Balmain used to be a fashion house relegated to in-the-know fashion insiders, but since unconventionally young Olivier Rousteing took over as creative director in 2011, it has managed to seep into the collective consciousness. The house has been name checked in songs by Nicki Minaj and Kanye West, while West and Kim Kardashian are the current faces of Balmain’s men’s campaign. Last year, Rihanna served as the star of the women’s campaign.
Rousteing, who is of mixed race, was adopted at the age of 1. “I don’t see myself as black or as white,” he says, “just human. When I was 11, I didn’t realize my [adoptive] parents were white. My parents taught me when you are their child they love you. People in school told me, ‘You are a bastard. You are black, and your parents are white.’ I didn’t know there was a problem.”
Rousteing With Iman, Naomi Campbell & Jourdan Dunn
His social-media savvy is a main reason for Balmain’s crossover. The company has 1.3 million Instagram followers, and Rousteing’s personal following is just shy of that. To tail his comings and goings is to glimpse into a lifestyle that is just, well, fabulous: Rousteing with his razor-sharp cheekbones hobnobbing with the likes of Karl, Naomi, and just about every other celebrity cool enough to dispense with a last name. But Rousteing is quick to point out that his cyber presence is less a reflection of his life than a perfected version of it.
“Instagram is selling a dream,” he says. “My Instagram is my perfect life, and I suck my cheeks in. Of course, I cry and have family or personal problems and am heartbroken, but I don’t need to show that. It makes your life look cooler than it is. My job is to give a happy message about the brand to interest people. But at the same time, I keep it real. I don’t fake my life.”
In many photos, Rousteing wears trench-deep V-necks and shirts unbuttoned almost to the waist. One would think that the part of his body he is most proud of is his chest, but that’s not the case. “My favorite part is my butt,” he counters. “My face is getting older, and my chest is hard to work on, but the butt is the easiest thing to actually make look great. No one complains.” Actually, the powers that be at Balmain have grumbled about his ass before and asked him to delete one of his Instagram photos.
“When I was in Mykonos, I posted a selfie in my bed almost naked,” he says. “You could almost see my butt. But I love my butt. Why can’t I take a picture of my butt? They said, ‘Next time it’s going to be your willy in the picture.’ I said, ‘No, just my butt.’ ”
At his fall men’s presentation, he showed a collection of enormously baggy trousers (some in velvet and leather), louche belted smoking jackets, tasseled loafers, and beaded sport jackets. It had an haute-hip-hop meets chic-playboy-bachelor vibe. He says he found inspiration in ’90s boy bands, like East 17 and Backstreet Boys, and rap. “It’s badass but at the same time super aristocratic and royal,” he says.
After he arrived in Milan to intern at Roberto Cavalli, he danced in a nightclub for spending money. “I was dancing on a cube,” he says. “I was not naked — it was a glamour club. I’m a good dancer, and I had a huge Afro. We were doing fittings until midnight, and I would go straight to the club and change and dance. I’d finish at the club at 4:30 and go to the train station and go to Rome to see my partner, and Monday morning, I’d be back at 9. Just for love.”