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Olivier Rousteing on creating two iconic wardrobes for Beyoncé

Following last night’s #Beychella performance, we speak to the Balmain designer about working with the woman he calls “B”

Like us, you’re probably stil trying to locate your wig after Beyoncé’s performance last weekend at Coachella. Renamed ‘Beychella’ by the world – and then later by DJ Khaled – the production saw the singer take to the stage with a giant band, army of dancers, with special guest appearances from sister Solange – who covers the spring/summer 2018 issue of Dazed – and the reform of Destiny’s Child.

While Beyoncé didn’t change her nails mid-performance as initially thought (but let’s be honest if anybody could, she could) there were still plenty of wig-snatching moments courtesy of Olivier Rousteing’s custom Balmain wardrobe. Enlisted by Beyoncé’s stylist, Marni Senofonte, Rousteing has worked with the singer before, creating looks for her Formation tour, but this was on a whole new level with the designer the first to be the sole contributor of looks, not just for Beyoncé, but 200-plus dancers and band members too.

“I’ve been the Balmain creative director for eight years now and this is one of my most unforgettable memories,” Rousteing tells us. “You're touching different worlds that bring so much to fashion in such a different way. This performance for me, I feel like I learnt so much, not only about music but about fashion.”

Given three months to take on such a challenge, Rousteing worked closely with Beyoncé – or B as he endearingly refers to her – sharing ideas, and constantly talking on the phone or Facetiming. “I think that, she's a perfectionist and I am as well,” the designer explains to us. “The idea was to make sure that we were super satisfied with every single detail.”

The hard work obviously paid off, with the performance the most talked about moment from the entire event, and definitely one we will be looking back at for years to come. On social media alone there was literally no escaping the bevy of looks that took us on a journey from Ancient Egypt to the bleachers of an American high school. Let’s be real, no live performance is going to even come close to this any time soon.

“I'm sure when we will open books in 40 or 50 years it will be the same thing as when you open a book and you look at Michael Jackson, or David Bowie, or Prince,” says Rousteing. “You will remember ‘oh, that was that performance when she was wearing that’, and this is a thing that I think we nailed it with those looks.”

And the best part about the whole production? That Rousteing got to do it all over again, with Beyoncé performing again this weekend, in a completely different set of looks.

Following last night’s performance, we speak with Rousteing on creating two collections of looks for Beychella.

How did this collaboration with Beyoncé for Coachella first come around? 

Olivier Rousteing: It was in January, three months before the performance. I spoke with Marni (Senofonte), her stylist, and we started talking about how the performance was going to be really strong, with a lot of dancers, a big band, and different breakdancers. It was going to be epic! They explained the concept and we started to brainstorm ideas, what we wanted to present, and how it could feel new, but take inspiration from the past and my collections at the same time.

Knowing that it would be something so epic and creating a moment in history, we wanted to understand what kind of elements we could bring to the performance. We started to take elements from my last collection and created that world in those three months, back and forth with a really strong vision.

How involved was Beyoncé in the whole creative process?

Olivier Rousteing: Beyoncé was not just involved, she is the master of having that strong vision and making sure that every details is right. I want to really express the fact that it's a real collaboration, it's a real exchange of a vision.

I've been in LA rehearsing with her, understanding the lights to make sure that the clothes were right, understanding every movement of hers to make everything on point. It has been like a real exchange of ideas and not only clothes, it was a shared vision. When you ask me how much was she involved, she was definitely involved as much as I was, and that's what I love. 

Did Beyoncé have a narrative for the performance from the beginning?

Olivier Rousteing: The concept was really clear from the beginning. Everything was already on point  because we knew the number of people on stage, and she knew the vision she wanted to express with the incredible band all together. It was my job to build on that with my clothes.

From the moment we started, to the moment we ended the story, there were lots of elements that she was like ‘Oh I love that, why don't we do that?’ I really loved it because it felt like I was working on a fashion show, where you can start from the first idea and it can evolve into something else.

What did you want the collections to represent?

Olivier Rousteing: We wanted a strong vision, something really couture, but still not being too far from the street. So other looks were cooler and relaxed, at the same time we brought embroideries and glamour, but also sportswear, so it was a great balance. We wanted that luxury element, but while still being connected to people. And the opening is something that will always stay in all our memories.

