By Robin Givhan, courtesy The Daily Beast
Olivier Rousteing’s appointment as the new designer at Balmain came as a bit of a letdown to fashion insiders. No one doubts that Rousteing, 25 years old, is qualified for the job, but he doesn’t come with a big reputation and a glossy image.
In recent years, it’s almost been a requirement that any designer tapped to run a major fashion house bring star power along with the resume. But perhaps those days are coming to a close. Rousteing, a veritable unknown, had been quietly laboring behind the scenes at Balmain since 2009 under its recently departed designer, Christophe Decarnin, who re-energized the house with his signature rock ‘n’ roll style. Before that, Rousteing spent five years working his way up to head of design for women’s and men’s collections for Roberto Cavalli—the Italian designer who makes Bacchus look restrained.
In reality, though, Rousteing brings something far more interesting than millions of Google hits: diversity.
Rousteing is biracial—black and white. According to a spokesman, Rousteing was born in France, placed in an orphanage and eventually adopted by a family that raised him in the Bordeaux region. Rousteing doesn’t know the exact origins of his birth parents, but he identifies as a person of mixed race.
And with his new top-dog position at Balmain, he sees himself as an example of the kinds of generational changes now taking place in French society.
References to African and African-diaspora culture have found their place on the runways and in various high-end collections, such as those from Jean Paul Gaultier and Hermés. But that same kind of black and brown diversity has not been as common among the lead designers of France’s most venerable brands. In that respect, Rousteing is a novelty.