In the Studio
By ELIZABETH PATON
In the latest installment of this series that goes inside the private working worlds of designers, Olivier Rousteing, creative director of Balmain, discusses the importance of loud music, breaking rules and facing down his critics. And that’s just what didn’t make it into the video. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Where is your favorite place to work?
I am obsessed with my office. It is like my second home. We have this beautiful new six-story building and I have my own stunning glass room right up at the very top, filled with my favorite things — so I can look down and check on everything going on on the floors below. It makes me so happy. Although in summer it is absolutely boiling. Sometimes the A.C. doesn’t work and, as I sketch day and night, including through the weekends, I get so sweaty that droplets fall on my sketches. You can’t have it all, I guess.
What is the most important thing in your office?
My music. The amount of hours per day I sketch is the same amount I listen to music. That can be up to 10 hours a day — I sketch all my collections up here on my own. And I listen to music really loud. The louder it is, the more I give to my sketches. I also listen to music to and from work, and when I work out. It is my way to escape, and how I dream. Music was my first obsession, and if I had to choose between music and fashion, I don’t think I could. That’s why I have so many great musicians in my campaigns, like Kanye or Rihanna. It means I can represent my two great loves together at the same time.
What are your favorite songs?
My playlists, like my fashion shows, are totally mixed — what might come up next is a bit of a mystery. They can go from David Bowie to Rihanna, Ed Sheeran to Prince. I don’t believe in the idea of guilty pleasures; I have no need to ever feel guilty about what I listen to. There is nothing wrong with loving pop culture. The elite voices of fashion love to say, ‘Olivier, how can you bring pop into the luxury world?’ And this is something that I have never understood because, to me, pop culture is about being part of a population. Embracing pop means that you can communicate with millions in the world, not only your front row. And I don’t want to exclude people.
What is your daily routine?
If you look at my Instagram account — I have 4.6 million followers — it looks like I spend my life partying, traveling and taking selfies. But actually, my real daily routine is very boring. I wake up early; I drink lemon tea. Then I go the gym and do lots of cardio: Usually I do boxing, which I love, or swimming. Then I go to the office and work. I am usually here until 9:30 or 10 p.m. at least. Then my driver takes me home, and I watch movies, or call my dad or my friends, or check social media. Then I go to sleep. So, all the usual things. People always say this, but a life in fashion really is not as glamorous as it always seems. But I am very happy.
How do you see your place in the fashion industry?
A lot of people call me controversial and say I have been disruptive. Maybe I have. But I am just a young guy believing in the power of my world and using the chance I have been given to express it. Sometimes I have to break some rules, like when I started at Balmain. I broke rules because I came from a relatively unknown background, being so young at 24 and being black. But actually, what I am is a French designer. Bringing about change. Fighting the establishment. So I am also proud of that: being someone who is not afraid to make his own rules.
What rules do you have in mind?
Sometimes high fashion doesn’t welcome sexy in. But for me, sexy is about confidence and feeling attractive and loving being beautiful. Why shouldn’t women be allowed to embrace feeling like that? There is nothing wrong with sexiness in my world.
Does being French play a part in that?
I am more proud to be French than ever before. For one thing, it was because of our choice of president earlier this year. We said yes to freedom, to liberté, égalité, fraternité, and went against racism. We led by example in a complicated world. And it was a real reminder of what our country is about: creativity, breaking boundaries and revolution. In politics, yes, but also in fashion.
How do you feel about your critics?
People don’t have to love my show or my clothes. But they should at least embrace the fact I bring some diversity into the luxury world. Sometimes I feel like fashion tries to put everybody in the same box: if you fit, then that is the industry’s view of success. And to me, that is elitist. Who wants to be in the same box as everybody else, anyway? Not me. And I don’t really want to talk to those types of people either. I am able to take criticism but not disrespect.