In 2019 Netflix documentary, Wonder Boy, Olivier Rousteing, creative director of French fashion house, Balmain takes us on his journey to find his biological mother. The documentary is glitz, glamour, loss and pain set behind the glittering facades of the fashion world.
In 2011, 25-year old Rousteing shot to fame by becoming Balmain’s youngest creative director, since Yves Saint Laurent. He elevated Balmain’s earnings tremendously, while giving the fashion house diversity and modernity. Rousteing also famously designed Beyoncé’s iconic 2018 Coachella outfits, including her band and crew’s outfits.
In the throes of sewing hemlines, and deciding on fabric, Rousteing was having an identity crisis. He was a Black man raised by white parents who knew nothing of his heritage. Rousteing was born in 1985, and adopted a year later. He grew up relatively privileged in the southwest of France, and pursued fashion after moving to Paris to study. He completed an internship in 2003, and immediately began working as a designer at Roberto Cavalli. In 2009, he started working at Balmain.
Rousteing goes from Haute to hurt throughout the documentary. It gives the viewer the feeling that the producers didn’t want everything to feel so somber all the time. He reveals immediately he is looking for his birth mother, and that he has felt lost for 32 years. His expressions of feeling lost are so palpable that you can almost taste his tears through the screen.
You will find yourself rooting for him to find her.
What follows are back and forth consultations with his adoption agency. One minute he is setting up a meeting to discuss his adoption file and the next he is doing a fitting with JLO. He is always the consummate professional pulling himself together for his passion; designing. With recent changes in French law, Rousteing’s birth mother can be tracked down even though she wished to never make contact with her child. Rousteing is encouraged to write a letter which the agency will deliver to his birth mother, and basically hope for a reply. Many hard truths are revealed in these meetings, but I will leave it up to viewers to experience it.
Rousteing battles with the knowledge that his birth mother may not have had a consensual relationship with his birth father. He learns she was 14 at the time of her pregnancy and his birth father was 25. He is happy to hear he has Somali and Ethiopian heritage, and that he may have inherited his slight frame from his mother.
Fashion takes a secondary role in the documentary, but when it is shown – it is mind-blowing. Rousteing is known for the flair and theatricality of his shows. He stages them in opera houses, and many other opulent venues. The editing is perfect as it shifts from him working in his atelier to the solitude of his flat in Paris.
It could be overlooked but some of his most revealing conversations happen between him and his chauffeur, Mohamed aka Mo. As Mo shuttles him around they speak about work and relationships. Rousteing visits his grandparents, and as much as he sticks out, he eases into their comfort. Rousteing pulls back the tulle and stitches, and lays himself bare in this documentary. He knows he is talented, and seamlessly creates his designs, but he is haunted by what he is searching for.
There is a romantic nostalgia to Wonder Boy. It catches you unaware. It forces you to acknowledge the importance of knowing everything about yourself when so much has been left blank. The documentary is an open call for his mother to respond to him.
The title Wonder Boy comes from what some journalists started dubbing him, after his continued success for Balmain. What I took away from the title, is that he would always wonder about his birth parents.
“The more I know where I’m going, the more I need to know where I’m from,” Rousteing said earlier in the documentary. This line sums it all up. He is not a poor little rich boy looking for sympathy. He is a man looking for his roots, to take hold of himself, as he sees himself.
Wonder Boy is streaming on Netflix now.