With Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain x H&M collaboration dropping this week, there’s no way you haven’t heard of his name yet. But while the young designer may be better known for his extravagant personality, flashy social media presence and roster of celebrity friends, Rousteing has more on his agenda than just designing collections and partying. He wants to change the fashion industry, point blank. According to Rousteing, fashion is “too old and too white” to appeal to millennials like him, and he might have a point. The designer is often credited with turning Balmain around, picking up the pieces of Christophe Decarnin’s abrupt departure and maintaining the fashion house’s legacy. After all, Balmain was close to bankruptcy before Decarnin, and has now doubled its revenue under Rousteing.
However, that growth didn’t come without hardship, and having been given the reins at the ripe age of 25, Rousteing learned a lot. He had decided that while pleasing everyone might work for awhile, it’s not the key to happiness nor success. Deciding to be himself and to do what he wanted has led him, and the fashion house, to even greater levels of ubiquity. Now, the French designer is proud of his story and his roots, and while his youthful outlook and flamboyant lifestyle has attracted a slew of haters — the numbers speak for themselves. As the now 30-year-old puts it, “I am the prince of my own castle.” Read his entire story over at GQ.
But as time went on, he realized he wasn’t especially happy. Two years ago, he paced nervously before his runway show in Paris—the collection was military-inspired, sure to be a crowd-pleaser—when, he says, he was approached by Suzy Menkes, then fashion editor for the International Herald Tribune. Sensing his anxiety, she offered comfort. “She said, ‘Just stay true to yourself, because when you are honest with yourself and you are happy, that’s a success.’ ”
There are times in everyone’s life when a platitude can blow you away with its wisdom. For Rousteing this was one of those times. “I realized, I had been trying too much to please everyone,” he said. “To please the press, to please the buyers, all the people from the house.”
It was not that he wasn’t proud of what he had produced. The craftsmanship, the attention to detail, the historical references—all were impeccable. But it wasn’t really him. It was the work of a very good student. “I started to feel like, ‘I don’t want to be a marionette.’”