Primal Instinct: Olivier Rousteing
By Julien Sauvalle
Above: Photography by Santiago & Mauricio
Olivier Rousteing is ready for his close-up: “This is my first time posing topless,” he says during his shoot for Out. “Even though I’m pretty much topless all day long.” He’s sitting in his office at the Paris headquarters of Balmain, the prestigious French fashion house he’s been heading for five seasons. It’s an overcast morning, but Rousteing is wearing a low-cut tank top that exposes a nipple every time he leans forward to take a sip of his Starbucks coffee.
“I hate being covered up,” he says. “Some designers today are like, ‘For me, in 2013, it’s more interesting to play with the body by not showing anything.’ I have a more primal approach to that: When you have an asset, you have to be proud of it, not hide it.”
Rousteing knows what he’s talking about. With his high cheekbones and glowing cinnamon skin, he has captivated the fashion industry. His sex appeal would be paralyzing were it not for his boyish charm. Becoming creative director of a legendary brand at the age of 25 would go to anyone’s head, but Rousteing credits his staff for keeping him grounded. “Even when I start acting like a diva, they remind me where I come from,” he says.
Rousteing’s career began at 18, when he dropped out of law school and left his adoptive parents in Bordeaux. “I got a little bored,” he says bluntly. “My parents wanted me to be an international lawyer, but I wanted to do something I felt passionate about. I didn’t want to lead a quiet life.”
He pursued his passion all the way to Rome, where he joined his Italian boyfriend and knocked on the gilded doors of every fashion palazzo until finding a home at Roberto Cavalli. “I considered Roberto and his wife, Eva, like a second family,” he says. “They helped me grow professionally and as a person.”
After five years with Cavalli, Rousteing took another gamble and wrote directly to Christophe Decarnin, then creative director of Balmain. “I loved his shows, his creativity, his strong personality,” Rousteing says. “And I loved Balmain’s past — the beautiful silhouettes and Oscar de la Renta’s couture.”
Decarnin must have recognized the potential in his young acolyte. Rousteing was hired as an assistant, and then, when Decarnin stepped down in 2011, promoted to creative director. The virtual unknown was propelled into the limelight to salute the audience after his debut collection — a triumph — and became an instant hit. But could this young man carry the entire label on his shoulders?