Exclusive: ELLE meets Olivier Rousteing
ELLE's editor-in-chief meets Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing for a first look at the most talked-about collaboration of the year
There's a fitted blazer with pointed power shoulders. A pair of wide-legged, low-slung flares in devoré velvet. A bodycon dress covered in mirrored pink shards, and another embellished with rhinestones, faux pearls and heavy golden ropes.
Can you guess what it is yet?
Few luxury brands have a look that's as easily recognisable as Balmain's. Yet these pieces, although 'very Balmain', in fact belong to the hottest collaboration of 2015: Balmain x H&M.
"My first reaction was 'how amazing'. I had no doubt, no hesitation," Olivier Rousteing, Balmain's wonderkid creative director, tells ELLE when we sit down together in Paris four months before the collection launches.
Yet teaming up with H&M could seem like a risky move. A French fashion house with a name built on couture and a Swedish retail giant known for fast fashion may not seem like the most promising partners. But if H&M's decade of collaborations – which has seen it team up with everyone from Karl Lagerfeld to Martin Margiela to Alexander Wang – has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.
Since being appointed creative director in 2011, at just 25, Rousteing has repositioned the storied Balmain to a label whose unapologetic sex appeal and no-holds-barred aesthetic has made it a favourite among editors and celebrities alike – many of whom are now personal friends of the designer. "In the beginning, I was the Balmain baby; I think now I can say Balmain is my baby. Of course it's a lot of pressure," he admits, "but I'm not saving lives, I'm just designing clothes."
When it came to choosing Balmain pieces to recreate for the collaboration, Rousteing says it was "really easy. They knew what they wanted from me and I knew what I wanted from them."
(Photo: Aaron Lee)
Not that there weren't challenges in uniting two such wildly different brands while respecting the point of view of both.
"Obviously it was a challenge as a designer because I needed to make sure that we can sell, while protecting the fabric, the luxury," Rousteing says. "Having a different price range was a big challenge. To know how to get the right fabric, to get the right fit, and spending the amount of money that I have [available] to spend. That is something that is really interesting to learn, especially as a Balmain designer. I think I'm the designer that's the craziest in the world right now!"
But they seem to have done it. Balmain x H&M is rich in the former's design signatures, at prices that well and truly belong to the latter (albeit at the higher end of the range). And perhaps the two brands' customers are not so different after all.
"It's not the same budget, but it's the same vision," Rousteing says. "When you're a Balmain customer you love confidence, you love sexiness. You're powerful. You're proud of who you are. I think Balmain girls and Balmain boys are fighting against taboos and limits. The buyers of this collaboration are the same, they want to be part of the Balmain world. That's why we created the hashtag #HMbalmaination."
Rousteing regularly rallies his 1.3million Instagram followers under the hashtags #balmainarmy, #balmainlove, and now #HMbalmaination. His feed is filled with pictorial tributes to his celebrity #girlsquad, namely Rihanna, Joan Smalls, Kim Kardashian and sister Kendall Jenner.
"My Instagram is normal," he insists. "Yes, I can be partying with Kim, but at the same time I am waking up hungover and stuff like that. That's just who I am."
He hopes that by dropping a collection in 350 H&M stores worldwide, his work will reach an audience that may not otherwise have access to Balmain.
"H&M is so global and speaks to so many people of different backgrounds – from Africa, from China, from Malaysia, from Poland. This is H&M, and this is H&M's world. I'm an H&M boy! So when I speak about globality in Balmain, I can really express that through this collaboration. And they taught me more about diversity than I have ever known."
His favourite pieces? "The long velvet jacket with pearls that Kendall wore [at the Billboard Music Awards]. And the top that Jourdan Dunn was wearing. Those are my favourites because there's a lot of nostalgia, there are so many emotional things that remind me of moments in my life."
What's next for the leader of the #BalmainArmy? "I'm not even 30. I have many projects in 2016 that I'm really proud of. My first New York store, and so many other things. There's so many nexts."
Balmain x H&M will be available exclusively at H&M Lot 10 and Avenue K on 5 November. Start queuing now. This article was first published in the November 2015 issue of ELLE Malaysia.