It was during the recent spring collections in Paris, when it seemed every French house – from Chloé to Saint Laurent to Louis Vuitton – was sending denim down their runways, that we photographed Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing wearing his own favorite double-denim look in a pile of the couture-jean pieces he’d designed a year earlier. Chills! There were the Balmain jackets we had loved (and wanted so badly to buy) at the beginning of the year, the blue-on-blue that Olivier was wearing currently, and the constant parade of newness on the runways buzzing in the background – the past, present, and future of our number one fabric all colliding in a single sitting.
“I think denim can inspire every single house in Paris right now,” Olivier told us, acknowledging its versatility, but also its heritage as a hip-factor lifted from American workwear by European designers first. We love that Olivier mentioned the jeans made by Jean Paul Gaultier and Gianni Versace as some of his own inspirations because it nodded at this, and placed denim right where it is today: deeply and probably forever in fashion.
Balmain is a house with jeans in its own history, too (who can forget the sexy, rockstar-styles Olivier’s predecessor Christophe Decarnin used to show?). The designer knows this, and knows that the look is something he needs to honor (see the classic moto jeans he makes by the dozen, still), and evolve. “In the end, I’m always pushing to create something new,” he told us. “How can I to add a new treatment, a new color? It’s always really, really exciting seeing all my denim before the launch of a new collection.”
Today, while toasting to Balmain’s new London flagship and website (more e-comm!), we look back at Olivier’s spring 2014 denim – a favorite – while waiting anxiously for what’s next…
Tell us about what you wore for our shoot.
I love mixing different colors of denim together, I really love that. The jeans I’m wearing I’ve had for maybe three years, and my denim shirt is actually from the womenswear collection, but in a bigger size for me, and it’s from two years ago.
Do you wear jeans when you work?
I mean, usually I wear my jeans backstage at the shows. I feel really comfortable in my jeans, you know, I feel like no one and nothing can deter me, in a way. I just go in my own world. It feels like home.
What do you love most about denim as a fabric, and in fashion?
The difference between jeans clothes and what is not is that jeans you can wear forever. The older it is, the better it is. My jeans, my shirt – they’re something that can be from five years ago, or from my first collection for Balmain, and I can still wear them today.
What I love…I think denim can inspire every single house in Paris right now. There’s denim that could be more like Jean Paul Gaultier in the 90s – Madonna in the bustier in jeans, for example. Or Gianni Versace’s Jeans Couture, or Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel. I think whatever style you have – sexy, chic, more camp, whatever – denim is something that agrees with everybody. It’s OK with everybody. I can do denim at Balmain and Carven can do denim. Everybody can take a different approach. Minimal, maximal.
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Tell us about how you use it at Balmain. There isn’t a heavy denim message in your spring 2015 collection, but last spring was all about it.
My last spring/summer collection, 2014, was really inspired by old houses from France. I felt like pushing my town and my city. The quilted denim was an homage to Chanel. I love to use denim as the base, and make it richer. So you can see, I used some padding to make a thicker, tailored jacket, not just a jean jacket, but something that you can really wear to an event. I was working with super expensive jersey mixed with crystals, mixed with gold and woven denim; creating new textures. At Balmain we’re expected to use really expensive fabrics, French fabrics, like tapestries or textiles made with different kinds of craftsmanship. For me, the new really interesting and expensive fabric is one that’s maybe not new, but being used in a different way. So denim being treated like a couture fabric…That’s what I really, really love.
Where do you see the most exciting things happening in denim today?
I remember when I went to L.A. for the first time to shoot my first campaign for Balmain, I really loved L.A. I loved the light, I loved the energy. Everybody wears denim and jeans there. I went to a party in Beverly Hills and a girl was wearing one of my couture dresses in denim. In L.A. people wear denim in really, really fresh ways – as denim jackets, denim mini dresses, skirts… jumpsuit, bomber, or just jeans. You can really feel the denim spirit in LA.
How would you compare the spirit of denim in L.A. to the spirit of denim in Paris?
I think Paris is about codes, and sometimes Parisians don’t want to twist and change the codes. So jeans in Paris are pants. For women and men, it’s the same. In Paris it’s more casual, maybe worn with a leather jacket. It’s a uniform to go out, to go to work, and everything, in Paris. And it’s all about blue…but in L.A. I think it’s more interesting. In L.A. you see denim can be an entire outfit – it can have a different silhouette, it can be a tailored jacket, it can be a skirt. People that wear denim in L.A. love to twist it.
BLUE JEAN BABES Looks from Olivier’s spring ’14 women’s and men’s collections for Balmain.
Balmain has a tradition of making some of the sexiest and most amazing jeans – moto jeans, rocker jeans…the attitude of Balmain is almost inextricably linked to cool jeans.
I think what you say is completely true. Balmain has had a lot of success with denim, with ripped denim…When I was the right hand [to designer Christophe Decarnin], I was working on denim a lot – ripped jeans and streetwear jeans. Then when I got the job as head of the house, I wanted to push it. Now I am more into couture and luxury. I still know how to do denim pants that are casual and street, but I also want to take it to the next level. Usually, designers put denim in the show to tone down the collection. Me, I just want to use it to make it stronger.