Alexander Wang had Coachella. Olivier Rousteing has the Billboard Music Awards. Arm in arm with his model buddies Kendall Jenner and Jourdan Dunn, the Balmain designer took to the red carpet in Las Vegas tonight to announce his partnership with H&M, the fast-fashion retailer whose designer collaboration series is now in its 11th year. Rousteing follows in the footsteps of a long line of high-profile designer collaborators, from Karl Lagerfeld in 2004 to Wang in 2014. His collection for H&M will include women’s and men’s clothes, shoes, and accessories, and is scheduled to hit the company’s e-commerce site and stores worldwide on November 5.
With an Instagram following that tops 1.1 million and an inner circle that extends beyond Kendall to the entire Kardashian/Jenner clan—Kanye West, included—Rousteing and his H&M collection should be in the headlines fairly regularly (read: pretty much nonstop) between now and November.
I spoke to Rousteing and H&M’s head of design, Ann-Sofie Johansson, over the phone earlier this week to discuss the project.
Congratulations, Olivier! We were taking guesses about who the designer would be at the office last week, and then I got the number for this interview and it was a Paris number and I knew instantly it had to be you.
OLIVIER ROUSTEING: It’s logical, right? It’s a bit what I always defend in fashion, me and my army. I’m happy to be part of it. I used to work 10 years ago for Cavalli; I was obviously an assistant, but I remember [his collaboration]. I’m the only one who’s seen this two times happening.
How did it all come about?
OR: H&M approached the house. But it’s always been a dream to do it. When you do a collaboration with H&M, it’s a big step in the fashion industry. It’s a big achievement, professionally and also personally. Professionally, you build a world and they want to be part of it. They want to be part of the Balmain army, which is amazing. Personally, it’s an amazing challenge as a designer to make a collection for the street market and for the entire world. When you work for a superluxury brand, you don’t have so many stores, your vision isn’t the entire world. With H&M, you know you’re part of the world, you touch all the continents. I’ve always been loud about being about diversity and the world. So it’s perfect.
And they have an amazing team. It was really fluid. We had really quick communication. I think I am the first of the new decade. I’m really proud to be part of a new story.
Yes! I think you’re number 11 after Alexander Wang. Balmain is so elevated with the couture details—the beading, the embroideries. How did you deal with the challenge of translating Balmain’s very high-end look to H&M?
OR: It was a big challenge and a good challenge. I don’t want to lose the craftsmanship, and I don’t want to lose the richness and the glamour of the house. But I also want to talk to the people in the street, to different ages. I kept the glamour and richness, but we twisted it. You can find in the collection so many different garments. And I think that’s going to be the beauty of the collection. My collaboration is different from the others. H&M really challenged themselves with craftsmanship, with the high couture level of France, and the results are great.
It’s hard to believe, but this is the start of the second decade for H&M’s designer collaborations.
ANN-SOFIE JOHANSSON: Nobody thought it would last this long. At the beginning, when we started with Karl Lagerfeld, we thought it was a one-off, really. It continued because it got a lot of attention, and created a buzz around the company, and also because we were approached by many designers. When they saw that we could do something with Karl, more people wanted to collaborate with us. Also, in terms of the designers who we choose to collaborate with, they can reach out to so many more people than they usually are doing with their own collection. It’s a nice situation for both parts. As long as our customers appreciate the collaborations, we’ll continue, of course.
Why did H&M pick Olivier?
AJ: First of all, it’s an iconic house, the Balmain house. It’s been around for as long as H&M, actually. Even longer, because it was founded in 1945 and H&M was founded in 1947. And Olivier is true to the Balmain DNA, but at the same time is designing for the new generation, and that is a mix between something couture-like, very glamorous, with a bit of streetwear attitude. We believed it was a really interesting mix. He wants to dress both women and men and make them look confident, glamorous, and elegant, and we stand for that.
How much did his huge social media following play into your choice?
AJ: It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s fascinating the way Olivier pushes the limits of social media, and pushes it more than the traditional channels, really. He represents the new generation of creatives who use social media in a much bigger way than others. It’s quite inspiring the way he wants to talk to people, and he has a great point: He wants to unite people.
Olivier, why is it a good thing for the Balmain brand to collaborate with H&M? Is it purely for visibility?
OR: Sometimes we feel like Balmain is not real, it’s kind of unreal. I feel with H&M, I’m going to have the chance to actually see more people wearing my clothes, and my vision more in the street. Because Balmain does not have the ability to have so many stores, with H&M I get the chance to express the diversity I’m always expressing, about ages, about races, continents.
For a luxury brand like Balmain and others, it’s an amazing gesture, giving access to people who dream about the brand. How can I say? It’s close to my vision of social media, sharing my brand with people, showing what I’m doing, giving a piece of the dream.
The timing of this is good for Balmain, right, with a new store in London and a New York flagship on the way?
OR: New York is opening in November/December, so it’s perfect timing. And it’s perfect personal timing, as well. During the last couple of seasons, Balmain has become known not just for the clothes, but for a vision. I wouldn’t have been ready four years ago.
Your coming-out moment will happen at the Billboard Music Awards, I hear.
OR: I’m going to the Billboards in Vegas with Kendall [Jenner] and Jourdan [Dunn]. I think it’s the perfect place. The Billboards is a celebration of music. What is amazing with H&M is that they really want to stay close to my world, to my pop culture, to the young culture, to music culture. H&M really wants to keep it real. Jourdan and Kendall are going to represent with me. You know, it’s a big announcement, so I need to be with girls I feel good with and who are close to me.
I’m really honored, because I’m really young to have this collaboration. Ten years ago, I was the one waiting in front of the window to get the pieces. So I feel like this time I have a double personality: One is the designer who created the collection, and the second is the one who remembers how it felt to wait for the pieces and fight to get them. That’s what’s going to make this collaboration really real, because I know the feeling of wanting the pieces and worrying you won’t get the pieces because it’s going to sell out in two hours.
Do you have your outfit planned for Sunday?
OR: Of course. I’m going to wear my H&M pieces. So many guys are like, “I would like to dress like you.” When they see my outfit, I’m going to be proud to say, “Go and get it.” We have a new hashtag for this collaboration, it’s #HMBalmaination. The idea is: “Join the nation.”
You’ve been a busy guy with Justin Bieber at the Met ball earlier this month and now this.
OR: It’s kind of crazy. I went to New York after we shot the Balmain campaign. Now I’m back on track in Paris to make my menswear show and my women’s Resort. Then to Vegas just for one day, but an amazing day. And for once, what happens in Vegas, won’t stay in Vegas.
—Nicole Phelps, Style.com