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Nicolas Ghesquière Finally Speaks On Why He Left Balenciaga

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Nicolas Ghesquière Finally Speaks On Why He Left Balenciaga

Post by xyz on Mon May 06, 2013 4:58 am

SOURCE: BoF



BoF Exclusive | Nicolas Ghesquière Finally Speaks On Why He Left Balenciaga

BY JONATHAN WINGFIELD 28 APRIL, 2013

After months of silence, Nicolas Ghesquiere has finally spoken out. Today, BoF brings you the global exclusive excerpt of his interview with System magazine where he reveals the circumstances surrounding his abrupt departure from Balenciaga.

PARIS, France – After months of silence, Nicolas Ghesquière has finally spoken out.

System magazine’s Jonathan Wingfield interviewed Nicolas Ghesquière several times between early December 2012 and late March 2013. This was the first time Ghesquière had chosen to speak publicly about his shock departure after 15 years at Balenciaga.

Ghesquière opens up about why he left Balenciaga, his thoughts and impressions about the current state of the fashion industry and what the future has in store. As he mentions at one point in this defining conversation, “The best way to move forward is to go back to work.”

What follows is a global exclusive excerpt from the interview.

At what point into the job at Balenciaga did you realise you needed to wise up to the business side of the brand?

NG: Straight away. It’s part of being a creative because the vision you have ends up in the stores. It actually makes me smile today when I think about it because it was me who had to invent the concept of being commercial at Balenciaga. Right from the start I wanted it to be commercial, but the first group who owned the house didn’t have the first notion of commerce; there was no production team. There was nothing.

What was your vision for the brand?

NG: For me, Balenciaga has a history that is just as important as that of Chanel, even if it’s a lesser-known name. It had the modernity, it was contemporary, and I’ve always positioned it as a little Chanel or Prada.

But what makes Chanel and Prada bigger structures?

NG: The people that surround the designers. Miuccia Prada has an extraordinary partner, whereas I was doing everything by myself.

So without the right people, building something as big as a Chanel or Prada is unimaginable?

NG: I don’t know if it’s impossible, maybe the system will change, but what’s clear is that those brands have family and partners surrounding them, and they have creative carte blanche. Prada, for example, has made this model where you can be a business and an opinion leader at the same time, which is totally admirable. It’s the same thing at Chanel. Sadly, I never had that. I never had a partner, and I ended up feeling too alone. I had a marvellous studio and design team who were close to me, but it started becoming a bureaucracy and gradually became more corporate, until it was no longer even linked to fashion. In the end, it felt as though they just wanted to be like any other house.

You’re saying this spanned from a lack of dialogue?

NG: From the fact that there was no one helping me on the business side, for example.

Can you be more specific?

NG: They wanted to open up a load of stores but in really mediocre spaces, where people weren’t aware of the brand. It was a strategy that I just couldn’t relate to. I found this garage space on Faubourg-Saint-Honoré; I got in contact with the real estate guy who’s a friend of a friend, and we started talking… And when I went back to Balenciaga, the reaction was, ‘Oh no, no, no, not Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, you can’t be serious?’ And I said yes really, the architecture is amazing, it’s not a classic shop. Oh really, really… then six months went by, six long months of negotiations… it was just so frustrating. Everything was like that.

And the conversations, like that one about the store, who would you have them with?

NG: I’d rather not say. There wasn’t really any direction. I think with Karl and Miuccia, you can feel that it’s the creative people who have the power. It was around that time that I heard people saying, ‘Your style is so Balenciaga now, it’s no longer Nicolas Ghesquière, it’s Balenciaga’s style.’ It all became so dehumanised. Everything became an asset for the brand, trying to make it ever more corporate – it was all about branding. I don’t have anything against that; actually, the thing that I’m most proud of is that Balenciaga has become a big financial entity and will continue to exist. But I began to feel as though I was being sucked dry, like they wanted to steal my identity while trying to homogenise things. It just wasn’t fulfilling anymore.

When was the first time you felt your ambitions for the house were no longer compatible with Balenciaga’s management?

