“This is definitely one of the most incredible campaigns I’ve ever done. When I saw Kanye singing, Kim moving, the models walking and crying, the tears on Kanye, the tears on Kim—I was just like, ‘Wow,’ ” Thus spake Balmain’s creative director, Olivier Rousteing, who has raised the bar on his seasonal campaigns since taking the reins of the French house in 2011. Past ads have featured Rihanna, the sisters Hadid, and a selection of models so super they need first names only,Naomi, Christy, and Claudia. Today, Rousteing reveals that his Fall 2016 ad campaign for the house has taken a new form: Balmain has partnered with Kanye West to produce a music video for West’s The Life of Pablo track “Wolves,” which doubles as the brand’s campaign. Directed by Steven Klein and art directed by Pascal Dangin of KiDS Creative, the video was shot in New York City and stars West, his wife, Kim Kardashian West, and a slew of Rousteing’s favorite models:Joan Smalls, Jourdan Dunn, Alessandra Ambrosio, Jon Kortajarena, Ysaunny Brito, Josephine Skriver, Chico Lachowski, Jordan Barrett, Ronald Epps, Sasha Luss, Riley Montana, and Dilone.
Rousteing and West’s relationship goes back. The musician and Kardashian West previously starred in Balmain’s Spring 2015 menswear ads and West has collaborated with Rousteing on a series of Balmain x Yeezy garments worn by the Kardashian-Jenner family to the Yeezy Season 3 show at Madison Square Garden last February. After hearing the TLOP album at MSG, Rousteing said he fell instantly for the record—“It’s my favorite album ever,” he said—and that the track “Wolves” featuring Sia, Vic Mensa, and Frank Ocean resonated particularly. “I called Kanye and I said, ‘I would love to create a campaign around your music, your lyrics, and your aesthetic,’ ” Rousteing explained. “I think that’s what is interesting: It is a campaign based on music. That was really important for me.” To those paying attention to the 30-year-old designer’s work, his love of music is well documented. The launch party for the Balmain x H&M collaboration featured a Backstreet Boys reunion.
Rousteing isn’t just someone with a deep Spofity playlist, though. As a young designer with his finger on the pulse of technology and social media, he sees the potential in the music industry for communicating new ideas to larger demographics. “Business-wise, the music system is so strong and sometimes, for me, it’s even more modern than the fashion system. I think we should all look at what is music today. Music is such an inclusive world because it’s all about talking about real life and telling beautiful stories, sometimes dark stories. From a business point of view, music is understood way more than fashion sometimes. With music, you talk to an entire generation, where sometimes with fashion, you don’t talk to an entire generation because not everybody gets magazines. With music, you have a platform that helps you to discover an entire world. From a business point of view, the communication around music is way stronger and way more powerful and way more, in a way, interesting, and that’s what I love about music.”
The video is an artful marriage between the glossy world of Balmain and the grungy aesthetic West favors. In the former category are the sylphlike models that slink and dance at the Gilded Lily during Balmain’s after-party for the Met Gala, all glitz and haute glamour. West, Kardashian West, and tens of Balmain Army models were then shot in a studio in New York, teary-eyed and moody to represent West’s rawer vision. The rapper wears his outfit from the Met Gala, a beaded jacket made in collaboration with Rousteing, white tee, and Fear of God jeans. (A first, perhaps, that another brand has featured prominently in a luxury brand’s ad campaign.) “Kanye has a great culture of what he thinks is cool in fashion, and I have my ideas. I think the mix of us made this jacket. Kanye loves denim, I love couture embroidery . . . mixing my point of view with his point of view made this jacket spectacular,” said Rousteing.
This running creative dialogue between Rousteing and West is only growing. “Kanye has a really strong and incredible vision and I will say it is a vision of art. It’s about fashion; it’s about music; it’s about video. He’s an incredible designer as well, he’s an incredible art director, he’s an incredible singer, and I think it’s all of those things that I love about him. What I also love is that he actually says what he thinks and I love his strength because he is someone who is really honest. For that, I always love working with him because we can have a conversation and in a way he challenges me as a designer and he makes me discover his world, and that’s what I’ve always loved, and even when we were dressing him for the Met I think those looks were great because he was there to twist it with me and to think how we could make it better. . . . I think we learned a lot from each other and it’s an interesting collaboration every time that we work together, I mean, it’s just incredible.”