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Balmain’s golden boy Olivier Rousteing breaks new ground

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“Jewelry has always been part of my aesthetic, as you can imagine. It’s part of my DNA,” says Olivier Rousteing. From behind his large black marble desk at the top of Balmain’s headquarters in Paris’s 8th arrondissement, he rolls up the sleeves of his cleverly tattered Breton fabric to reveal forearms decorated with mounds of bangles and bangles.

“East, [he gestures to his right] is Balmain jewelry. This is my Rolex, this is my Cartier…” On his other arm is a more modest and perhaps sentimental selection, including memorabilia from his rare off-duty moments and a chain of black wooden beads given to him by his father. of the. “I love to mix my jewelry with some that, say, I bought on vacation. I’m in Sicily, Mykonos or Los Angeles and I’m just going to get something that isn’t too expensive.”

This combination of hard luxury tempered with accessibility has long informed Rousteing’s approach at Balmain, where he has sought to open up to the world of fashion since becoming the first black creative director of a major French luxury house in 2011, with only 25 years old. Balmain’s turnover has increased sevenfold since Rousteing joined, a milestone at a time when the rate of creative direction change in luxury fashion is so high that many barely get a chance to unpack their bags.

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On the one hand, Rousteing has positioned the house as a high-octane, star-powered palace of glamour, courting celebrity friends like Kim Kardashian and Rihanna, who starred in their first Balmain couture campaigns, as well as former first lady of France. Carla Bruni, who closed the runway for her 10th anniversary in 2021. On the other hand, she has pulled back the curtains on fashion’s inner sanctum, opening invites to some of her runway shows from the usual 500 or more. industry types to 6,000 fans and renaming the event an annual Balmain Festival.

Balmain Emblem bead necklace in yellow gold, onyx, diamond and tsavorite beads, £13,000, balmain.com © Alex Brunet and Olga Varova for the FT

Large Balmain Emblem bracelet in yellow gold, lacquer, onyx, diamonds and tsavorite, £26,000; Balmain Emblem signet ring, in yellow gold, onyx, lacquer, set with diamonds and tsavorite, £15,000; Balmain Labyrinth Frieze ring in yellow gold, £2,000; Balmain Labyrinth Frieze pavé ring in yellow gold set with diamonds, £6400, all on balmain.com © Alex Brunet and Olga Varova for the FT

So it makes sense that Rousteing would add another category to its Balmain portfolio with the first fine jewelry collection in the brand’s 77-year history, and its timing couldn’t be better. McKinsey predicts that high-end branded fine jewelry will grow at a rate of 8% to 12% per year between 2019 and 2025, roughly three times faster than the general luxury goods sector. With the vast majority of sales still going to off-brand items, the category is ripe for a big luxury acquisition. Since early 2019, LVMH has acquired Tiffany & Co for $15.8 billion, Richemont has bought Buccellati from Chinese group Gangtai, and fashion houses Gucci, Prada and Giorgio Armani have launched lines of fine jewelry.

In front of the designer, next to a bottle of Perrier Citron and a pack of cigarettes, is an edited selection of the new collection, made up of 32 rings, necklaces, brooches, earrings and bracelets (most of which are already on loan to glossy magazines). to photograph) with prices ranging from £1,600 to £31,000. The style is distinctively coppery, edgy yet strikingly elegant, done in yellow gold, onyx and diamonds, the only color being an electric chlorophyll green tsavorite sprinkled here or there. Each piece is made with 18K recycled gold or certified by the Responsible Jewelery Council and traceable gemstones. The French workshops chosen to make the jewelery are also RJC certified to ensure greater transparency during the artisan process.

