Balmain designer Olivier Rousteing is on the cover of Out magazine’s current issue, which includes the story of his upbringing (he is of mixed race and was adopted at the age of one), his schooling (he speaks English, French, German, Italian and some Greek) and design background (he attended a Paris fashion school, dropped out and was with Cavalli for five years), all of which are details that until this article have been tough to come by.
At the time he was hired to lead Balmain, Rousteing was a unique entity, young–just 25–and a man of color in a sea of white designers. As his design personality emerged, there was a good amount of tutt-tutting by the fashion establishment over his direction, but even more so his association with musicians like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Kanye West. The racism wasn’t lost on Rousteing, who comments in the article, “People were like, ‘Oh my God, he’s a minority taking over a French house!”
If anything, the Out article makes clear the huge importance of having people of color in positions of authority because they are the ones overseeing model selection for ad campaigns and runways and are making choices based on their own perception of beauty–which, less face it, is almost always more inclusive–rather than bowing to outside pressure because they feel forced to.
“Look at perfume campaigns,” says Rousteing. “You never see black girls, and if you do, they use Photoshop so much that they almost look white. It’s just wrong. People post on my Instagram that they are so happy to see black boys and black girls. I’m happy that they see it and don’t think that fashion belongs to white people. Comments on my Instagram are more important than what critics say.”
For those who remain unconvinced by Rousteing’s decision making, the numbers play out in his favor. During his tenure at Balmain, menswear has grown to account for 40 percent of Balmain’s total revenue, and next season will see the brand’s first men’s runway show. In July, the men’s fragrance Balmain Homme will be released. And though Balmain is private and doesn’t release earnings figures, it says growth of the brand has been 15 -20 percent in the last three years.
Read more about Rousteing on Out.