“I was a baby when I started at Balmain and now Balmain is my baby,” says Olivier Rousteing, who’s been creative director of the French ready-to-wear label now for more than eight years. Having reignited the house’s couture collection this year as well as opening an opulent new flagship on the swanky Rue Saint-Honoré just before Paris Fashion Week, he’s feeling a bit extravagant himself.
His fall collection, a typically ’80s bacchanal of luxified streetwear with blasts of studded embellishment, had critics counting the studs while namechecking the soundtrack references to the Pet Shop Boys, the Eurythmics, and Alphaville. This has been a season defined largely by a nostalgia for a period many top designers are too young to have really experienced themselves, Rousteing included, but still, there’s no denying that extravagance has definitively become Balmain’s turf.
“Even when fashion is in a really weird moment, where everyone is trying to find their way, we’ve already found our own,” Rousteing says during an interview in the new flagship. “It makes me happy when expectations are higher, because when I started at Balmain, not everyone knew the name, and now everybody knows. When your brand name is in a song, when pop stars are wearing your clothes, when you open stores around the world — that when you understand — that’s something good that I did.”
On a rainy day in Paris, Rousteing wears a heavy military-style coat over a loose shirt cut below the sternum, meeting journalists in the store at 357 rue Saint-Honoré. With two full floors, this location is one on of the largest Balmain locations and reflects a design by architects Studio AMV introduced in Milan a year ago that combines the historic and modern aspects of Rousteing’s approach. Rousteing says he was inspired by the classic ideal of a Parisian Hôtel Particulier, remade to reflect his youth. On the main floor, for example, the ceiling is a mosaic of mirrors that make the already high ceilings seem to reach the heavens. “I always say the sky’s the limit, and this is what the store is about,” he says.
“This location is about luxury, and chic,” Rousteing says. “But you know, everyone uses this word. Balmain has its own definition of what is luxury and what is Paris, which is more diverse and younger, because of my love of traditions and the fact that I also like to break them.”
In the days after a collection, Rousteing admits does not normally live up to his party boy reputation, but rather would love nothing more than to sit at home watching Netflix for hours on end. But this is a critical year for the designer, having launched a couture show in January and preparing for a new wave of international exposure. Besides plans for more stores in Moscow and Sao Paolo this spring, he will also be the subject of a new documentary planned for September. Reflecting on his life in that film, more than anything, has made Rousteing both anxious and optimistic for the future. “I know how to deal with fashion critics, but I don’t know when we step into the movie world what to expect,” he says. “You think you’re strong, but when I was 24 and got the job I was not expecting what I would have to face, people that love, people that hate. You need to be strong in many ways, and when I was 24 I didn’t know how to face it. Now that I’m 33, I’m ok, but now the movies is going to come and I don’t know how I’m going to face that. I don’t know how people are going to feel.”
That may explain why his fall collection looked so rebellious — to test his own strength.
“I don’t know if extravagance is a word a lot of people like to say,” he says. “Today we’re in a world where people like to say oh it’s so real, so minimal, so chic. And I’m bored of all those words. What’s the problem to be extravagant? What’s the problem to push your limits and to push your boundaries?”