Οlivier Rousteing, an invaluable asset for Balmain House over the last years, is super talented and has an eye for business. He is almost thirty years old- which is very impressive of course- he is a polyglot and has a cosmopolitan spirit. Nevertheless the real meat of his story with Balmain in my opinion, is found in the strategic choice of the House to invest on him in order to reach a new, younger and mostly diversified global target audience.
His own personal work on social media and his intention to focus on the digital field has been phenomenal; Rousteing and his ‘Balmain army’ (a range of world famous pop-celebrities and socialites, Rousteing’s close friends who are continuously activated as his brand ambassadors and endorsers) has reached high levels of global brand awareness and has given the House a new kick-rise. It would be worth mentioning that the Balmain House faced bankruptcy in 2004. Therefore, there is a lot more within this seismic change of the House than just the usual pop-culture-damning-blabber.
Rousteing, born and bred in Web 2.0, quickly realised that the power among fashion houses, intermediating bloggers and consumers has been altering the fashion landscape over the last decade. Bloggers and social media celebrities&socialites could challenge the strict rules of taste and style controlled by a very specific elite of editors within the fashion industry. Before the rise of social media and fashion blogging, communication between the fashion industry and consumers was one-sided and totally controlled by the first. As soon as the social media&blogging intermediaries arrived, consumers were able to get a closer look and interact with their favourite brands. The old traditional balance of power was interrupted and this shift has been recognized as the ”democratisation of fashion” (Pham, 2011). This did not exclude of course any power plays and hierarchical battles among popular fashion bloggers and/or social media fashion stars, but at the same time it managed to offer a totally new perspective in a tired and strangely outworn industry back then.
Yesterday, fast fashion powerhouse H&M launched its highly anticipated collaboration with Balmain: a launch that created scuffles in London and resulted in H&M Regent Street’s busiest launch ever. Rousteing of course did not make a pioneering move there: Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Alexander Wang, Maison Martin Margiela, Jimmy Choo, Roberto Cavalli, Versace, are among the impressive designers that had already collaborated with the fast fashion brand over the last years. But what Rousteing did with the particular synergy is that he proved once again to be a real growth hacker. His exemplary use of CRM, product development, customer data and social networks monopolised, once more, his decision behind the H&M deal.
Rousteing created through his ‘army’ a social media frenzy, before even the actual collection launched. Imagine, Chanel has about 7.7M Instagram followers and Dior 6.9M. Balmain, Rousteing and his army combine an unbeatable Instagram footprint of almost 170M. A tough bet for his competitors, especially when considering the shrinking marketing budgets of the fashion industry. And a Herculean achievement for Rousteing, perhaps.
As for the -moving from brilliant to vicious- critics, this digital leader seems to understand the requirements of a business role, with a self-confident twist though: He will serve his purpose (and the House’s) first and above all. Hence he will wear his H&M proudly and will represent a new era for fashion. But whether his critics and/or peers want to stay back or move forward, it will be their own choice. ”It is too bad for critics if they cannot understand this, but the truth is now that their critiques do not matter” he stated during an interview for the New Yorker. And earlier this year, while talking to the Guardian about ethnic diversity as his strategic asset: “I think it’s because the same people from the 1980s are still on top. If they started to go out on the street more, and see how the business really is and who is actually spending money, they would realise that diversity is what helps fashion to still exist”.
Whether one likes him or not, Olivier Rousteing makes a hell of an impression. Maybe because he exudes confidence, as Suzy Menkes has written about a previous Balmain show this year. Maybe because he is a very hard working person that made the Balmain CFO, Emmanuel Diemoz state: ”Day after day, month after month, we saw that the image of Balmain was changing and from a very Parisian house, we became a very international house, and a very democratic house, due to Instagram and the communication made by Olivier, and it has helped us reach new customers”
Or maybe because growth of the Balmain brand reached 20% over the last three years.