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. For Out's May 2015 "Power Issue" cover story (with a portraits by Pierre et Gilles), Rousteing sat with William Van Meter to discuss his connection to real people, his groundbreaking work, and his rise to stardom. Here, a few choice quotes.
On his own self-image:
"My favorite part is my butt. 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. When I was in Mykonos, I posted a selfie in my bed almost naked. 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.'"
On his days at an esteemed fashion school in Paris:
"I thought, My parents paid a lot of fucking money for this shit. I just felt that my teachers were rude and gross, and didn't understand what fashion was. They were talking to us like meat: 'OK, you dream of Dior and Versace? But fashion is not only that. You can be a designer of underwear.' Yes, but you can still be a designer for a big house! What do you do when you know when you want to be part of the 2% and not the 98% who are going to do bras for supermarkets."
On how earning spending money as a dancer while interning at Roberto Cavalli:
"I was dancing on a cube. 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."
On being groundbreaking about race in fashion:
"Look at perfume campaigns. You never see black girls, and if you do, they use Photoshop so much that they almost look white. It's just wrong. People post on my Instagram that they are so happy to see black boys and black girls. I'm happy that they see it and don't think that fashion belongs to white people. Comments on my Instagram are more important that what critics say. It's deep. I don't care if you think my shoulders are too big or too small this season. I don't care if you think my coat isn't oversized enough."
On using social media to stay grounded and connected to the real fans:
"Some of these burnout designers who get crazy, they are not connecting to the world. With Instagram you have the chance to connect to real people, not just the critics and 10 employees who will lick your ass to keep their job. With social media, you get comments that sometimes help you to grow as a real person. There are so many examples in fashion where people get crazy. If I get crazy, I want to be happy crazy, not a sad person."