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EXCLUSIVE: Olivier Rousteing, Along With Jourdan Dunn, Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, and More, Push the New “Balmain Reality” in the Brand’s Fall Ads

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How does Olivier Rousteing top last season’s Rihanna-fronted Balmain campaign? With not one, but six faces. The brand’s new imagery for Fall, lensed by Mario Sorrenti and art-directed and styled by Katie Grand, features Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish, and Kayla Scott. Sporting Rousteing’s safari-inspired Fall fare, his stars nicely embody the heady, hard-edged sensuality he sent down the catwalk in February.

What made the Love editor in chief and über-stylist a natural choice? “She can break all the rules, and that’s what I really, really love from her,” Rousteing told Style.com of Grand. “It was really a strong decision for me and for Balmain, because we never had a campaign with so many girls and expressing this kind of vision. Katie understood from the beginning, and she translated that with the casting and with the looks that we shot.” The designer’s only quibble about his Brit friend and collaborator? “She has the strongest accent ever! As a French boy, you have a hard time understand[ing] an American, so when you have a strong accent from England, it’s like, sometimes I tell Katie, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand.’ Sometimes [she talks] and I’m just quiet an entire minute, she’ll look at me and say, ‘You don’t understand, right?’ And I’m like, ‘No.’”

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Rousteing was a longtime admirer of Sorrenti, too, noting that he appreciated the photographer’s particular vision of femininity. One need only glance at, say, Sorrenti’s iconic ads for Calvin Klein Obsession or his 2012 Pirelli calendar to grasp the languid sensuality that makes him a logical choice for Balmain. It’s Sorrenti’s talent for the enigmatic, however, that’s most evident here; there’s not much skin from a lensman who’s built his name on nudes. The ads themselves serve as an allegory for Rousteing’s evolving take on sex appeal. “My first show was a lot of leg, a lot of skin, and that was my vision: body-conscious dresses. But my [latest] is all about being covered up from head to toe, and that’s my new vision of sexiness,” Rousteing said. “I still think a girl can be sexy in an oversize khaki jacket or a parka, [or] black tights and a long, midi-cut skirt. I’m growing up at the same time my collections are growing.”

Perhaps most notable, though, are the ads’ message of diversity—one that Rousteing has to some become a de facto poster boy for. “I’m French, I’m black, and I’m proud to be at Balmain, but this is a message of freedom and globalism,” he said backstage in February. Both on his catwalks and in his campaigns, the designer has been active in promoting diversity by casting girls of color and of varied backgrounds. The Fall images boast models from the Dominican Republic, Great Britain, Mexico, and the U.S. As a young designer, Rousteing’s awareness is something that’s come to him with time. “My first collection was all about making clothes, and it was really, really important for me to work on the tailor[ing] and on the clothes, but I realized that day after day and step by step, I’m not only doing clothes,” he offered. “I think fashion is all about a vision that you can give to people; it’s [about] expressing that passion. We need to show how diversity is important.” The new campaign, then, is another step in that vision. As Rousteing himself tells it, “I think it’s showing a new reality—the Balmain reality.”

Photos: Mario Sorrenti for Balmain