Olivier Rousteing
Photo Ezra Petronio

Olivier Rousteing: “You fight through the night”

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Short Profile

Name: Olivier Rousteing
DOB: 3 April 1986
Place of Birth: Bordeaux, Aquitaine, France
Occupation: Fashion Designer

Olivier, what role does sex play in your creative process as a fashion designer?

I think sex is really important because there is a lot to play with when you have sex on your mind. It’s something that has no limit and no boundaries. And what is cool about sex is that it’s all about some kind of fantasy. When I create clothes for a girl, in my mind I always think about what I would want if I were the girl or if I would love to have sex with her. So it’s really something where I play different roles and I kind of like that.

Is it easy for you to imagine yourself as a girl?

Sometimes I’m going too far away because I’m not a girl, so I do something I would love to wear if I were a girl and the girls at my studio are like, “It’s maybe too much.” Where I’m like, “It’s never too much.” After my first show somebody asked me “Does your girl have sex on the first night?” And I said she can’t because the dress is so complicated. It’s so difficult and so heavy. So actually I think when you wear Balmain you can’t have sex that fast, even though everybody thinks like that.

Like you said, sex is often more about fantasy.

Yeah, my way of seeing sex is really different. At the end of the day I would think the dress is more why you have sex. My women are soldiers, they are like big fighters, and when they go to a club they will be looking for the man in the middle of the crowd and grab him like she is on a safari and she’s a lion. I love the power of women and I love the fact that she’s on top of the man. I think that’s what excites me about my woman. She’s stronger than a man, like the shoulders and the structure of the clothes.

What is the most sexual thing a woman can wear in your opinion?

I think I love girls with pants most. I love girls in jumpsuits too, maybe just because she’s like a man at the same time! (Laughs) You know, there is this kind of thing where she can be super sexy and kind of boyish. I think it’s way more attractive.

Is it generally easier to express sex in women’s clothes than in men’s clothes?

When I’m a man and I sketch for myself you can see my boundaries and my limits, because obviously I have a lot of limits in sex… This interview is going a lot like a therapy session! (Laughs) When I sketch for a woman it’s all about fantasy, but when I sketch for men it’s actually sketching for myself and there are a lot more restrictions. I’m more scared. I’m really a shy guy at the end of the day.

It sounds like you have a pretty personal approach to fashion.

You do fashion because you want to express something. For any designer, making a collection is like therapy. So when there is a collection that is completely dark or kind of sad or tortured, you can imagine that the designer obviously has to be like that in real life because it’s his state of mind at the moment. But there is nothing better than doing a collection and being true to yourself. And I think that’s the success of a collection, when it’s really you and not trying to be someone else.

Was it difficult for you to learn to trust your own opinion?

My first show was the least stressed show ever. Because you don’t know what to expect. My first show I was like a little kid playing with dolls in a way. Just being like, “Oh my god, I’m going to do a fashion show, I’m going to do a fashion show!” And obviously after you realize what business is, you realize what is important to the business and to make sure that you keep your buyers, that you grow the company.

You were only 25 when you became the creative director of Balmain – which made you the youngest designer to head a Parisian fashion house since Yves Saint Laurent became the head designer at Christian Dior in 1957 – and most people in your team are quite young as well. Is your youthfulness important for your creativity?

Yeah, I think my youth is what helps me to create and to be what I am today and my vision is thanks to my youth. Whatever I do, I do it like a kid discovering something. I think being young helped to just believe more and to not be stuck in one concept, you know? My mom had cancer when she was young and she couldn’t have a baby, so she adopted me from an orphanage. So already starting from this point I thought everything is possible, that I can get what I want. You just have to believe that. All my life I did whatever I wanted. For example I didn’t finish school because I didn’t like my school. I love the idea of “I’m trying to get what I want without fucking caring about what people will say or what the typical way is.”

That attitude must come with its fair share of difficulties, too.

Of course, my parents cut off all my money. They didn’t want me to have any more money, because they actually wanted me to become a lawyer. They spent the money for fashion school, which I quit, for law school, which I quit. So they were like, “Olivier, what do you want to do with your life?” I just didn’t like what I was doing at the time, but I knew that I was going to do better. So I told them, “I’m leaving my country, I’m leaving you mom and dad. I’m going to have an internship in Italy. I want to learn Italian, I want to discover Italy.”

And how did that work out?

When I arrived in Italy it was really difficult. I remember when I wanted to show my book to Donatella Versace it was so fucking cold and I didn’t have money for a hotel so I slept at the place of a friend of mine who in the middle of the night woke me up and tried to touch me and stuff like that. When you’re young so many things happen and it’s really hard, but you have to fight. I had no money so I went to dance in a club. You know what I mean? Sometimes to get what you want you need to have a really strong past to make sure that you become a warrior and you are not fucking scared about anything and you fight through the night, you know?