NG: It was all the time, but especially over the last two or three years it became one frustration after another. It was really that lack of culture which bothered me in the end. The strongest pieces that we made for the catwalk got ignored by the business people. They forgot that in order to get to that easily sellable biker jacket, it had to go via a technically mastered piece that had been shown on the catwalk. I started to become unhappy when I realised that there was no esteem, interest, or recognition for the research that I’d done; they only cared about what the merchandisable result would look like. This accelerated desire meant they ignored the fact that all the pieces that remain the most popular today are from collections we made ten years ago. They have become classics and will carry on being so. Although the catwalk was extremely rich in ideas and products, there was no follow-up merchandising. With just one jacket we could have triggered whole commercial strategies. It’s what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t do everything. I was switching between the designs for the catwalk and the merchandisable pieces – I became Mr Merchandiser. There was never a merchandiser at Balenciaga, which I regret terribly.

Did you never go to the top of the group and ask for the support you needed?

NG: Yes, endlessly! But they didn’t understand. More than anything else, you need people who understand fashion. There are people I’ve worked with who have never understood how fashion works. They keep saying they love fashion, yet they’ve never actually grasped that this isn’t yoghurt or a piece of furniture – products in the purest sense of the term. They just don’t understand the process at all, and so now they’re transforming it into something much more reproducible and flat.

What’s the alternative to this?

NG: You need to have the right people around you: people who adore the luxury domain. There has to be a vision, but there also has to be a partner, a duo, someone to help you carry it. I haven’t lost hope!

At the time when you were starting to feel that frustration, did you talk to any other designers who were in the same situation?

NG: Yes. What’s interesting is how my split from Balenciaga has encouraged people to get in touch with me, and they’ve said, ‘Me too, I’m in the same situation. I want to leave too.’ There are others, but my situation at Balenciaga was very particular.

In spite of the increasingly stifling conditions you felt you were operating in, were you nonetheless scared by the prospect of leaving Balenciaga?

NG: I just said to myself, ‘Okay, well you have to leave, you have to cut the cord.’ But I didn’t say anything to anyone, apart from to a few very close people, because, you know, I’ve become pretty good at standing on my own two feet.

Once you’d decided enough was enough and you made your intentions clear, was management surprised that you wanted to leave?

NG: Yes. I think so, because I’d shown my ambitions for the house. There’d been lots of discussions, of course, and there were clearly some differences, but that sort of decision doesn’t just come out of nowhere. I’d been thinking a lot too. I was having trouble sleeping at one point. [Laughs] But there’s usually something keeping me awake.

After the announcement, did lots of people in the fashion world contact you?

NG: I didn’t actually see all the reactions straight away because I was in Japan at the time; one of my best friends had taken me on something of a spiritual trip to observe people who make traditional lacquer and obi belts; it was such a privileged environment with tea ceremonies. On the other side of the world, there was this violent announcement being made. When I got back to Paris I saw the press, and with all the commentary going on I actually learnt things about myself; it was quite beautiful in fact. Generally the reaction had been very positive, even on Twitter there were some very satisfactory things being written. Ultimately, I felt okay in the end because it seemed very dignified. I haven’t expressed myself up until now, but I would like to say thank you to everyone, I really am very grateful.

Did you ever think about making a personal announcement?

NG: No, I never wanted to express myself like that. I don’t know how to do that.

What’s the most exciting thing about this period of time for you?

NG: Preparing for the next chapter and having the time to observe what’s going on in the industry. People could have forever associated me with Balenciaga. We saw clearly when the split took place that there was a desire for my name, so I disassociated myself naturally from the house. That could have been a risk. It would have been different if Balenciaga had disassociated itself from me, but people had seen me develop my signature and knew that it might happen. That’s exciting because whatever choice I make, the possibilities are open, and that was confirmed with the freeing of my name from Balenciaga. I’d made so much effort and been such a good obedient kid in associating myself… Now I can imagine a whole new vocabulary. I’m regenerating again, and that’s very exciting because it’s a feeling I haven’t had since I was in my twenties.

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Re: Nicolas Ghesquière Finally Speaks On Why He Left Balenciaga

Post by xyz on Fri Jun 07, 2013 6:59 am



The cover of 032c magazine featuring Nicolas Ghesquière and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Photo By Courtesy Photo

032c>>

On what a creative director of a house needs to be today and an idea about creative director yearly rotation, which Jean Paul Gaultier (Ghesquiere worked with Gaultier in the early 90s) suggested - something which oddly Versus is already trialling out with J.W. Anderson as a guest designer...

