Design, Fashion Styling & Creative Direction and Fashion Business courses, and will deliver a masterclass for 450 students in April. Don’t get caught unprepared and read below to learn all you need to know about him. Here we celebrate the five top moments, both serious and with a tongue-in-cheek spirit, that cemented Rousteing’s status as fashion’s Wonder Boy, friend to many, social media maestro and living legend with massive Insta followings.
He celebrated 10 years at Balmain with a supermodel-studded show
Unveiled during Paris fashion week in September 2021, Balmain’s spring-summer 2022 show took the label’s approach to new heights. With a bang, Rousteing took out La Seine Musical and filled the venue with more than 6 thousand Balmain fans for an incredible spectacle-cum-festival celebrating his 10th anniversary at the brand’s creative helm. What an impressive milestone, especially considering that designers' tenures at the major fashion houses became shorter and shorter — many didn't stay for more than three years. “I was the first French Black designer, and I can feel that so many people have been inspired by that,” Rousteing said on that occasion. Various performances culminated in a mega show that opened with an audio tribute recorded by Beyoncé and closed by a galaxy of stars walking the runway. Actually, it was a two-part catwalk which featured a new collection followed by re-issued key looks from Rousteing’s decade at Balmain as part of his retrospective. The latter were modelled by a lineup of supermodels — including some who hadn't walked the runway in years, such as Naomi Campbell, Milla Jovovich, Mariacarla Boscono, Imaan Hammam, Cindy Bruna, Precious Lee, Nadège du Bospertus and Carla Bruni.
Who's in Rousteing’s Balmain army?
“Your designs have made me feel so powerful,” Beyoncé said in her recorded message, explaining how she first met Rousteing backstage at a Paris concert in 2013. “We showed the world what’s possible when two perfectionists get together,” she went on. “We’re all looking forward to the next 10 years.” To be honest, Mrs. Carter is just one of the celebrity friends in the designer address book: charting the famous faces who form the Balmain Army would be nearly impossible, but let's try to give some key examples. Going back to the beginning of his career at Balmain, Mr. Rousteing forged an alliance with the Kardashian-Wests. Then, when he launched his collection with fast fashion retailer H&M in 2015, he whipped up an online frenzy with the help of celebrities such as Rihanna, Kylie Jenner and Gigi Hadid. From Cindy Crawford and Celine Dion to Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber and Joan Smalls, imagination has no limits when it comes to the personalities in his fanbase. And while establishing and nurturing relationships with some of the world’s most influential stars, Olivier Rousteing has become a massively influential figure himself and reached 7.5 million followers on Instagram — less than 4 million fewer than Balmain’s official account. Frankly, it can be said that he’s way more popular than the brand itself.
From designer to creative director
Discussing his path, he once told The Guardian about the time he moved from behind the scenes at Balmain to replace Christophe Decarnin as its creative director; it was 2011. “That was a big step,” he said. “School can teach you to be a great designer but there is so much more to being a creative director. It means overseeing everything from the business to the fittings, to the campaign, to the stores. It means having a vision.” A few years later he told another journalist: “When you are a designer, you create clothes. When you are a creative director, you create the world.” He was right about both the situations. After taking the reins of the French fashion house when he was only 25, Rousteing has succeeded in creating an entire Balmain universe that people enjoyed, connecting music and pop culture to fashion. And he got a crowd that might not be in love with fashion to its core, but they love the universe, and they belong to it, so they want Balmain items to be part of it.
The whole industry calls him Wonder Boy – here’s why
Yes, as a matter of fact, Olivier Rousteing is 36 now; he has been in fashion since he was 18 and he has been Balmain’s creative director for 10 years already, but people still think of him as fashion’s Wonder Boy. You may wonder why. One answer could be that he has reinvented the maison founded by Pierre Balmain in 1945 as a new kind of fashion enterprise, one that “is very pop, but communicates like a luxury brand”, as he said once. The other is that he has placed himself and Balmain at the top of the fashion biz as some of its biggest rule-breakers. In short, his vision is so fresh that everyone in fashion thinks of him as a French wunderkind: he is just always pushing and pushing and pushing. However, there’s a better reason: Wonder Boy is actually a poignant behind-the-scenes documentary based on his life, the kind of movie that tries to look far beneath the façade that people like to create for themselves in public. Morphing into a journey about identity, Wonder boy tracks Rousteing’s quest to learn about his own troubled origins and discover who his birth parents are, while director Anisse Bonnefont is given full access to his daily routine as he prepares new collections and travels the globe.
Balmain is cultivating a brand-new audience on social media, but it doesn’t only speak to a young crowd
Call it what you want - friday-night partywear, body-hugging and leggy aesthetic, Kardashian-friendly luxury. What is certainly true is that Balmain and its signature sharp beaded blazers with exaggerated shoulders, short skirts, sequined cocktail gowns and leather biker jackets are aspirational for over 11 million people, in a way. No matter where you come from, no matter the culture, no matter the country, Balmain talks to you. As Olivier Rousteing once told Paper magazine, “Balmain is a really expensive house, but sometimes it's really pop and talks to young people. It is a historical house but also a brand that communicates with people that are 15 years old.” He said also: “I don’t think you have to make sad, complicated clothes to show you have depth.” Well, that explains everything, then. It’s no coincidence that the release of the Balmain x H&M collection created chaos in London and many other cities like Sidney, New York, Seoul and wherever — in Paris, the co-lab sold out in less than three hours. But the fact is that because it is a luxury brand, Balmain needs to speak not only to a young crowd.