"I love pop culture, and pop, for me, is popular and population." – Olivier Rousteing
BoF examine the Balmain digital revolution
Olivier Rousteing has officially become the most followed French designer on Instagram, an idea that is hard to fathom for some of the old school thinkers, where Balmain's roots were planted. Once part of the historical Parisian tradition of conducting couture under the strictest of confidence and secrecy, hand picking select titles to share exclusives with. Those days are gone and the young creative director has enacted a digital revolution for the heritage Parisian house.
Rousteing was appointed internally back in 2011 at the tender age of 24, having worked along-side his predecessor, Christophe Decarnin, a move that chief executive Emmanuel Diemoz expected to be a wise evolution for the brand although he admits he did not expect it to become the revolution, that it has.
Rousteing's youth in many ways is the key the brand's incremental success since he took the creative reins, because with that comes authenticity: "I was born with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Skype. The fact is I love communicating with people. I love pop culture, and pop, for me, is popular and population."
Between Rousteing's personal social media profile on Instagram and the Balmain profile, together they reach more than 47 million followers, dwarfing the official Instagram sites of other French brands like Chanel (3.3 million) and Givenchy (1.8 million). A new and cost effect method that Diemoz is pleased to say helps the brand to meet new customers, and elevate the label from being a traditionalist Parisian house to being a truly international house.
And who are these 'customers' Rousteing and Diemoz speak of? Celebrity brand aficionados include Rihanna and Kim Kardashian-West, a signal of the new Balmain woman. When asked who exactly the Balmain woman is Rousteing pontificates on the diverse values and ages of the customers that the brand serve. When pushed he doesn't hesitate to sum up the one common denominator of them all: Power.
"The difference between me and Christophe... he was more into streetwear, where as I am more into glamour. He was more into Kate Moss, I am more into Rihanna, he was more into rock and roll, I am more into pop and hip hop, it is just different vibes, different generations, a different age. What I wanted to do from day one was keep the DNA of the house, but really before Christophe [Decarnin], so Pierre Balmain. Always believing in a really strong woman... he worked a lot on the tailoring and also the couture aspect, the embroidery and the craftsmanship. That is an aesthetic I have always loved." continues Rousteing on the direction he has taken the look of his collections. Keeping them in line with the current landscape of pop culture, as well as the house's founding design DNA.
Whilst the visibility, and vision of the brand is very much on the rise, thanks to Rousteing's trailblazing use of social media platforms. Diemoz still faces the challenge of converting this into commercial success. The Balmain business is, still, relatively small, with revenue of over €30 million in 2012, growing about 20 percent per year, it still a long way off the figures of other larger Parisian houses such as Chanel and Givenchy, despite its superior Instagram reach. It was only in 2004, that the house faced bankruptcy.
The new London store is among a number of new retail roll out's planned for the coming year, to help bring the brand's digital success into tangible fruition. Rousteing also has his own, somewhat sentimental motivation to drive the label forward, in honour of the brand's late chairman, Alain Hivelin, who passed away at the end of 2015:
"My president, our president, passed away three months ago, and his dream was to make Balmain international; a global, strong and powerful empire. My goal with Balmain today is actually to make his dream come true. My goal in the next years is making sure that the name of the brand is something that every continent will know."
Take a look at the interview in detail in the video below: