In April 2011, at the age of 25, Olivier Rousteing was named the creative director of Balmain in Paris, the youngest designer since Yves Saint Laurent – at Dior in 1957 – to be given such a prestigious role.
In the following decade the house has seen their revenues soar, in both women’s and menswear, and the presence of the brand supersede all expectations, partly due to Olivier’s foresight in engaging early with social media, at a time when it was not the done thing by a luxury fashion label.
Known for his super-glamorous designs, and his famous friendships with celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez, the designer has created a lauded legacy and built an impressive Instagram following of over six million personally, and almost eleven million for the brand.
He is also looking forward to the release of his new documentary, ‘Wonder Boy’, which, as much as it shows his dazzling design process, is also a very moving deep dive in to the story of his abandonment and subsequent adoption as a child, and how these events drove him to “aim higher than the others” and to be “a kind of a superhuman” as he traces his origins and searches for his birth mother.
Here Olivier answers the 20 questions that get to the heart of who we are with a typical candor and openness, revealing the man behind the “bling and sequins” and how his upbringing shaped him and drove him to make brave and bold choices in his life.
Who the f*** are you?
So if it was not you asking me, I would say I’m no one. If you ask me by Zoom, I will tell you I’m Olivier Rousteing, creative director of Balmain. But usually, when it’s a date and someone is asking me who I am, I would never answer that I’m a creative director. That makes everything more easy.
How are you feeling right now?
It’s a mix. I feel good because, with the [Covid] situation, I feel more creative and I think it pushed me to be different than I used to be. And I feel more daring in a way. But I feel at the same time sad, because the world is changing and I miss hugging. I feel like all my friends and all the public and other people that work with me in fashion, my colleagues, we are all forced apart. So it’s a mix of both feelings.
And I’m working on the next fashion show. It’s in two weeks. I mean, it’s fine. Because we were so scared of Covid, we anticipated already for the suppliers, the team, everything. So everything is going well for now. And let’s hope that it will be good in a week when I will receive the collection, but for now, I’m good. I’m working all weekend as well. There is no weekend for me.
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in the South of France, in Bordeaux. A really conservative and really bourgeois part of the country. At the same time, with great values. I learned a lot. But I think I would say that I come from Bordeaux, and at the same time come from an orphanage. I had two childhoods, one with parents, one without parents. So basically it’s a mix as well in this answer.
I was around two years old when I was officially adopted, but it took a year for my parents to get me into their home. Because obviously, as you can imagine, when you adopt a kid, you need to go through the laws. And it takes a really long time, but I had the chance to have them for a year coming to the orphanage before getting me and finally starting my, let’s say, new life.
My parents are really humble and they are proud, but at the same time, I think they know if I was not the creative director of Balmain and maybe I had, let’s say, a more normal job, then I could see them more. Then they will be maybe prouder. Because after the compromises of my job today, it feels like sometimes I don’t have time to see them enough. I see them once a year. So sometimes I’m sure they wish, can you be just a bit more normal? Like that, we would get to enjoy our son a bit more.
What excites you?
Oh my God. I feel like I should go to see a shrink because basically I want to always mix it up. I think what excites me is what is new to me. Whatever is new, whatever feels like I have never done before. I have so many boundaries and limits in my life that whenever I feel [excited], it’s where there are no limits. Maybe I feel like I’m excited about something, but at the same time, it’s so hard because I have done so many things already that sometimes I’m scared to not be excited enough.
What scares you?
I would say what scares me is to not be remembered.
What is your proudest achievement?
I want to say three. Can I? I would say one of my proudest achievements is to have said yes to the creative direction at Balmain almost 10 years ago.
What I’m the proudest of on top of that was my collaboration for H&M because, it sounds maybe cheesy to say that, but when you realize that I was like 27 or 28 something and I had to go back to my archives already. That collection was [available] around the world for an entire new generation. I feel really proud about that because it feels like I achieved that Balmain became known internationally. So for me, that was one of my biggest achievements.
And I would say the third one is my documentary ‘Wonder Boy’ [due for release this Summer]. We started shooting three years ago and stopped two years ago. There I am proud because I showed to the world who I am, more than the bling and the sequins that people know me for. And I’m proud as well to have been myself and discover who I really am in front of the cameras and actually not be scared, because I wanted to deliver a message of hope for the people that will watch the documentary.
What is the hardest thing you have ever done?
Oh my God. My problem is that I share everything, and that’s why I have my CMO sitting next to me, because he’s always scared of what comes out from that mouth!
