French couture house Balmain embraces social media

Located at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, the store (left) opens tomorrow.
Located at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, the store (above) opens tomorrow.PHOTO: BALMAIN
Olivier Rousteing (above) started in Balmain as a womenswear designer.
Olivier Rousteing (above) started in Balmain as a womenswear designer.PHOTO: OLIVIER ROUSTEING/ INSTAGRAM

Its creative director Olivier Rousteing takes to Instagram to let people see the brand from his perspective

By his own admission, Olivier Rousteing, creative director of French couture house Balmain, is not a patient person.

"I love it when everything is clear and really fast," he says.

It is no surprise then that the 31- year-old Frenchman embraces social media, as he says it has allowed him to express himself in the best and fastest way, and brings a youthful energy and relevance to the brand.

Rousteing is ever-present on Instagram, where he has 4.6 million followers on his personal account (@olivier_rousteing) - more than half of the 7.1 million on Balmain's account (@Balmain).

Photos of his latest collections intersperse with wefies with esteemed fashion insiders such as former Vogue Paris editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld and glamorous model friends dressed in Balmain.

"It's important to share your fashion with people who are going to be inspired," says Rousteing over the telephone from Paris. He was speaking ahead of tomorrow's opening of the brand's first standalone store in South-east Asia, at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.

He adds in French-accented English: "I love social media because it (provides) a different image of the house and it's an interesting way to invite people to discover the Balmain world through my eyes. I like sharing my vision with my clients or followers straightaway."

Is there anything he would never post on Instagram?

The bachelor, who joined Balmain as a womenswear designer in 2009 before becoming creative director in 2011, clears his throat before replying: "My sad emotions, (such as) crying. My vulnerable side is something that belongs to me which I won't share because my Instagram is all about sharing ideas and communicating what I want."

When he first wanted to get the brand on social media, critics questioned how he could bring luxury to the platform. "I was just, like, you had the same problem 10 years ago when we started selling on the Internet (but) you will see in five years how important social media will be, which is what happened."

Rousteing, who was adopted from an orphanage in Bordeaux when he was a baby, adds: "There were so many moments of my life where it was difficult because when people are old-minded and don't understand what is next, they can be really tough on you. But it makes me feel stronger and even less afraid of (making) my own choices."

And while certain designers lament the downsides to social media - such as the risk of high-street labels copying their latest runway designs before their own collections hit the stores - Rousteing is "not scared at all".

"When you are copied, (it means that) you are creative. I'm actually pleased and proud when I'm copied," he says.

Apart from using social media, he has also made Balmain more accessible and relevant through collaborations with mass-market brands such as Swedish clothing retailer H&M in 2015 and French beauty giant L'Oreal on a lipstick collection that is slated to launch in September.

He has also made it a point to have more affordably priced items in his new accessories line, which was launched earlier this year. The average starting price of Balmain couture clothing is a five-figure sum and he is aware that not everyone can afford it.

Handbags from his accessories line, which will be sold here, are priced between $2,300 and $7,000.

Rousteing maintains that he has retained the high-fashion appeal of the 72-year-old brand, which is known for its pearl-embellished and elaborately beaded clothing. And more collaborations would not dilute the brand, but instead help show its diversity, he says.

"I'm not afraid at all. We're not going to lose the richness and couture of the brand (with collaborations). Actually, I am making it even more relevant - I design clothes for them to be seen and not for a museum and, thanks to those collaborations, you will see more (of them)."

Last month, he dressed the ballet dancers of the Paris Opera in beaded nude bodysuits and tights, and silver jackets embellished with pearls and sequins for their performance titled Renaissance.

So what is next for Balmain? Rousteing says he does not know.

"If you had told me I would have done L'Oreal and the Paris Opera five years ago, I would not have expected it," he says. "But I know I'm always staying connected and that is the most important. Working by instinct and also with my heart - that's what I will always do."

Balmain opens first South-east Asian store here

Balmain's new 1,647 sq ft store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands features floor-to-ceiling mirrored pillars, marble tables and gold and brass accents that closely mirror its boutique in Paris.

The Singapore store will carry the full line-up of men's and women's clothing and accessories. Prices for women's shoes are priced between $900 and $3,000, while women's handbags are $2,300 to $7,000.

Mr Gael Hornebeck, general manager of Balmain Asia, says the Marina Bay Sands location was chosen as it is one of Singapore's most iconic tourist spots and will allow the brand to reach regional and international consumers. About half of Balmain's customers are from Asia.

He adds: "Singapore is the modern window for South-east Asia. By being here, we are able to reach not just Singaporeans, but also tourists from countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and China."

The store is at B1-11 The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Avenue Singapore; open: 10.30am to 11pm (Mondays to Thursdays and Sundays), 10.30am to 11.30pm (Fridays and Saturdays); tel: 6688-7160.

Alyssa Woo

Rousteing on

The style of Singaporean women

"What I think is really impressive is how they wear couture pieces so well. They wear it really casually and it feels like couture meets day wear. This is something that I'm really loving."

What he loves about Singapore

"The (sense of) tradition is strong but, at the same time, it feels new and modern. I love that balance of making the traditional cool again and futuristic at the same time."

How the brand chooses who to work with, including the hottest models of today such as Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Doutzen Kroes

"You need to be confident and not be afraid of people's opinions. It's all about (having) a strong personality and a strong state of mind. It's not a matter of (having a certain) body shape, colour or background."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2017, with the headline 'Peek into Balmain through social media'. Print Edition | Subscribe