At the age of 30, Olivier Rousteing, the creative director of Balmain, is H&M‘s latest designer collaborator. Since five years , he has been at the helmet of the French fashion house and is one of the youngest creative directors in the world. He has shot to fame in the succeeding thanks to his glamorous designs and also his groundbreaking sense for social media. His vision is to combine pop culture, music and fashion.
Together with Ann‑Sofie Johansson, the creative advisor at H&M, he answered some questions regarding his upcoming collaboration with H&M that will hit the stores worldwide tomorrow, November 5, 2015.
Olivier, how did you feel when H&M called you and asked you to be their newest collaborator?
OR: It was just something amazing like «Oh, my God, it’s happening to me..». It was a dream come true because I’m H&M generation boy. For me being part of the H&M story, it’s an honor, it’s a privilege, it’s something that celebrates a vision and aesthetic.
10 years ago I was part of the Cavalli collaboration. I was an assistant and now 10 years later I’m with Balmain, the creative director, and am building that amazing story. When H&M calls to ask for your aesthetic and vision, it’s a big achievement for a designer. I’m very proud to be part of it.
Ann-Sofie, why did H&M want to work with Balmain and Olivier?
ASJ: Olivier is a fantastic designer, of course. He achieved so many great things at Balmain. WE at H&M have a wish list of designers we would like to collaborate with. Olivier was on it. We also get a lot of questions from our customers, demands really, who to collaborate with next. Olivier was also one of the top names there.
We were super happy when Olivier and Balmain said yes. It’s also fun to have a collaboration that is opposite to what we did last year with Wang, that was really sporty and streety. This time, it is opulent, glamorous and sexy.
Olivier, we all know about the #BalmainArmy. The hashtag for this collaboration is #HMBalmaination. It is like a message of unity, something that is very important to you. Talk a little bit please about why is that so integral to Balmain and H&M.
OR: I think I love fashion for two reasons. Because I love to do clothes and to deliver a vision of diversity and unity the same time. With H&M it was literally expressing the diversity.
Also, why ‘nation’? In this nation I could have so many different people. First because obviously this line is more affordable than my own line. Building the Balmain Army means creating a nation that believes in my universe, the DNA of Balmain. With this collaboration, I can reach more people, different ages, also different continents because Balmain has not so many stores as H&M.
Olivier, can you explain please why you decided to remake and sort of revise some of the greatest hits from your past four years?
OR: Because I still remember around 10 years ago when I was in the line to actually get the pieces from different collaborations for myself. I loved watching the runway shows and thought so many times, I wished I could afford this jacket or those pants. I remember my feeling of frustration.
So now I can see with my Instagram, my followers, dreaming of some pearls, some different craftsmanship. Once in my life I want to make it up. Thanks to H&M, we can make it happen.
Ann‑Sofie, like you said, this collection is very different than last year’s, which was Alexander Wang, really sporty. What was the process like for H&M? It obviously has a lot of lux detailing. Was that a new experience for everyone?
ASJ: It was a challenge. Of course, there are different challenges with different collaborations. This time, it was the handcrafted details. We were I have to say a little bit scared if we were able to pull it off or not and now we’re super happy with the result. I know that Olivier is, as well. We work with really skilled suppliers that we’ve been working with for many, many years. They are also super proud of being part of this collaboration.
Was there a specific piece that was the most challenging?
ASJ: All the pieces, but definitely the black and white dress, which is fully beaded. 250,000 pearls are on that dress.
Olivier, how about you, how did you experience the collaboration?
OR: Drama (laughter). Working with H&M, it’s a big achievement because as a designer you push yourself so much more. You know the price range and it’s obvious that you can’t use some techniques, but you want to make sure it looks the best. I wanted to bring affordable couture and that’s why I’m really, really proud of the result.
To see the collection on the racks over there, there is a mix of embellished pieces, but you put some simpler things, like the sweater that Ann‑Sofie is wearing.
