24 Hours in New York With Olivier Rousteing
“Oooh, look, it’s Balmain!, said EVERYONE!
On the eve of opening Balmain’s New York flagship, Olivier Rousteing hits the town with Lynn Yaeger.
“Oooh, look, it’s Balmai!n” shrieks a person, whose gender it is impossible to discern in the dark, at the GMHC Latex Ball. Despite the lack of light, the fan insists on a selfie with Olivier Rousteing, and the creative director of Balmain—on a flying visit to his beloved Manhattan from his home in Paris—is happy to oblige.
Rousteing, 30, is in town in anticipation of two major brand-building events. There is the imminent opening of the new Balmain boutique in the U.S., being erected in the heart of SoHo. Designed by Studio KO, the team responsible for London’s Chiltern Firehouse, the shop is meant to evoke an imaginary pied-à-terre that might have belonged to Pierre Balmain, down to the mid-century-modern French furniture. And at the other end of the spectrum—but maybe not!—there’s the just-launched Balmain x H&M collaboration, which offers the designer’s cool, sexed-up vision at extremely reasonable prices.
GMHC’s voguing ball is just one of our stops in a whirlwind tour of Rousteing’s favorite New York haunts. He has been known to enjoy brunch at the Odeon the morning after a late night; less predictably, he has been spotted at least once agape at the offerings at the Toys “R” Us in Times Square. At the Soho Grand, where he is staying this time around, his leather-clad bottom slinks easily into a plush chair in the lounge as he muses on the differences between Paris and Manhattan. “In Paris, it seems like everyone worries all the time about ‘What is French?’ Who cares? Here in New York City it’s so global. Something interesting is happening in America—it’s about mixing and diversity; it’s about confidence. No matter who you are, be yourself—America will love you for that!” And there is another reason he likes the U.S. so much: “I am like a machine—I want to make money! In New York, it’s a compliment to make money; in France, they think you’re commercial and cheap.”
Asked if he would like to bring someone to the ball, he texts two friends—Rihannaand Justin Bieber—but alas, neither of them is in town. Doesn’t he know any normal people? “Those are my friends! They are!” he insists. And it’s true: These two and many other boldfaced names, including most predominantly the expansive Kardashian clan, make frequent appearances in Rousteing’s famous Instagram. The designer wunderkind is a genius at manipulating social media—a revolutionary turn of events for an old-school French house—and has nearly a million and a half followers.
In the car up to Harlem, where we are having dinner at the Red Rooster, I implore him to turn the music down (I’m old! I can’t hear you!). He complies but tells me, “I couldn’t do fashion without music—I couldn’t sketch! I love Rihanna—‘Bitch Better Have My Money!’—and also Ruby Rose, Beyoncé, Jason Derulo, Britney Spears. . . . ”
Sitting outside on Malcolm X Boulevard, sharing a fried yardbird, he is mesmerized by the passing scene. The street action is nothing at all like the languid splendor that delights the Parisian flaneur: Buses are belching, music is blasting from a thousand car radios, guys are popping wheelies, big girls are prancing by in skintight ensembles. Rousteing finds it all astonishing and wonderful. “I love the vibe—the ethnicity, the street, pushing the boundaries. Fashion can help to push the system, too—all the good art is political. Fashion should also be kind of disturbing.” A selfie-seeker interrupts the meal, which only makes Rousteing happier. “I’ve become a figure for a lot of people, and I’m really proud.”
Though it is near midnight when we arrive at the ball, things are just getting started on the hyperactive stage—James Brown–worthy velvet capes! Mickey Mouse pants! Spangled masks! We decide to return later and head for Pretty Ugly, a Saturday-night party in the Diamond Horseshoe, in the bowels of the Paramount Hotel. Among the inebriated club kids, the cast of characters tonight includes Nicolas Ghesquière and Jarvis Derrell, the guy behind the cult Tumblr blog She Has Had It.
More selfies! More attention! Rousteing is clearly in his element. Does he ever get tired of his fans and long for a bit of peace and quiet? You must be nuts. “Being popular is cool, being generous is cool—I love generosity! I plan to be proud and satisfied. I was the Balmain baby. Now Balmain is my baby.”