"The creative director has to be someone 'promotable.' I've heard this a lot: 'This one is promotable and this one is not.'"

"I remember Jean Paul Gaultier saying, 'We should assign one designer for a year to develop their interpretation of one of these signature brands. We would get a different interpretation of the legacy and repertoire every time.' I thought it was a such a smart and powerful idea. Anti-business but also not entirely crazy."

On treating Balenciaga like a design laboratory, which makes me wonder how many of these "laboratories" are left in the high fashion world where unfettered experimentation is encouraged...

"I cherished the idea of a laboratory. I've been told - and was also criticised for it - that Balenciaga can appear overly avant-garde, perhaps even elitist. My answer was firstly that the label deserved no less. If you ask me, there is only one place where there's real research and that's Balenciaga."

On fashion being too fashionable, Ghesquière echoes the thoughts of others who feel the same way but seems to be enthusiastic about so-called democratisation...

"Fashion has never been so in fashion. All of a sudden we've arrived at a place television, music, media, and advertising have enjoyed for a time; fashion has been vastly democratised, which is excellent, but it's also become pop culture. Everyone wants to be part of it, or to own a piece of it, to appear interested and aware. The fashion world used to be relatively marginal. it could be prestigious, but it was also considered to be a toxic world of crazies - was it not dangerous and unwholesome in a way?"

On the 'Carrie Bradshaw' stock stereotype in fashion, which makes me cringe when I think of the peak of that show, where women were running around imitating those characters...

"Globalisation has brought many things, including the internationalisation of a feminine aesthetic that i boild down to the character of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City. Whether in Japan, or China, in the U.S. of course, and in Europe, there is a cliche of the fashionista whose primary concern is achieving that girlie stiletto look, never mind if it's fashionable. It did nudge a number of women, and girls, to risk wearing clothes they ordinarily would not have but it has standardised things and I'm not sure it's all for the better."

Furthermore Ghesquière sees this stock character as a caricature which gets in the way of a masculine attitude in a women...

"I like a masculine attitude in a woman, which can be very sensual and sexy. Her femininity should go unquestioned, but at the same time, it shouldn't be obvious. Mostly, I think fashion today likes travestying women and it's a caricature that truly disturbs me - the bimbo. There are bimbos that I find inspiring and amusing, when they are completely in control."

On H&M's fast fashion process and how luxury groups would love to get their mitts on this type of machine...

"Their process and production speeds are incredible, and I think they have the big bosses of luxury drooling because everyone fantasises of achieving that level of efficiency."

In System magazine, Ghesquière also wonders whether H&M or a Zara could become a luxury group themselves...

"Someone said something interesting to me recently: 'The next classic luxury group will be H&M or Zara.' It might well be the case. Beyond the collaborations they do at the moment, they will actually employ big designers for the long term. Basically if they know there's nowhere left for them to go in their current sector, they might end up stepping into the luxury domain."

On houses showing "whatever" just to get maximum visibility and Ghesquière believing that the market is oversaturated with product and could possibly trigger a radical reaction. To that I say "YES PLEASE!"

"Right now people are possessed: they'll present n'importe quoi - whatever - everyone has got to walk or show because it gets the most visibility. Apparently, we've got to do all this because the market demand will absorb all this information and all these goods. I am far from convinced. People know what they like and don't like. They aren't dumb. You can't force them to swallow just anything, because the backlash will be brutal. It reminds me that though the 60s, 70s and 80s luxury brands plied the Japanese market with products and labels, among other things, triggering an unbelievably radical responde in Japanese fashion. Not that this will happen again, but it's unclear whether the market is an ogre ready to consume whatever we throw at it."

On the signature and complex Balenciaga trouser and generally elevating something generic to something amazing...

"Editor Polly Mellon, who I respect a lot, once paid me the best compliment by saying that 'a Balenciaga pant looks as good coming as it does going.' We must have made pants with up to 50 (pattern) pieces! We have been much more reasonable with an average of perhaps 15-20 pieces including everything from the pocket to the belt loops. There's a duality that I aim for, to create and rework generic elements on the one hand and to reach for the beauty of pure fashion on the other."

On mixing up the high and the low to create something of a fashion utopia...

