Vogue CS in English
Olivier Rousteing in an exclusive conversation about fashion art for Kylie Jenner, fairy tales and why it is necessary to perceive beauty in a different way
Cindy Kerberová20. 6. 2020
Full lips, distinctive facial features, millions of followers on Instagram. And there’s even more that Olivier Rousteing has in common with Kylie Jenner. Cindy Kerberová, Vogue CS’s Fashion & Beauty Editor, talked to the creative director of Balmain about a unique outfit for a photo shoot for Vogue Czechoslovakia, his (almost) fairy-tale childhood and the current political situation.
Foto: MORELLI BROTHERS
Kylie Jenner pro Vogue CS
May 14, 2020: A photo from the Parisian ateliers of Balmain came to the newsroom. “They are making a special piece of clothing for Kylie for our photo shoot,” said Alba Melendo, our Senior Fashion Editor. My reaction was lightning fast: “I want an interview with Olivier, will you arrange it?” As usual in Vogue Czechoslovakia, nothing is impossible and dreams really do come true at the right time.
June 12, 2020:
The first copy of our new issue came from the printer and we knew it would break all previous records on social media. The cover features Kylie Jenner with her daughter Stormi
. It’s the second Vogue cover for Kylie, the very first for Stormi. Kaia Gerber had to wait until she was 14, Stormi made it at the age of two. I carefully place the copy in an opaque bag so that no one outside the newsroom has any chance to see it, and I rush home to get make-up for the webcam. In less than an hour, I have a Zoom call with the creator of an original outfit for the July/August issue. Twenty minutes after six, my phone beeps: “Olivier is ready, can we start?” To make matters worse, the technology between Prague and Paris goes on strike and neither of us can join the virtual room. In my highest state of panic, my phone rings: “Good evening, this is Olivier. How are you?”
Let's talk about Kylie
The first question, of course, is about Kylie. “We first met six or seven years ago thanks to Kendall. She was a baby then.” A teenager growing up in front of television cameras with a pack of paparazzi behind her back, she was not yet one of the most influential people on social media and she had only dreamed of ever having her own beauty brand. However, one of the oldest fashion houses had already found its way into her wardrobe. As Kylie grew, she appeared in Olivier's creations more and more often, until, like her older sisters, she became a member of the elite fashion club, the #BalmainArmy. “I like how humble and down-to-earth she is. And so nice,” says the designer. Like other celebrities, she inspires him in a significant way.
Kylie Jenner a Olivier Rousteing, květen 2016
Kylie Jenner a Olivier Rousteing, září 2019
“I always think of women who I want to wear my clothing.” No matter if it is, as in our case, a unique, tailor-made creation, or a complete collection. I asked what was the first thing that he created for Kylie. “I have really no idea since I‘ve created so much for her. But if you ask me about the most memorable piece, I would say her dress for the Met Gala in 2016. It was her very first Met Gala and she wore Balmain.”
An art object for the Vogue CS cover story
That silver dress can't be forgotten. Eighteen-year-old Kylie told American Vogue at the time that she was not too concerned about the dress, because she knew Olivier would make her something perfect.
The same thing happened for the Vogue Czechoslovakia photo shoot. Despite the lockdown, during which many brands simply closed their ateliers, a bright blue leather corset was created at Balmain. Although a corset is not the right word in this case: “It is actually more of a piece of furniture than clothing. An art piece. It's made of leather. We had to create a wooden form of Kylie’s body according to her actual measurements so it would really fit her body. I wanted the blue leather to flow around her.” Before this unique creation could fly to Los Angeles, a whole team of the best seamstresses worked on it in the studio for several days.
Once upon a time there was a little boy
Olivier was born in Bordeaux, France. At seven days old he arrived in the orphanage and was adopted five months later by a white couple. His parents told him later that the staff was very surprised by their choice. “The manager asked him if they were sure. That there were many other white babies. But they said they wanted a black baby. I remember my mother often told me that I am an angel which came from the sky, that it’s magic we met and are family. She gave me a lot of love. I used to feel like a little prince. I was really spoilt. I had everything I wanted.” His voice gets really calm and tender while speaking about his parents. He repeats one word very often – love. He has so many happy childhood memories. “My parents gave me so much love and so did my grandmother. My favorite memory is probably going to Disneyland for the first time, I spent a week there.”
It reminds me of a bedtime story. Is he still into fairy tales? “My favorite one is Cinderella, the story about her and the shoes, so nice and it’s always great to hear it again. I mean, I know it's obvious but why not? Everyone loves Cinderella.”
