Olivier Rousteing Encourages Design Grads to Embrace What Makes Them Unique

The New School hosted its annual Parsons benefit gala at Cipriani Wall Street on Wednesday night. In addition to honoring three “visionary figures,” the evening celebrated its latest BFA and MFA design graduates, and also raised funds for student scholarship programs.

During cocktail hour, surrounded by some of his most successful fashion peers, Balmain creative director and gala honoree Olivier Rousteing had his sights set even higher: the Parsons students watching the evening unfold from the upper level.

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“Parsons is more than a school, Parsons is about creating leaders of tomorrow and creating new talents,” Rousteing said as the gala crowd made their way from cocktail hour to their dinner seats. “Tonight I’m going to have three words that I’m honored for: I push for diversity, I push for inclusivity, I push for democratizing fashion. So it’s not only my career we’re celebrating,” he added. “I hope that the students will understand that it’s been a long journey of hard work, sometimes cries — some tears, yes — but today it’s about celebrating those fights and that all together we can make this world better.”

Asked what qualities aspiring young designers should prioritize as they navigate their professional careers, Rousteing — who took the helm of Balmain at 25 — nodded toward cultivating a distinct point of view.

“It sounds cheesy what I’m going to say, but the confidence of believing in yourself and not being scared of being unique and not being scared of being the opposite of someone else,” he said. “Because sometimes the world is about creating a mold you have to belong to. I think the moment you don’t care about the boxes that people are going to put you in, and [decide] you’re just going to be yourself, that is the moment that you’re going to be different.”

Rousteing, who was headed back to Paris Thursday morning, took the stage early in the evening’s program to accept his Parsons Table Award, following a prerecorded video message from former First Lady Michelle Obama. “For years, Olivier has lit up the fashion world with his extraordinary collections, leading the way with his groundbreaking designs that innovate, captivate and inspire,” Obama said. “But what makes Olivier so iconic, what makes his time at Balmain so historic, is not just the fact that he’s a Black person leading a Paris fashion house, or that he took on the role at the age of 25. It’s the way he has continued to commit himself to bringing others into the fold, demanding diversity, demanding creativity and changing the way the world approaches fashion.”

The designer, shocked by Obama’s appearance, then gave a heartfelt speech tracing his background from an orphanage and urging the audience, and the students, to “fight” and to always drive forward.

The evening also presented Table Awards to Naomi Campbell and Neiman Marcus Group chief executive officer Geoffroy van Raemdonck. “Geoffroy understands that fashion is a business built on relationships, creativity and emotions. He’s a man of great taste, beauty and elegance,” said Carolina Herrera of van Raemdonck.

Marc Jacobs
Marc Jacobs

Marc Jacobs, a Parsons alum, accepted Campbell’s award on her behalf. The model, who celebrated her 53rd birthday during Cannes on Monday, had arrived at the event a few minutes earlier only to make an unexpected and sudden departure. (A reaction to, rumor had it, a photography mishap on arrival.)

Paying homage to one of his “dearest friends,” Jacobs recalled the first time that he worked with Campbell, for his Miami-inspired collection in 1987. “From the moment I met her she was already then, as she is now, a larger-than-life force,” Jacobs said. “An undeniably special kind of person that so few of us get to meet — and even fewer of us are fortunate enough to call a friend.”

Parsons alumni in the crowd, such as designers Donna Karan, Joseph Altuzarra, Jack McCollough, Lazaro Hernandez and Bach Mai, and other guests included Tory Burch, Victor Glemaud, Cara Delevingne, Jodie Turner-Smith, Dapper Dan, Laura Kim, Gigi Burris and Kim Kardashian, who made a surprise appearance mid-dinner. Wes Gordon, Alexandra Moosally and Gena Smith served as cochairs for the event.

The evening concluded with a runway presentation of looks created by Parsons MFA students, live auction led by Lydia Fenet, and a performance by Busta Rhymes.

Launch Gallery: Inside the 74th Annual Parsons Benefit

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