"Historically in fashion, being trashy was being provocative. These elements took on value by the simple fact that it wasn't clear what value anything had anymore. My work integrates these elements, to ennoble them through the quality of fabrication. Trash is future luxury. It reconciles what is possible for some and impossible for others. It's a utopia. It demonstrates to someone with monehy that what is popular and amusing can have promise, and for those of limited means, that what they enjoy will one day become luxury, and that's the direction in which things have always evolved."

On seeing himself as a clothing technician and being involved in every single process and what he ultimately wants to achieve out of an ensemble...

"I took my role to be a technician, to be extremely precise and surprising without losing my initial creative intention. You have to be very demanding on finishes, on draping, the choice of materials, how they are glued or stitched together, how they embed, how they clash or merge."

"For me, it means having both a micro and a macro vision. Each time, it's as if I start by considering a silhouette from afar and then I zoom to the deepest fibre of the material and i want the same exactitude as I had in the volume and the emotion of the silhouette at that deeper level."

On haute couture and how technology could make it an even more exclusive offering...

"They tell us, for example that it has to be entirely handmade. What interests me is the combination of industry and handcraft; some things are simply done better by a machine. I would really like it if we invented a new term for a new type of collection that applied the rigor of couture and could also be highly technological."

On tackling Asia...

"We should take time with Asia, and avoid provoking rapid consumption that leads to cheapened, quickly obselete brands. Many labels have gotten mired there and it's dangerous. There has to be a sort of apprenticeship phase, where we talk about how things are made, about luxury in the Western sense."

On sustainability being a taboo topic in amongst luxury groups...

"No concrete actions have really been taking, whether it's the sourcing of materials, working conditions, or dyeing which is incredibly toxic. There's so much work to be done. It starts with a certain discipline, and we are very far from achieving it. To be sustainable you have to take the time to make it happen. There's also a huge hypocrisy around out-sourcing and working ethically in other countries, while entire areas have been disenfranchised locally as a result. We can all do a little something, but I think we're all waiting to see which group will pull ahead and lead on this issue. I remember being very concerned about a certain product I was developing, because it required substantial manufacturing and packaging. I was told the consumer doesn't care and neither did the group."

On questioning interseasonality and how he could potentially change this...

"It is not a question of inventing, but identifying a new way to make things, to present them, the rhythm of selling them. There are many questions to answer, but not with the classic Balenciaga format. Today it's essential I think differently."

System>>

On being plagiarised by younger peers with ideas that Ghesquière fought for. Who can tell us what's happened to the Balenciaga Did It First Tumblr blog...?

"I've occasionally been seriously criticised, hurt even, because when you take risks you can get treated badly. But then two years later, or even a season later, the entire collection is copied in America, or somewhere where people are a bit more indulgent, and I find that strange. I'm here to evolve and hopefully innovate; that's my role as a designer: to move forward, to take risks, and generate commercial incentives. Then, paradoxically, people turn a blind eye to the plagiarism."

Another Gaultier quote which Ghesquière uses to illustrate young designers starting out too young...

"There's a Gaultier quote that keeps coming back to me: 'A young designer has to know that i was once like him, and that one day he will be like me.' I find it really interesting, not because i'm comparing it to myself, it's just super interesting. Today there is a race for discovering; there are young talents who arrive completely ready to express themselves and others that lack maturity. Azzedine (Alaïa) has always said that a career should start at 40..."

On the lack of quality at fashion weeks...

"Fashion week used to be something with a certain degree of quality, but now it resembles the ready-to-wear trade fairs of the 1980s. In New York in particular, it's been hijacked by all the sponsorship and events which serve only as images to sell things later on; there aren't even really clothes up on the catwalk."

On making something materialise from drawing to real garment and compromising to get something that you can still stand by...

"I have the impression that once it's materialised, I have to be surprised myself. If i think it looks like the drawing, it's not necessarily been a success. i design and create something, and then i make it materialise. i constantly question the process of materialisation, the opposite I think to other designers today, because I'm very hands on."

"Fashion is constant compromise. The game is then about being on form in order to transform compromise into something good, something new. this often means simplifying, and that is generally the hardest thing of all. if you simplify, and it ends up impeccably, and you maintain your identity then that's brilliant - it's purity a la Azzedine Alaïa - but sadly that's rarely possible."

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