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Focusing on what Balmain’s creative director looks like after his freak accident is besides the point


by Sarah Finnan
11th Oct 2021

Olivier Rousteing / Instagram

Focusing on what Balmain’s creative director looks like after his freak accident is besides the point

Balmain’s creative director, Olivier Rousteing, recently opened up about how a freak household accident left him scarred and ashamed of his body.

Instagram is the highlight reel; it’s a fact we’ve always known to be true, but it’s one we oft forget too. It can be hard to see the big picture when our lives are so intrinsically linked to social media. The not-so-picture-perfect parts are swept under the carpet and so, we kind of forget that they exist at all… until they’re brought to the fore once again. 

The accident

Reminding us that not everything is always as it seems, Balmain designer Olivier Rousteing shocked loyal followers recently with the admission that he’s spent much of the past year overcoming a horrific injury – one none of us knew anything about. Managing to keep the whole thing a secret by avoiding the limelight (a much easier feat thanks to the pandemic) and only confiding in those closest to him, the creative director decided to share his tale of woe with the world over the weekend. 

Speaking about the horrific ordeal publicly for the first time, he admitted that he’s not quite sure why he felt the need to hide for so long, but the fashion industry’s “obsession with perfection” certainly didn’t help. 

“I finally feel ready to share this,” he began. “I’ve been hiding this for too long and it’s time for you to know.” Going on to detail how the fireplace inside his house exploded exactly one year ago, Rousteing recalled waking up in Paris’ Hôpital Saint Louis the next morning. “The talented staff at that famous hospital, which was dealing with an incredible number of COVID cases at that same time, took amazing care of me. I cannot thank them enough.

“I did everything to hide this story from as many people as possible and trying to keep the secret with my teams and friends for too long. To be honest, I am not really sure why I was so ashamed, maybe this obsession with perfection that fashion is known for and my own insecurities,” he continued. 

The recovery 

Throwing himself into his work throughout his recovery, Rousteing said that he kept himself busy day and night “to forget”. He wanted to keep the world dreaming with his collections, all the while hiding his scars behind face masks, polo necks, long sleeves and a multitude of rings on each finger. 

“I truly realised that the power of social media is to reveal only what you want to show,” he told followers. “Kind of allowing us to create our own special narrative that avoids what we do not wish to see or show: this is our new world.” One year later, and he’s in a much better place – “healed, happy and healthy”, as per his own description. “I realise how truly blessed I am and I thank GOD every day of my life,” he added. “My last show was about the celebration of healing over pain and I thank all the models, the productions, my team, the models, my Balmain family, my friends that came and supported not only my 10 years of Balmain but my rebirth.

“Today, I feel so free, so good and so lucky. I’m beginning a new chapter with a smile on my face and a heart full of gratitude.”

Concluding the post with a special shout out to the doctors, nurses and all those who helped him during his recovery, Rousteing extended “a profound thank you” to them for keeping his secret. “I love you. GOD BLESS YOU ALL  and again never, never give up! There is always the sun after the storm.” 

Rousteing’s post comes but a short time after model Linda Evangelista told a similarly dramatic story – hers the result of a botched beauty treatment that left the model “brutally disfigured” and in “a cycle of deep depression, profound sadness, and the lowest depths of self-loathing”.

The aftermath

While the circumstances between the two incidents differ greatly, Rousteing and Evangelista do have one thing in common; they were both so ashamed of how their accidents affected them physically, that they felt the need to hide themselves away… which might seem like a them problem but is really an us problem. It would be easy to criticise how either one could possibly consider themselves “hideous” in any way, but they work in an industry that thrives off perfection and we’re the ones that fuel it. We’re fed images of perfect bodies and poreless skin on the regular, so much so that they’ve almost become “the norm” – anything outside that and we’re shocked. 

People were quick to condemn Linda Evangelista for the derogatory comments she made about her own appearance – the extent of the damage the treatment caused her is unknown, but she looks different to her younger self and that’s a bitter pill to swallow for the former supermodel – but we’ve created a society where looks are everything, so we’re really the ones at fault here.

Rousteing is lucky to be alive, a fact he’s probably well aware of, but it’s taken him a year to come forward and tell his story. Not because he’s not grateful for every day he’s lived since then, but because he was so scared of persecution that he thought it easier to camouflage his trauma. Concealing his scars behind layers of clothing, jewellery and anything he could use to mask his scars, it’s hard to imagine that he could fully dedicate himself to the healing process when the ever-present threat of being “found out” loomed above him. 

Instead of demonising Rousteing and Evangelista for being concerned with how they look, we should be marvelling at the resilience of the human spirit. How we look is often the least interesting thing about us and as one supportive commenter pointed out, “it’s the soul that shines brighter than anything else could”. 

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