In Conversation With...Olivier Rousteing

Olivier Rousteing - by Giampietro Baudo “Fashion is often afraid of reality, afraid of no longer being chic when it becomes too real”

Olivier Rousteing at the Balmain Fall/Winter 2018 show in Paris. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.

“My story for Balmain centres around a word: diversity. I wanted to tell the world today that it’s made up of many different faces, many ideas of beauty. “Long live diversity” I say”. So says Olivier Rousteing, the 32 year-old designer at the helm of Balmain, who, in his six years as creative director of the label Mayhoola for investments, embraced a universal aesthetic vocabulary, with no barriers of colour or gender. Choosing to tell the story of “A global beauty”. With the complicity of two excellent teachers.

Where is the fashion system today with regard to the debate on multiculturality? 

I think that fashion lost ten years, between 2000 and 2010-2012, in its expression of women. Those were years in which there was a certain denial of feminine beauty. I was lucky enough to live the golden era of the super models, to savour the moment linked to the last divas of the catwalk, figures like Natalia Vodianova, Natasha Poly and Lara Stone. After them, there were no more real top models and the concept of multiethnicity or universal beauty has been denied. Claudia (Schiffer, ed’s note) and Naomi (Campbell, ed’s note) were catwalk divas. Every woman wanted to be like them. Then at a certain point, it was decided that celebrity-models had to disappear from the podium, making room for an army of stereotyped faces. And now amends are being made with a sharp about-turn in favour of diversity.

Natasha Poly and Olivier Rousteing at the Balmain Fall/Winter 2018 show in Paris. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.

And why do you think this all happened?

Because fashion is often afraid of reality, afraid of no longer being chic when it becomes too real. So it decided to look with a certain aloofness at a society that was becoming increasingly heterogeneous and multicultural. Without realising where the whole world was going. 

Your castings tell the story of a global beauty project, and your coope- ration with a giant like L’Orèal has also taken this direction... 

Yes, when we started building this liaison, they were looking for a designer with three characteristics. The ability to talk to the luxury world, to the millennials and about diversity. Et voilà... That’s why we set out on this journey, with 12 lipsticks capable of talking to every kind of woman, from Asians to Europeans, from Indians to Africans and transgenders. We wanted to talk to and about all the beauties in the world. Which designers have inspired you in this sense? 

Yves Saint-Laurent, who was among the first to parade a coloured model on the catwalk. And Azzedine Alaïa, a genius. Three of his lessons have always guided me. First, believe in women and their shape: he was the first to talk about bodyconscious femininity. Believe in a woman’s beauty, whatever her colour. And music, he loved music; he was the first to dress Tina Turner, to work with Grace Jones. To unite the world of luxury and French couture with hip-hop. 

Have you ever been discriminated against? 

Yes, a lot when I was young. I was adopted and I was black. Sometimes it still happens now... Racism is ignorance and hypocrisy. I remember when I was studying law at university; listening to people say that it was a great achieve- ment for a black boy like me to become a lawyer was a small, unconscious act of racism. But those glances, those words only made me more determined to start a battle for diversity. Because contemporary life is made up of lots of different beauties that have to be defended and protected.

By Giampetro Baudo - MFF Magazine for Fashion
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