The average consumer might be more likely to recognize Olivier Rousteing's handsome face from selfies with Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and Victoria's Secret models than for his work as the creative director of Balmain, but there's no doubt that the 29-year-old designer's social media savvy has been invaluable to the brand he leads. Not only is Balmain the first French label to surpass a million followers on Instagram, but its popularity among celebrities and in the general zeitgeist has also made Rousteing famous in his own right, and this phenomenon has led him to book a slew of magazine covers, including the May 2015 issue of Out.
Posing with his signature pout in a gilded mirror for a portrait by Pierre et Gilles, Rousteing's cover may seem completely superficial, but the inside story addresses some serious business within the fashion industry — specifically the racism he's dealt with along the way. "People were like, 'Oh my God, he’s a minority taking over a French house,'" Rousteing told the magazine about the rumblings he heard when he took over at Balmain in 2011. “For me, I’m just French. Yeah, I’m black, but go out into the street — there’s black, white, Chinese, Arab…” He also says that he feels somewhat responsible for making a change, saying, "People post on my Instagram that they are so happy to see black boys and black girls. I’m happy that they see it and don’t think that fashion belongs to white people."
Speaking of Instagram, Rousteing says that staying connected to the world and to his fans is one of the most important aspects of his job, and that the comments are often more influential and meaningful to him than what critics say about his collections. That being said, he does employ a certain strategy when it comes to his personal posts:
Instagram is selling a dream ... Instagram is my perfect life, and I suck my cheeks in. Of course, I cry and have family or personal problems and am heartbroken, but I don’t need to show that. It makes your life look cooler than it is. My job is to give a happy message about the brand to interest people.
Plus, he can't post whatever he wants without the bigwigs at Balmain taking notice — and sometimes getting a little angry. “When I was in Mykonos, I posted a selfie in my bed almost naked,” he told the magazine. “You could almost see my butt. But I love my butt. Why can’t I take a picture of my butt? They said, ‘Next time it’s going to be your willy in the picture.’ I said, ‘No, just my butt.’”
Read the full, fun story over at Out magazine, and pick up the issue on newsstands now.