“I wanted her to look like a goddess, so every detail had to feel timeless. This is the outfit that people will remember from this generation” – Olivier Rousteing

The opening look was very intricate, how long did it take to create?

Olivier Rousteing: The first outfit took two months. It took a long time because between the capes, the hat, the bodysuit, and the jewellery, it was an entire concept of bringing a couture level to the maximum.

I wanted her to look like a goddess, so every detail had to feel timeless. This is the outfit that people will remember from this generation, to the next ten generations; people will open books and see that outfit.

What was the idea behind the ancient Egyptian inspirations?

Olivier Rousteing: The idea for the Egyptian outfit was the moment where she wanted to bring out the goddess, something epic. I love the fact she mixed so many different cultures in the performances. It felt like there was a feeling of opening with something really iconic, almost coming from the sky and after you see different evolutions during the performances.

It’s a different way of thinking fashion but I love that. Even in her speech, she explains how much she loves culture and she pushes so many boundaries and the limits of the woman today. We need people like that who push boundaries today, and she’s one person that actually makes it happen.

What kind of challenges did you have creating the collection?

Olivier Rousteing: You almost know that you’re creating history with the looks, so you want to make it perfect. The challenge was making couture that still allowed her to dance. I think pragmatically though, I would say the metres of fabric because it’s obviously a lot, also the number of embroideries too.

It's really important to understand the way that you have to create your clothes, and when you work on Beyoncé’s clothes you need to fit them to the movement she's going to do. It's really challenging when you have to bring couture and still be relaxed. It’s something that you have to really work for a long time on it, so that it's perfect for the show.

What was the idea behind the college-looking crest?

Olivier Rousteing: The crest was more inspired by the band and the idea that we all belong to the same nation. I don't know if they are soldiers or friends. It could look be a school, it could look like so many different things, but the reality is it doesn't matter what it looks like. What matters is inclusivity, the fact that we're all together and we all believe in the same story. It's an important moment of where the world is right now and she's pushing for strong beliefs. That's what it means, that we all believe in the same world, and we're all together to push those boundaries. 

“I loved working on that performance because there isn’t the same boundaries that fashion puts on you. You don’t feel judged as much as when you do a fashion show” – Olivier Rousteing

You also created looks for the dancers and band, how was that?

Olivier Rousteing: We had to watch every single detail, with the stylist and B, to make sure every single person looks right in their look. Yes you’re dressing Beyoncé, but you’re dressing 200 people as well, and they all have to be different because everybody is different. That’s the most exciting part and what made it iconic I think. There’s a feeling of building something together, with clothes that are for everybody.

Everybody had different movements. The amount of work that is really different from fashion shows because it's all about what they're going to do in the clothes, depending on what they're role was in the performance. For me, that was really interesting because being in the rehearsal I was just like ‘the crotch is too high, we need to make lower.’ We needed to make some room there because they need to be able to move.

How did this differ from designing a collection for Balmain?

Olivier Rousteing: I think in fashion there are too many boundaries, sometimes we are just talking to a really small crowd and it's not so global. When you work for the music world, you need to bring something to the table that is different, because there’s a different crowd you’re talking to, this is the aspect that I love about working like that.

I loved working on that performance because there isn’t the same boundaries that fashion puts on you. You don’t feel judged as much as when you do a fashion show. When you do a fashion show you have so many different filters: the critique, the editorials, what you are going to shoot, what you’re going to like, is it talking to you etc. You have a lot of things going on.

How did you feel when the performance finally came together?

Olivier Rousteing: The same feeling that I have with a fashion show. I cried because it was a lot of work. I cried because of happiness too because it feels really emotional for me when like you are dressing Beyoncé. I love and her songs, and I was listening to her in my room in Bordeaux when I was 16.

Of course it’s emotional because it’s a personal achievement and when she sings acapella next to you during the rehearsal, you feel emotional, who wouldn't? I’ve always lived my life not forgetting where I come from and not losing myself in the fashion world. The fashion world is tough, but, those kinds of collaborations make me feel alive and that I did something good. My life is crazy and I have so many things going on. I know a lot of people think I just take selfies but the reality is it’s not that, I work so much, I’m such a perfectionist.