Shoppers went crazy for H&M's most recent fashion collaboration, fighting over the designs of Paris-based luxury brand Balmain. Much of the credit goes to Olivier Rousteing, who was named the label's creative director just four years ago at the tender age of 25. He's since taken the brand to new heights: Balmain reportedly generated $32 million in revenue last year, up 20% from 2013. The brand has also expanded its store count to include flagships in London and New York.
His unique background -- born in Bordeaux, Mr. Rousteing is black and was adopted by white parents -- has helped inspire his creative designs, which cling to the curves of celebrities from Rihanna to Kim Kardashian. With 1.8 million personal Instagram followers, Mr. Rousteing has also tapped into an online following unmatched by most of his peers.
"Social media is the new era. It's a way to communicate that is important for your business but also for your personal story," he said. "It's the new way of advertising and it's way stronger than many magazines. … It's advertising my brand in an honest way."
Ad Age: What's your definition of creativity?
Olivier Rousteing: My definition of creativity five years ago is really different from what it is today. Five years ago, I was just trying to do beautiful clothes on beautiful models on the runway. Now, it's seeing my show but also enjoying the days after, when I see real people wearing my clothes. My creative process is being inspired by what's around me: an exhibition, a music video, my muse, my friend, a song, archives, everything. It depends on my mood and what I have around me. For my first collection at Balmain, I was dreaming of Vegas. I had another show where my creativity was all about diversity, and going for a more political feel.
Ad Age: What was a recent creative challenge and how did you tackle it?
Mr. Rousteing: The collaboration with H&M was a challenge. When you work for a luxury brand like Balmain, where not everyone can afford the prices, that's one thing, but when you work for H&M, it's global. It was a big challenge for me to design for so many different countries: Japan, India, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, America, Russia. I was proud to know my collection was well-received globally. It's a big challenge for a designer to make sure every country can know the brand you work for and appreciate your work.
Ad Age: H&M has said interest in the collaboration exceeded that of its other fashion partnerships. Were you surprised by that?
Mr. Rousteing: I never expected it could be so strong. At the opening in Paris on the Champs-Élysées, I was expecting 100 people, not 1,000. I didn't expect that windows would be broken or that they would fight for my jacket. I was more than surprised—I was shocked. I worked hard, but I didn't work hard to get this response. I worked hard to make sure people would be happy with my clothes.
Ad Age: You just turned 30. Happy birthday! What are your goals for 2016?
Mr. Rousteing: I never plan anything; it's all about instinct and emotions. If you had asked me in 2014 what would happen in 2015, I would have told you that I wasn't expecting the emotions that would be around for H&M, I wouldn't have expected the success. For me, 2016 is the same. I have different collaborations that are going to happen and I have many more things to do. I'm going to open fashion more to music and work more with the different music that I love. I just want to make sure I'm happy and satisfied when I go to sleep in my bed.
See some of Mr. Rousteing's noteworthy Instagram posts below: