Appointed to the helm of Balmain in 2011 at the age of 24, Olivier Rousteing was the youngest creative director in Paris since Yves Saint Laurent. Known for his engagement with social media, the designer has over four and a half million followers on Instagram, making him the most followed French designer on the platform.
The French-born designer grew up in Bordeaux, moving to Paris to study at Ecole Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode. Graduating in 2003, he began his career as a designer at Roberto Cavalli , quickly climbing the ranks to become head of the brand’s womenswear division. Rousteing was hired by Balmain in 2009 as a women’s ready-to-wear designer, and worked very closely with the house’s then creative director Christophe Decarnin who became something of a mentor to him. When Decarnin stepped down from the helm in April 2011, Rousteing was appointed his successor, becoming the second-youngest designer to head up an established French fashion house.
Alain Hivelin, Balmain’s then chairman and majority owner, who passed away at the end of 2014, was responsible for the rapid rise of Decarnin’s relatively-unknown protégé. Today, Rousteing is focusing his ambitions for the house through the lens of his late mentor’s legacy. “His dream was to make Balmain international; a global, strong and powerful empire,” the designer told BoF. “My goal with Balmain today is actually to make his dream come true. My goal in the next years is making sure that the name of the brand is something that every continent will know.”
Rousteing uses Instagram to interact with his “Balmain Army” – a force of strong, internationally famous women including Kendall Jenner , Gigi Hadid , Kim Kardashian West and Rosie Huntington Whiteley. Whilst these women have all appeared in Balmain campaigns, Rousteing’s personal relationships with them, partially broadcast on social media, have become just as – if not more – integral to the international growth of the company, and the emergence of a contemporary Balmain.
The French designer is consistently inspired by the strength of women, and aims to empower them with his bold designs. “A woman who is going to wear Balmain is a warrior,” he told British Vogue. “The women I dress are powerful, they are strong, they are women who are going to change the world.” Rousteing is also a strong advocate for diversity within the fashion industry, a mantra that chimes well with his international customer base. Rousteing is himself an inspiration to a number of aspiring designers, who, until recently, lacked a successful mixed-race role model.
In May 2017 Rousteing announced that Balmain and L'Oréal Paris were collaborating on a collection of lipsticks that he had designed himself. He cited the partnership as an opportunity to make Balmain accessible to a wider audience. “I'm really close to luxury but at the same time I'm also close to pop culture and I think a lot of people who may love the Balmain universe can't afford the clothes,” he told BoF. “The collaboration with L'Oréal Paris opens up luxury in a different way.”