Fashion is an industry that cherishes it’s old, but feeds off the new. That’s why we see so many archaic elements constantly come back into style with the passing of every season; and why, as I write about here, we can see a 26-year-old take the helm of a storied, historic fashion house. During the couture shows in Paris in January, I met two designers that are mixing things up on the other side of the Atlantic: Olivier Rousteing, who just presented his second full collection at Balmain; and Jonathan Anderson, an Irishman based in London, who designs for his label JW Anderson. I profiled them in the March issue of Vmagazine, and have included the text — and pictures of their handsome mugs — here.
Olivier Rousteing is curled up, catlike, on a sofa at Balmain’s headquarters on rue Pierre Charron. It is a rare moment of downtime for the 26-year-old creative director who, in the last two weeks, has shown his first pre-Fall collection in New York, a second men’s collection in Paris, and delved headfirst into his first solo Autumn effort for the house. Balancing three highly anticipated collections in less than a month is a daunting task. (To wit: the frantic pace and high pressure is what led Rousteing’s predecessor, Christophe Decarnin, to vacate the house amid reports of exhaustion and depression in the spring of 2011.) But the young designer, who is wearing a black T-shirt and quilted jersey trousers (i.e. rockstar sweatpants) is taking it all excitedly in stride. “Is it crazy right now?” he reiterates with a smile. “Yes, and I’m a little freaked out, but I thrive on the adrenaline and the excitement.”
Picking up where Decarnin left off was not easy for Rousteing, who was born in the South of France, studied fashion in Bourdeaux, and worked for Roberto Cavalli before joining the Balmain design team. “It was a weird situation,” he says delicately. “I really love Christophe, and he is an amazing person who taught me a lot. So when they told me what happened I reflected, but not whether or not I should take the job, more like what it meant to me. You can love fashion, but when you work at a company it becomes something different.” He took two days to accept. “What made me happy is that I was working with my team. In the end it was a really good decision.”
And one that has paid off. The buzz surrounding Rousteing has gone from a whisper to a roar since his debut, which paid homage to all of the body-con elements of the house while also subtly establishing his own footing. Fashion critics were pleased to see less flesh and more embroidery in the collection, which was playfully inspired by an imaginary journey Elvis took through Las Vegas dressed as a Spanish bullfighter. “I want to have fun,” he says jovially. “And then I want to have glamour. I mix that with tailoring and construction, which are hallmarks of the house of Balmain, and something I would never want to turn my back on.”
There are still some elements of the job that Rousteing needs to get more comfortable with—like the designer’s bow. “I went out there and didn’t know what to do,” he says of his Spring show. “I was super scared—but super happy.”
JONATHAN ANDERSON AT JW ANDERSON
onathan William Anderson, 27, whose line is called J.W. Anderson, manifested his label in a roundabout way. He came to New York to study acting, but when that became dull he moved to London to do a menswear course at the London College of Fashion. “It’s the only school that let me in,” deadpans the designer, who has a kinetic energy and fabulous sense of humor. He attributes his untraditional career arc in part to sheer boredom. “In 2008, I started making weird jewelry out of clock parts and forced them on friends and family,” says Anderson. “This went on for a while, and after I received my degree in menswear design I decided to do a show that summer in an old church, and I’ve never looked back.” He branched out into womenswear three seasons ago because, he explains, “I love the dichotomy of a man’s and woman’s wardrobe mashup.”
These days his men’s and womenswear lines are two of the London fashion calendar’s most hotly anticipated collections. Last year, Anderson was nominated for a British Fashion Council Award. The designer, originally from a small Irish town called Loup, fondly recalls that fashion is a family pastime. His grandmother would knit many of his childhood outfits, including charming but embarrassing sweaters featuring farm animals and tractors. “I realize now how much I loved the idea that something could be made from nothing,” he says.
His design process is as smooth now as his grandmother’s was then. It starts with what he calls a rat’s nest of ideas and ends with a rat’s nest of ideas. Anderson pushes himself to build many layers of concepts before building fabrics and prints. “A collection cannot be real if it has a single concept, or else it becomes costume,” he says. “Life is about lots of layers, and collections have to be built that way too.”
Photography Anthony Maule
Fashion Jay Massacret