FROM COUTURE TO THE WORLD. DA MAN Style talks to Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing and H&M’s Ann-Sofie Johansson to learn how the latter makes the former’s couture-like aesthetics accessible to the masses
For decades, H&M has made fashion affordable through both its seasonal collections or in collaborations with some of the industry’s heavyweights. Earlier this year, the fast-fashion chain announced that it will launch a collaborative collection with Balmain in November, making the brand’s couture-level offerings readily available for a bigger audience. This couldn’t have been more exciting, as Olivier Rousteing, the creative director of Balmain, is currently one of the most talked-about and intriguing young designers with a huge following thanks to his energetic designs and pop charm. Through this collaboration, Rousteing shared the message of his creations—in the form of highly sought-after pieces bearing his trademark ingredients of audacity, extravagance and individuality—to a new generation.
Peak-lapel blazer is one of the formalwear offerings
DA MAN: Congratulations on your collaboration with H&M, Olivier! How did it initially come about, and how was the experience of working with the design team so far?
Olivier Rousteing: I am so happy and proud to be collaborating with H&M! It is a dream come true for me that H&M wants to welcome Balmain into their world. It all happened very naturally—H&M asked to meet, and for us it was the perfect time to collaborate. I have had so much fun working with H&M. They have really pushed themselves to create this collection and it’s was very emotional for me when I finally saw what they have achieved.
DA MAN: Your design for Balmain involves intricate craftsmanship and exquisite materials. How do you adjust that level of quality with H&M’s more accessible approach?
Olivier Rousteing: With Balmain, there is never any compromise. If you collaborate with us, there has to be the most amazing embellishments, rich details and the sharpest silhouettes. The people at H&M are amazing because they want the pure DNA of Balmain. I love the level of craftsmanship in this collection, like the black blazer entirely covered with rope detailing, or the leather jacket with crests and emblems in metallic thread. But every single piece in this collection is important for me. If you can only afford the logo T-shirt, you know that I have made sure the cut, fit and quality is perfect—and totally Balmain.
Military details is one of Balmain‘s most prominent elements
DA MAN: In the last Paris Men’s Fashion Week you staged the first runway show featuring Balmain’s men’s line. In your collaborative collection with H&M there will also be a selection of menswear pieces. What are the aesthetics you follow when designing for men?
Olivier Rousteing: Menswear is something that’s very personal to me, and it has changed so much since I became creative director. Our menswear has become so much more confident and strong, and reflects the way that I like to dress, and how I like to see my friends and icons dress, too. There is the streetwear vibe of the sports hero; the glamour and attitude of the performer onstage; and the tailored sophistication of the jetsetter. You’ll find these aspects of Balmain in the H&M collection, and every single piece has an effortless feeling, because menswear has to be real.
Leather biker jackets are quintessentially Balmain
DA MAN: Do you approach menswear design differently from womenswear? Are there any specific challenges you have to overcome?
Olivier Rousteing: When I started as creative director of Balmain, my menswear was a bit more cautious. But as our men’s business grew, we’ve found out that guys want the same glamor and attitude as their female friends. That’s really exciting for me as a designer, because I love to break boundaries. At the men’s show in June, I loved showing women’s looks alongside the menswear, because it showed how close the two are, and that Balmain is such a complete and unified world.
The logo sweatshirt will also be in the collection
DA MAN: What do you hope to achieve through this collaboration, both professionally as the creative director of Balmain and personally?
Olivier Rousteing: My biggest hashtag is #diversity, and H&M is all about diversity in many different ways. Fashion should be for everyone, no matter what color or age. H&M is present in so many countries around the world; it is amazing to be able to spread this message of diversity with them. Balmain x H&M is a collection for everyone, no matter where they are from.
Rousteing’s belief that Balmain x H&M is a collection for everyone echoes what Karl Lagerfeld—the first designer to collaborate with H&M—said in 2004, “Design isn’t a question of price anymore; H&M has made inexpensive desirable.” Creating an affordable range of designer’s pieces was groundbreaking then, and it still is today. Once again, H&M has proved more than capable of capturing the DNA of each brand without compromising the designer’s vision. It may be challenging at times, the results have been worth the effort. To illustrate how the anticipated Balmain x H&M collection was conceived, Ann-Sofie Johansson, the creative advisor of H&M, shares the behind-the-scenes story.
Ann-Sofie Johansson during fitting
DA MAN: This year marks the second decade of H&M’s collaborative ventures with notable designers, from Karl Lagerfeld to Isabel Marant and Alexander Wang, among others. What makes this collaboration with Balmain and Olivier Rousteing different?
Ann-Sofie Johansson: With each of our collaborations, we want to give our customers the chance to experience something totally new and different from what we have done before. Right now, Balmain is one of the world’s most exciting fashion labels, bringing together traditional techniques and craftsmanship with an amazing pop sensibility. Olivier has captured the mood of the moment, and this collection is full of pieces that I know people are going to love wearing.
DA MAN: Having worked with a number of different collaborators, what have you found to be the keys to a successful collaboration?
Ann-Sofie Johansson: We love getting to know the designers, and understanding how they work and make their labels such a success. When we first meet with them, we always say that we want the pure DNA of their brand and for them to have fun with the collection. We want the collaborations to be like a celebration of fashion, and we are thrilled with the collection that Olivier has designed for us. It captures the Balmain vibe perfectly, and really shows the passion that Olivier puts into all of his works.
DA MAN: What kind of aesthetic and design adjustments does H&M have to make for this collection? And what challenges have you faced when working with designers in general?
Ann-Sofie Johansson: This collection features some of the most complex and highly realized pieces we’ve ever created for a collaborative work. When we first approached Balmain, we knew that it would be hard work to produce the pieces, especially those with intricate embellishments. But we love a challenge, and we have built many great relationships with our suppliers. We are so proud of the results, and were so happy when we showed the first samples to Olivier. It was an emotional moment for him and a special one for us.
“There is the streetwear vibe of the sports hero, the glamor and attitude of the performer onstage and the tailored sophistication of the jetsetter”
DA MAN: What kind of response do you expect from the Southeast Asian market in regard to this collaborative collection?
Ann-Sofie Johansson: For us at H&M, fashion is a global conversation. Balmain has fans all around the world who will want to wear these amazing pieces that Olivier has created for us. There’s one collection that’ll be available in selected stores worldwide on November 5, so everyone has the chance to wear a piece of Balmain. We’re so excited to see what people will buy all around the world when they share it with the hashtag #HMBalmaination, and how people wear the pieces for themselves with their own personal style.
DA MAN: Lastly, what’s in the future for H&M’s collaborations? What are your next goals?
Ann-Sofie Johansson: When we started our collaborations, we had no idea they would become a global fashion phenomenon. It’s something that we look forward to every year, and we always love to do something bigger and more exciting than what we’ve done before. We have so many plans for future collections and collaborations; you’ll just have to wait and see what we do next!