PARIS — Olivier Rousteing, a key deputy of Christophe Decarnin at Balmain, is in pole position to assume the creative helm of the French fashion house, according to market sources.

This story first appeared in the April 22, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Balmain is zeroing in on a contract and could reveal Rousteing’s appointment as early as next week.

According to the designer’s posting on the professional networking site LinkedIn, he has worked at Balmain since 2009, and was at Roberto Cavalli in Milan for almost six years before that. A French national proficient in multiple languages, he is a graduate of the Paris fashion and art school ESMOD.

WWD first reported on April 6 that Balmain was parting ways with Decarnin and would name an internal candidate to succeed him.

Promoting a number two has become a popular succession strategy in fashion in recent years as the importance of star designers has waned.

Sources describe Rousteing as a young and promising creative dynamo. He would be charged with leading a house that Decarnin made synonymous with audacious, ultrasexy and ultraexpensive fashions, but one that may have tapped out its bold-shouldered, rock ’n’ roll esthetic.

Decarnin, a painfully shy designer, was absent from Balmain’s fall-winter 2011 show last month, under doctor’s orders. As reported, tensions between the designer and Balmain’s chairman and chief executive officer, Alain Hivelin, had reached a breaking point after a five-year collaboration, with the two men said to have arrived at widely divergent views on the fast-growing company’s strategy and future direction.

Decarnin, who spent seven years as head designer of women’s ready to wear at Paco Rabanne, quietly joined Balmain in 2005, steering a brand synonymous with ladylike clothes into more hot-blooded fashion territory with thigh-skimming dresses, gauzy T-shirts and ornate embroideries.

Balmain has since become one of the hottest tickets during Paris Fashion Week, and its high prices have not prevented sellouts and waiting lists at many stores in recent seasons.