His personal portfolio contains more than just fashion collections, he has also designed costumes for Beyoncé as well as for Paris Opera. But a fantasy movie is still missing. If he designed fairy tale costumes, which story would he love to do? “Aladdin. Or Lion King. When I was a child, I used to have a lot of hair and ‚Lion King‘ was my nickname. But I can really imagine dressing Aladdin, I see myself like him.”
Yet his childhood was not always idyllic. Many people did not accept the fact that he had a different skin color than his parents. “Bordeaux was very conservative and it was not easy to grow up there. There was a lot of judgment, yet my parents gave me so much love and support. They also pushed me. They wanted me to feel like everybody else, to be a part of the class, to be around many people. I am an only child and I love my moments alone. Thanks to them, I became a member of the soccer team, I started to take lessons in painting, art, astronomy.” Facing obstacles made him stronger and he says that a bad review is less painful than what he experienced at school. Yet looking into the past is not his thing, he really enjoys the present and is optimistic about the future.
School is a place which builds your personality, I mean, it really forms you and who you are. Being different to the majority made me stronger and more ambitous and helped me to do more than the others.
From stars to superstars
Olivier is one of the most prominent designers today but he never dreamed of this career. “As a child I wanted to be an astronomer, I used to go with my grandmother to the observatory in Bordeaux a lot. And I also wanted to be president,” he adds with a smile. The turning point came at the age of seventeen.
Foto: Sebastien Micke/© Instagram/oliver_roustening
Balmain Army: Kylie Jenner, Olivier Rousteing, Kris Jenner, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Cindy Crawford, Sean O'Pry, Jourdan Dunn
He graduated from the Ecole Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode in Paris and immediately joined the Roberto Cavalli brand, where his star rose rapidly until he became the head of the womenswear division. In 2009, he was hired by Balmain as a women’s ready-to-wear designer and worked closely with the maison’s then creative director Christophe Decarnin. At the age of 25, he became the creative director of Balmain. He was beaten only by Yves Saint Laurent, who took the highest position at Dior at the age of twenty-one in the 1950s. He attributes his quick rise to his temper: “I am a very impatient person, I do not want to wait for anything.”
The young designer turned the fashion house, which was founded in 1945, into a cool 21st century brand. He quickly understood the power of social media, became a pioneer of Instagram marketing, and surrounded himself with other influencers, from which he formed the aforementioned #BalmainArmy. Last year, the brand became one of the first to use Instagram sales and this week it introduced a virtual showroom. However, he also sees his age as a disadvantage.
“I feel a bit old. I do not even know to which box I belong to. Most of the others are much older than me, yet I have these years of experience.” Well, you are one of the best fashion designers in the world, it is your box, I suggest. “Yeah, that sounds very good. Thank you, that's what I wanted to hear from you,” he adds with a laugh.
Fashion is politics
“It is tough now. I am very concerned about it. It is a very intense year, first the COVID and now Black Lives Matter. We need to build the feeling of togetherness, bring even more diversity, that’s what my Balmain army is about. There are people of different colors, different ages, different body shapes. When you want to promote new ideas, you need to be the face of it and not be scared.” He knows very well that the most important fashion has always been about politics, freedom and a new way of thinking.
Foto: Dominique Charriau/WireImage
Olivier Rousteing s modelkami na přehlídce Balmain podzim - zima 2020/2021
Foto: Peter White/Getty Images
Olivier Rousteing na přehlídce Balmain jaro - léto 2020 v Paříži
Olivier is very clear about the topic of diversity and the debates surrounding it. “The fashion industry has been closing its eyes for a such long time. It is great that it is changing. Slowly but better than nothing. Thank God it is happening. I mean, this should have happened many years ago. It is really too late to deal with it now, but it is still better late than never. Diversity should be normal.”
At Balmain we are not just a business, but a voice.
At the same time, he draws attention to the fact that fashion is about dreams and that is how it should remain. But the new generation dreams of something different than it did twenty or forty years ago. “We need to be careful. Customers do not want to see themselves on the catwalk, I do not want to see myself there. Fashion is about dreams and it should stay like this, yet the dreams of the new generation are different to the ones of 20, 30, 40 years ago. We have to find a kind of beauty that we want to see. Beauty but different. It is not a question of age, skin color or body type.”
The idea of beauty is different from the past, but still has to be beauty.