Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Constraints of Corporate Fashion

On November 5th, 2012, French Fashion house Balenciaga announced designer Nicolas Ghesquiere would be leaving his position as creative director.

Nicolas Ghesquiere is a French fashion designer who had worked as the creative director of Balenciaga since 1997. The house of Balenciaga was founded in 1914 by Cristobal Balenciaga. Cristobal was known as a perfectionist couturier  and an innovator in design. He was even referred to as "the master of us all" by Christian Dior. Cristobal closed Balenciaga in 1968 and died in 1972. The house was inactive until 1986. From then untill Nicolas Ghesquiere was appointed creative director, the house struggled. When Nicolas Ghesquiere began at Balenciaga in 1997, he was only 26 years old. Nicholas Ghesquiere's work soon gained the industry's attention, and Balenciaga was purchased by holding company PPR (now Kering) in 2001. Over the next decade, Nicolas Ghesquiere turned Balenciaga in one of the most sought after french fashion houses at the forefront of the industry. In my opinion, he is one of the most influential designers of the the last decade.

The following are campaigns of collections by Nicolas Ghesquiere from his time at Balenciaga.

Fall/Winter 2007

Spring/Summer 2008

Spring/Summer 2010

Fall/Winter 2010

After it was announced to the press that Nicolas Ghesquiere was leaving Balenciaga, the industry was shocked (as was I). Nicolas Ghesquiere is one of my favourite designers ever, and I really loved his work at Balenciaga. Between December 2012 and late March 2013, Nicolas Ghesquiere was interviewed by System magazine for their debut issue. The interview was the released in April of 2013, which was a big deal because it was his first interview post-Balenciaga. In the interview he discusses why he left Balenciaga and his current views of the industry. The following is a excerpt from the interview.

"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 realized 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." -Nicolas Ghesquiere 

Nicolas Ghesquiere felt like the house of Balenciaga was becoming bureaucratic. The business side of the brand didn't agree with his creative vision. "I began to feel as though I was being sucked dry, like they wanted to steal my identity while trying to homogenize things. It just wasn’t fulfilling anymore." says Nicolas Ghesquiere. Although his departure was a surprise to many, Nicolas Ghesquiere he had been frustrated with the house for the last 2-3 years. He also revealed that other designers are in a similar situation; "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."

When I read this interview I was enlightened. It gave me a glimpse of how the fashion industry really operates today. Basically, most large fashion brands are now subsidiaries or partial-subsidiaries of corporate holding groups such as Kering and LVMH. This means that the brands have the adequate funds, but the corporation has a say in just about everything they do. This corporate involvement can  get in the way of a designers creative process, as it did for Nicolas Ghesquiere. Unfortunately months after the System interview was released, Balenciaga decided to sue Nicolas Ghesquiere for 9.2 million USD. Balenciaga claims he had violated a separation agreement, and the interview could hurt the brand's image. Although corporate involvement is very much necessary in todays fashion industry, it can else cause a lot of harm. It's a shame that this had to happen.

Although it's upsetting things had to end with Balenciaga, I am excited to see what Nicolas Ghesquiere's next move is. There has been word in the industry of him replacing Marc Jacobs as creative director Louis Vuitton. Or perhaps he will start his own line. If there is any designer I would like to see do so, it would be him.



  1. Looking at the pictures that you posted would those be considered as some of the pieces that the business owners wouldn't be willing to buy? They look pretty cool so I'd hope not.

    1. Perhaps, it's hard to say. But those campaigns are from years before Nicolas left Balenciaga. So I would assume most of those pieces were mass produced.

  2. Do you think the corporate involvement stifles the creative process? In my experience having a large orverseeing hand tends to produce the opposite of free-thinking creativity. Why do you think they allow themselves to be taken over by large companies?