Okay. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was looking for my biological mother. It has been tough because of the answer that I got, because everybody’s like, “Do you feel more free when you get an answer?” But when you get the kind of answer that I got at that time, it was hard for me to hear, because she was 14 years old. And so for me, that was something really difficult to admit and to accept, that she was not maybe consensual?
So this is the hardest thing for me, looking for my biological mother.
And the second thing that was hard, basically because I’m completely schizophrenic, was starting my Instagram at a time where everybody was against it, thinking that I was cheap and that luxury couldn’t be on social media. That was the hardest thing, to convince people that didn’t believe in me and in that moment.
Who is your greatest mentor and what did they teach you?
I would say my greatest mentor was my [maternal adoptive] grandmother for the taste and the beauty. She always had the best fragrances, old vintage Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel. My grandmother was really an incredible inspiration for me as taste and as a woman, really French, but not the French that wear only the Breton stripes, no, the French that was really cool at that time. So I’m really proud of my grandmother. I think she was one of my mentors to love fashion.
The second one, I would say, is Kim Kardashian West, because I think she showed me so much in life and how brave she was and she is. The moment that I met her seven years ago, whatever people were saying, I think she proved to the world that, no matter what you say, I will make it. She’s my friend, but she has been a mentor.
Who are your fictional and real-life heroes?
Fictional? I have so many answers, but I would say The Avengers. I think because I always love when you can fly and when you have superpowers. Basically, if you look at my shoulder pads in my collections, it basically stays on superhero always. Yeah. I would say the Avengers. And in real-life, Karl Lagerfeld. Because I love people that are superheroes, that have super power.
Someone that I admire and I would love to meet is clearly Michelle Obama, who I have never met. I had the chance to dress our first lady, Brigitte Macron, which I loved. I’m obsessed. But I think I would love to meet Michelle Obama one day. So she could be my superhero, from reality.
What is your favorite item of clothing in your wardrobe?
Double breasted jacket. Navy with gold buttons. I cannot live without.
What music did you love at age 13, and do you still love it now?
Okay. Age 13, I think my obsession was basically Britney Spears when she came out with ‘Oops I Did It Again’. And I think I’m still obsessed with music from that time.
What is the most inspiring book you have ever read?
I would say Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’ because he talks about the craziness of someone. For me it was really interesting to understand how easily your mind can bring you somewhere that you don’t want to go. So you understand that you are your own worst enemy.
What is a movie that left a lasting impression on you?
The first one that really hurt me, in the sense that I love it, but it’s hard for me, is ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ with Hillary Swank. It was hard to see the toughness of the world and how the world can be mean when you’re just different or when you just try to be who you want to be. This is something that hurt me a lot. And I would also say like ‘Dancer in the Dark’ with Bjork.
What is your favorite word or saying?
I never say bad words, it’s really rare. When we did my movie, they were like, it’s incredible that you never say a bad word, where we would have to cut.
In English, I love saying – because I actually speak always in English with people – I would say, my favorite word is ‘honestly.’ I don’t know why. Every time I start a sentence, ‘Like, honestly, like honestly.’ Or when I say, ‘I don’t like the salad honestly.’ Whatever it is, I stand by honestly. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong.
What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?
Who was it? Why are we here? Ah, the guy from Balmain, he was so cute, right?! No. What I would like them to say is, “F*** he has balls”. There are the bad words!
Finally, a quickfire five favorites…
Porsche. Porsche Cayenne. In black.
Sports team… Paris Saint-Germain? Because I dress Neymar, so I want to keep dressing him!
Okay. I’m going to be really snobbish, but Caviar Kaspia. I love the caviar at restaurant Caviar Kaspia in Place de la Madeleine, in Paris. I love that.
Nothing. No, I’m kidding. Just an incredible doctor. No, I’m kidding. Actually he has become my best friend. No, I’m kidding. Actually. I’m not kidding!
Augustinus Bader. I use the rich cream at night going to sleep, and when I wake up, I just use the normal one.
Oh, this is such a hard question. I think … maybe Balmain? No? Favorite clothing label apart from Balmain? I have to say I’m obsessed with Hermes bags and whatever Chanel does for men. I’m always wearing the men’s capsule collection that they do.
One last thing, in a previous interview, someone asked you if you were in love and you said, “No, I’ve never been in love.” And we’re just curious, have you been in love subsequently or are you in love?
I never have been in love and I’m not in love. The only love that I have is for Balmain! I mean that’s actually maybe a sad answer, but it’s actually a real answer. That I have never been in love. I have my witness next to me, Txampi [Diz, CMO of Balmain], who keeps telling me, “Don’t be at Balmain on the weekend. Start to f***ing go out of this office and start to discover love!”