A Tale of Three Designers: Cristobal Balenciaga, Nicolas Ghesquiere & Alexander Wang
When it was announced that editorial-darling Ghesquiere of Balenciaga would be departing the label after a much-lauded Spring 2013 show ("this was was thrilling in the way it just left you hot," panted Style.com's Nicole Phelps), fashionistas mourned, cried, tweeted, FB'd. And then when it was further announced that the NYC-based street-centric Alexander Wang was being annointed the new Balenciaga Creative Director...much enthusiasm, some carping (this is fashion, after all) and the now-requisite Social Media philosophizing.
Will Wang fill the fine footwear of his predecessor? Did his predecessor attempt to fill his predecessor's footwear too literally? Can either hold a candle to the original?
Cristobal Balenciaga was born to a Basque seamstress and also did footwear-following, apprenticing at the age of 12 with a tailor and later acquiring a local patron who then sent him to Madrid for formal training. He clothed much of the Spanish royal family and when the Spanish Civil War forced him to close his stores, he moved ops to Paris. It was there his genius for amazing sartorial sculptures was widely acknowledged, praised & emulated. He also worked with sculptor Janine Janet (whose creations strike me as gaudy Byzantine mosaics come to life), highlighting her work in the shop's windows, like this iconic 1957 faun & nymph creation.
Nicolas Ghesquiere was just 25 when he was named Creative Director for Balenciaga. And his resume? Colorful and sketchy, which makes me like him all the more. By the tender age of 12 he was chanelling Scarlett O'Hara & using his mother's curtains to make dresses & grandma's chandeliers to fashion earrings. By 14, he was interning for agnes b & being "paid" in clothes and later, he was assistant to Jean Paul Gaultier. After designing uniforms for Air France and funeral clothes for the Japanese market under a Balenciaga license, he was plucked for the main job at Balenciaga.
Alexander Wang is 28 and built his brand into $60 million in sales by making his tees, shorts and sweatshirts fashionista must-haves. His thriving accessories business wasn't lost on François-Henri Pinault, the chief exec of Balenciaga's owner, PPR.
So what, if anything, do the three have in common?
Definitely a flair for reading the prevailing winds of the moment. Balenciaga understood the growing power of the fashion media, creating dramatic (if somewhat unwearable) sihouettes that photographed really well. Ghesquiere excelled at making the mundane exciting ("layered silhouettes, innovative fabric choices and a touch of bad taste"...hello last Spring's horrible high-waisted short-shorts) - as does Wang ($550 sweatshirts, anyone?)
- Lesley Scott