Olivier-Rousteing-BalmainRousteing was raised in Bordeaux and has more experience than his tender years might indicate. He left the fashion school ESMOD after a year and half to go to Rome “and live la dolce vita.”

His parents weren’t all that thrilled. “They always told me, ‘It’s good, but you could do better'” and edict he still tries to live by. Italy, he says, laughing, was more fun than work, but he sent his portfolio to Roberto Cavalli, moved to Tuscany, and stayed with the company for five years, assisting Peter Dundas, before returning to France to run Decarnin’s Balmain studio. “I was younger than some of the interns,” he remember.

Now he lives in the Fourth Arrondissement, in a former maid’s quarters he can see the stars from a big window at night, and rides his bike to work unless it’s raining, in which case he takes of Metro. There isn’t much downtime, but he says he loves being on the job, he and his team, a cool young bunch from Chile, Denmark, Puerto Rico and other far-flung ports, sometimes work far into the night.

“We’re sketching and eating pizza–sometimes the house model is trying on clothes with Chicken McNuggets in her mouth! I always ask the girl how the clothes seem; would they wear it? I love tailoring and proportion, but I’m not a girl.

I need to ask, ‘It’s not a vulgar, is it? How does it feel'” Did anyone tell him that the fringed Perfecto was unbelievably heavy? “No! In fact, the model who wore it loved it! She said, ‘I feel super powerful; I feel strong.'”

When a carton of vintage bullfighter ensembles arrived in the office, on loan from a specialty tailor in Arles, Rousteing photographed himself wearing all of the costumes. But if that all seems a bit light and silly, the result of this research is explained in deadly earnest.

“There is no seam on the shoulder,” he says, fondling the arm of a tiny frock of embossed black-and-white leather, inspired by the bolero. “I didn’t want a seam, so the artwork can follow the shape of the body.”

Turning to a jacket distinguished by tough, almost art brut lacing, Rousteing smiles. “We had so much fun while we were doing this; we were all in the studio late, lacing together! You know, it’s Elvis, it’s hard-core,” he says thoughtfully. “But then there is the obsession with the tailoring–the sophistication. It’s really for an elegant woman.”

© Lynn Yaeger @ Vogue Magazine December 2011

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