By the looks of his Instagram, Olivier Rousteing, the 29-year-old creative director of Balmain, is nothing short of a social media sensation. With 1.5 million followers on his personal account and 2.6 million followers on the Balmain account, snapshots of the young, pouty Rousteing with a flurry of celebrities, supermodels, and Kardashians—Rousteing’s self-described #BALMAINARMY—have catapulted the traditional French fashion house into the world of pop culture. Rousteing has become, in many ways, a creative director for the social media age.
Rousteing took the helm of the 70-year-old luxury house as creative director, the highest creative position at a fashion house, at a mere 25 years old, making him one of the youngest creative directors in fashion. He has since transformed the house into a cohesive, global brand—taking it beyond the stuffiness of the French fashion tradition and into the brash world of tabloids and Instagram and celebrity. For some, Rousteing’s unapologetic marketing strategy—using celebrity endorsement and social media to up the brand’s coolness and ubiquity—has reduced the house’s credibility and exclusivity. When Rousteing cast Kim Kardashian and Kanye West as the faces of Balmain’s menswear advertising campaign last December—announcing the couple as “THE BALMAIN LOVE” on Instagram—he was making a statement about Balmain’s brand: a brand that is young, relevant, rebellious, and most of all, a brand made for the internet age. Rousteing is not making fashion for highbrow critics, he is making fashion for the masses—the #BALMAINARMY—and, thus far, the masses are responding favorably.
In a recent profile in the New Yorker, Rousteing, in conversation with Balmain’s public relations director, Txampi Diz, asks, “Who would you rather have in the front row? A celebrity or a critic?”
It seems as though the Balmain celebrity has effectively replaced the need for the Balmain critic, as sales for the house have continued to grow twenty-five percent per year since Rousteing’s first year as creative director, according to the New Yorker.
Whatever the merit of Rousteing’s strategy, it seems to be working. Rousteing represents a democratization of the world of luxury, as he makes the venerable French house as accessible to fashion world elites as it is to Reality TV stars—and now, with the coming November launch of the Balmain x H&M collaboration collection, the Instagram masses can also have their own piece of Rousteing’s Balmain world.
While Balmain is not the first luxury house to partner with the Swedish fast-fashion retail giant—it started with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004—this time somehow seems different. Rousteing is connecting with an already existing, 2.6-million strong audience, and it seems like the natural progression in his democratizing efforts. The capsule collection effectively encapsulates what Rousteing’s Balmain is all about: deconstructing exclusivity, blurring the lines between fashion and popular culture, pushing the boundaries of luxury, and diversifying the brand’s audience. Vanity Fair aptly called Rousteing “the new face of fashion populism.”
The collection was revealed last week in New York, in true Balmain fashion: celebrities lined the front row, Instagram’s most popular faces walked the runway, and the Backstreet Boys performed. The show was live streamed on Periscope, and just in case you missed the live stream, the entire event was documented by those in attendance on Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. The event saw Rousteing’s #BALMAINARMY in full force, resulting in a spectacle that was a moment for both fashion and social media. Between the runway show, the ad campaign fronted by fashion’s current it-girls, Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Jourdan Dunn, and the forthcoming music video starring, yet again, Jenner, the Balmain x H&M fanfare—what Rousteing has designated the #HMBALMAINNATION—seems to have just begun.
While Rousteing has successfully created a media frenzy surrounding the capsule collection, the fashion seems to be lost in the endless sea of hashtags and Kardashians. The New York launch was a perfect example of creating fashion for the sake of social media, which seems to be an unfavorable consequence of Rousteing’s democratizing project.
Regardless of his controversial marketing strategy, though, Balmain brings to the light the tensions between the old exclusivity of a luxury house and the modern accessibility of a global brand. Rousteing also raises important questions of what it means to be a creative director in the digital age. With the recent stepping down of Raf Simons, creative director of Dior, and Alber Elbaz, creative director of Lanvin, the responsibilities and obligations of a creative director represents a point of contention for the fashion world. Indeed, it was Simon’s resignation that led Suzy Menkes, Vogue’s international editor-at-large, to morbidly proclaim: “the fashion world is crashing.” With Balmain’s recent global success, though, it seems as if Rousteing hasn’t noticed.
Featured Image by secondkulture