OR: I think it’s important. When H&M contacted me, I asked myself: what is the Balmain DNA, what do we want to bring to the store? I said there are two pillars, the couture, but also the tailoring. Even for the simplest pieces, the fit is amazing, the fabric is good. I think we managed to find a real good balance for this collection. You can get a dress to party all night long and be really glamourous or you can opt for a jacket with buttons which you can wear during daytime.
That’s why I talked about diversity. I think it was important to reach different kind of women.
You are an Instagram star with 1.6 million followers now. I don’t think many other designers come close. Obviously your fans get a lot from you through social media. They learn about you and your life. What do you get as a designer and also what does Balmain and H&M get as brands from Instagram?
OR: I think the most important part is that you get feedback from the people that love you and also from the ones that hate you. Social media today is a really nice way of advertising and showing who you are, what is your vision, what is your aesthetic.
What is amazing with Instagram, if you want to know it, you can follow me. If you don’t want to, you can unfollow me. I think it’s a more honest way to actually share with people. You’re not really advertising, you’re just being yourself, taking selfies in the morning after showing what’s happening in your studio, showing the clothes, showing also how it could be hard work to make it up. I think people love to see the process.
Personally speaking, it’s also a way to keep my feet on the ground because I find a way to keep contact with reality. I can read some comments, I can see how hard life can be for some people. It’s a good balance for my glamorous life.
Let’s talk about the menswear, too as there’s a big selection. Did you approach that the same way with the idea of keeping the tailoring central but also the embellishments and embroideries?
OR: This men’s collection is like an access to my closet. I love my double‑breasted jacket, I love my coats, my leather pants, my T‑shirts, my embroidered jackets. It’s like my personal wardrobe. Reminiscent of Instagram where I like to share, I wanted to give the exact same clothes to those who can’t afford what I’m doing. I’m really, really proud.
Moreover, I am so happy that this menswear collection is something that a lot of women like and could actually wear. Balmain DNA is when a woman can also get the menswear jacket and everything. This is really interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of women are going to go for the menswear line also.
Androgyny is very of much in the current vogue. People are talking about it a lot in fashion. Considering that Balmain’s DNA is so opulent and glamorous, it seems like it perhaps doesn’t really fit with this new trend. Like you say, it actually does.
OR: Completely. I think Balmain is not only flamboyant and rich, because it has 200,000 beads on a dress. It’s because you can wear a menswear jacket and feel really strong, confident, not afraid. That’s what I’m building with my Balmain Army, the H&M Balmain Nation. You know who you are with a menswear jacket, with a really short beaded dress. It’s about confidence and about believing in yourself.
What will this collaboration do for Balmain as a brand?
OR: I think as a brand, is going to open the doors to our stores because Balmain is not known in some countries. It’s a great access to understand the Balmain world better, that it’s not only about the embroidery dress, but more about the tailoring. And it’s a great way to give younger people an access to Balmain.
Speaking about the clothes, do you both have favorites, any predictions on what you think will be the top sellers?
OR: Yes, I have my favorite, it’s the double‑breasted jacket with the pearls and velvet that Kendall was wearing at the Billboards when we announced the collaboration. I love the pearls because it’s part of my first season. It’s kind of emotional for me, but I’m really proud that this jacket is going to be in stores.
What are a the key pieces of this collection that you can recommend that you can start a great closet with?
OR: The black jacket with gold buttons is a perfect start. You can wear it as a dress if you want to or you can wear it as a jacket. Thanks to Ann‑Sofie who made it slightly longer.
This jacket in particular is really iconic for me because it’s really Balmain. It’s black, simple with six gold buttons. Wear it like a tuxedo jacket with pants, or as a dress with the high boots that we also sell. It’s a real statement jacket.
Thank you, Olivier and Ann-Sofie for this lovely interview!
Don’t forget tomorrow the Balmain x H&M collection will hit the shelves…
Photos: Courtesy of H&M, Balmain and © Sandra Bauknecht