W Reveals Inner World of Nicolas Ghesquière


Photo courtesy of W magazine / Steven Meisel

Nicolas Ghesquière in a shoot he styled for W magazine.

Mila Kunis’s outfits aren’t the only revealing moments in W magazine’s March issue. Alice Rawsthorn, design critic of the International Herald Tribune, writes an illuminating article on Balenciaga’s creative director/wunderkind Nicolas Ghesquière.

In the profile, Ghesquière opens up about his rocky years with the Gucci Group, his love affair with shoe designer Pierre Hardy, and the future of Balenciaga.

Over the past decade, the 39-year-old designer has alchemized Balenciaga, turning a licensing label back into an innovative, globally triumphant brand. Rawsthorn depicts an ambitious and candid creative force with yet more changes up his sleeve.

“This will be a year of transformation for me,” Ghesquière says. “What’s the best way for a fashion designer to work today? To become a great craftsman like Alaïa, whom I love so much? Or a great brand like Armani, which I totally respect?”

He’s now assembling a new design team and will increasingly focus on strategy. Rawsthorn tells FashionEtc, “Nicolas seems to have micromanaged every aspect of Balenciaga, which he was able to do by building the business almost from scratch. It has now become so big that he realizes he may need to delegate more in the future.”

Rawsthorn also reports that Balenciaga will be opening more stores, redesigning its Web site, and possibly launching an iPad application. She explains to FashionEtc that Ghesquière “is well aware that the fashion industry, particularly at Balenciaga's level, has been much less imaginative and adventurous than other sectors in experimenting with digital technology … He is also very interesting in his analysis of the impact of Web 2.0 technology, including Twitter, Facebook and other social media, on public perceptions of fashion.”

Having stepped in as Balenciaga’s designer for one collection in 1998, Ghesquière quickly went from stopgap to star. After just a year, luxury groups clamored to hire him. As Ghesquière admits, though, the negotiations and new partnerships were stormy.

He had a difficult experience with Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole, then leaders of the Gucci Group, who acquired Balenciaga and installed him as creative director.

“Looking back, I just didn’t understand their position, but I reacted very violently, and not in a good way,” Ghesquière told Rawsthorn. Things eventually straightened out, as the French luxury giant PPR became the parent company of Gucci Group. Now, says Ghesquière, “when I see Tom we laugh about it.”

Another takeaway: What a workaholic! Rawsthorn cites many examples of his perfectionism, describing all-night development sessions for shoes. His co-workers praise his dedication and relentless efforts. Hardy compares him to “a Christopher Isherwood story about a butterfly with steel wings.”

In fact, it was Hardy who first steered Ghesquière to Balenciaga. Ghesquière speaks gratefully about Hardy’s aesthetic education during their seven-year romance: “He showed me so much. It was fantastic. We’d go to the ballet, the theater, exhibitions, and movies all the time.” They’re still close, with Hardy collaborating on Balenciaga’s skyscraper heels.

For all his hours in the design studio, Ghesquière still relishes the world outside. “I have one friend who kidnaps me sometimes [to take him to performances]. I love that,” he told Rawsthorn.

Rawsthorn’s impression: “I'd expected him to be exceptionally thoughtful, intelligent and focused on Balenciaga, which he is, but was delighted to discover that there is also a light, warm, playful side of his character. Nicolas is great fun to be with … eager to talk about art, architecture, films and design.”

Striking photos by Steven Meisel accompany the article. Established supermodels like Stella Tennant and up-and-comers including Saskia de Brauw pose in Balenciaga’s Spring 2011 collection. After reading Ghesquière’s rundown of the painstaking work and sparkling creativity that went into the futuristic houndstooth leather-and-PVC coats, you’ll surely look twice.

W magazine’s March issue is on newsstands now. And check out the other March cover girls.