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 mastered the art of catering to the digital generation.
The French designer’s steep career trajectory was paved with opportunity. Beginning as an orphan in Bordeaux, he was soon adopted and studied at Ecole Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode in Paris. 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.
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 at the forefront of the brand which has become a recognised hallmark for red carpet couture. Leading its digital revitalisation, Roustieng works under CEO Massimo Pimbini who was appointed in 2017, following the majority stake acquisition of Mayhoola for Investments a year earlier.
Born into an internet-savvy generation, Rousteing was one of the pioneers of Instagram marketing, with his “Balmain Army” of influencers dressed in the brand’s signature military style. It comprises a force of strong, internationally famous women and trending virtual influencers including Kendall Jenner , Gigi Hadid , Kim Kardashian West and computer-generated models Margot, Shudu and Zhi, who have each amassed a sizeable following on the platform. Rousteing’s knack for digital inspired a Balmain-themed Snapchat selfie-filter and the Balmain app in 2019 with its accompanying its digital flagship store, opened in partnership with Yoox, Net-a-porter group and the Mazarine luxury e-commerce platform. Balmain is also one of the first brands to sign onto Instagram’s new shopping feature in 2019.
The French designer 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. He also expressed his dedication to the cause in his Spring/Summer 2019 campaign, featuring Cara Delevigne in an homage to Janet Jackson’s album artwork for Janet, conceptualising the union between white and black skin.
In May 2017 Balmain and L'Oréal Paris collaborated 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. For the 2018 edition of Coachella, Beyoncé entrusted Roustieng to create three couture pieces for her performance. The designer has also revived Balmain’s haute couture reputation, launching a capsule collection of atelier pieces in 2018, and a 2019 Spring couture show in Paris, 16 years after the brand excited the scene.