Sunglasses, pendant, onyx beads, rings, wristwatch and bangles

From left: Oliver Rousteing’s own sunglasses; Balmain Labyrinth Frieze pendant in yellow gold, £1,700; Balmain Emblem bead necklace in yellow gold, onyx, diamond and tsavorite beads, £13,000; Balmain Labyrinth PB single earring in yellow gold set with a diamond, £2,000; Balmain Emblem signet ring, in yellow gold, onyx, lacquer, set with diamonds and tsavorite, £15,000; Balmain Labyrinth PB pavé signet ring in yellow gold set with diamonds £9,800; Balmain Labyrinth Frieze ring in yellow gold, £2,000; Balmain Labyrinth Frieze pavé ring in yellow gold set with diamonds, £6,400; Oliver Rousteing’s own watch; Large Balmain Emblem bracelet in yellow gold, lacquer, onyx, diamonds and tsavorite, £26,000; Balmain Labyrinth Frieze pavé bracelet in yellow gold set with diamonds, £14,000, all Balmain available at balmain.com © Alex Brunet and Olga Varova for the FT

Without an archive of fine jewelry to draw from, Rousteing drew on previous designs from the house’s ready-to-wear line, intending to create future family heirlooms. “Balmain is all about glamour, also about timelessness, that heritage feel of a house that was built in 1945 by Monsieur Balmain after World War II. There is a sense of couture in my clothes, of uniqueness and timelessness, and what more than a jewelry line to create something timeless? Rousteing asks. “Me [hope] With these jewels, someone will buy them and in 10 years they will give them to their son or grandson. This, for me, will be the greatest pride, to bring a memory to a family and become a heritage”.

The collection revolves around the house’s key codes, such as the coat of arms, often pressed into the gold-tone buttons that finish the house’s signature blazers. In the jewelry offering, it can be found in delicate medallion-shaped discs that mark the finest pieces in the collection or stamped on chunky signet rings and cuffs. There is opulent shading accented with a jewel at its apex, first seen in Rousteing’s celebrated Fabergé-inspired collection from 2012. The house’s labyrinthine monogram, reminiscent of a Greek key pattern, was first introduced by founder Pierre Balmain in 1970 in a nod to the French Renaissance. gardens, run the length of bracelets, wrap around the finger, or shorten into individual pendants or earrings. Finally, the collection’s statement necklace, half gold chain, half jet-black beads interrupted by a coat of arms, was inspired by Rousteing’s father’s wooden bead bracelet.

“What I love about this collection is that it’s genderless,” adds Rousteing. “I believe that modernity is not in the design. For me, modernity is a way of thinking. Because what may be trendy for you may not be for someone else and, I have to say, [I’m not just talking about] jewelry is related to everything”.

Olivier Rousteing’s own watch; Large Balmain Emblem bracelet in yellow gold, lacquer, onyx, diamonds and tsavorite, £26,000; Balmain Emblem signet ring, in yellow gold, onyx, lacquer, set with diamonds and tsavorite, £15,000; Balmain Labyrinth Frieze ring in yellow gold, £2,000; Balmain Labyrinth Frieze pavé ring in yellow gold set with diamonds, £6400, all Balmain available at balmain.com © Alex Brunet and Olga Varova for the FT

Adopted by white, middle-class parents and raised in Bordeaux, Rousteing is a rare example of a person of color in a high-ranking creative position at a luxury fashion house, an imbalance he speaks about openly. “I have pushed to change the codes, to be more inclusive, to talk about diversity when there was a lack of conversation about it,” says Rousteing. “Being the first black French designer in a French luxury house, I decided to fight through those 10 years and make sure I brought a conversation to the table and not kept it quiet. So I worked on my casting and campaigns, bringing the music and the world of hip hop to the fashion industry. And by bringing different Kim ambassadors [Kardashian]Rihanna, Justin Bieber, I had the opportunity to create this world that you call the Balmain Army.”

Transparency and personal acceptance have also been part of Rousteing’s own journey. In October 2020, the designer suffered first and second degree burns throughout his body. Although he is generally candid, a film crew documented the search for his biological parents for the 2019 Netflix feature. Wonder Boy — Rousteing kept the accident and subsequent year-long healing process a secret, opening up to his followers in an Instagram post and an op-ed for Vogue, describing how the incident had forced him to reassess his obsession with authenticity and perfectionism.

Rousteing is passionate about what a modern fashion and jewelery house should stand for: “Luxury does not mean being exclusive. Opening the doors does not mean not being chic. Opening the door means being inclusive, and the world needs inclusion more and more. I would say that this has been my struggle and my obstacle in my decade, making people understand. You see changes, but is it enough? No. At the end of the day, the fight is not over.”

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