Just hours before the much-anticipated runway show debut of Balmain's collection for H&M, designer Olivier Rousteing sat down for two consecutive press conferences in downtown New York City on Tuesday with Vogue Runway's Nicole Phelps and H&M's Head of Design, Ann-Sofie Johansson. Rousteing discussed his favorite pieces, how he hopes to satisfy the brand's fans and, of course, what kinds of compromises the luxury house had to reach with the fast fashion retailer in order to translate the couture pieces into accessible prices.
"I was like more, more, more, and you were like, 'Yes, it's fine more but just a little bit less,'" said Rousteing, referring to Johansson and laughing. "We managed to make it happen, to find our compromise. I think Ann-Sofie wanted longer dresses and I wanted shorter. I wanted really, really, high heels and she went, 'Let's do 2 [centimeters] less, we’ll be fine.'" Johansson agreed, noting that the dress lengths in the collection are still quite short.
"I learned a lot from this give and take — way more than I was expecting, professionally wise as a designer because when you have to respect price ranges you need to work a lot," said Rousteing, adding that his biggest priorities were craftsmanship, tailoring and fabric. "I'm really really proud of [the collection]."
The designer explained that working with H&M had always been a goal of his; he even remembers waiting in line for the limited-edition pieces when the retailer started producing them a decade ago (beginning with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004). "I always say I'm the H&M generation, my first jacket was from H&M," he said. "Being a part of H&M today is more than being part of fashion — it's sharing your vision with the global world."
Despite designing dresses that cost over $16,000 as his day job, Rousteing says he understands the importance of the collaboration's affordability on a personal level. "[Ten years ago] I would watch the fashion shows of the big brands and I wished I could afford this jacket, I wished I could be a part of this world and this universe," he said. "Many of my followers are like, 'I wish I could have that, I wish I could have that,' so I tried to make sure that the aesthetic of what we pulled out was close to what they want."
Rousteing likened the collection to fireworks — it's going to last only "two or three minutes," thanks to the industry's lightening-fast pace and how quickly the pieces are likely to sell out, but it will be an unforgettable experience that he said will "refresh" the brand with youthful, cool excitement. "Fireworks in the middle of my career, fireworks in the middle of Balmain, fireworks in the middle of H&M," he said.
No conversation with Rousteing would be complete without mention of his social media influence. "Instagram [where he has 1.4 million followers] is for me a way to see fashion in a more honest way, more than some magazines — because if you like me, you follow me, if you don't like me, you don't follow me. It's pretty easy, just one click." In interview with The New Yorker earlier this month, Rousteing expressed frustrations with legacy media brands who are often critical about his work, but at the press conference Tuesday he was more diplomatic about their role. "I think the fashion magazines are really important for the fashion industry," he said. "But I just feel like thanks to social media, magazines need to find a new way to be relevant."
See the full Balmain x H&M collection here.