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PARIS — Nicolas Ghesquière, one of the stars of the brand reinvention era, is exiting the house he helped rebuild.
In a development Monday that took many in the fashion industry by surprise, Balenciaga and the French designer said they had reached a “joint decision to end their working relationship,” effective Nov. 30.
The news came only a month after Ghesquière staged one of the most widely praised shows of the spring fashion season — and amid rumblings that the relationship between the designer and management had, after 15 years, soured and reached an impasse. For several years, Ghesquière was said to resent what he felt was a lack of support and funding for the brand — only exacerbated by increasing friction with chief executive officer Isabelle Guichot. In addition, resources committed to Hedi Slimane and the reinvention of Saint Laurent, while not a primary cause of Ghesquière’s departure, added to the tension.
PPR is believed to have been pressing for a more commercial direction at the house, which it had long seen as having the potential one day to rival Gucci and Bottega Veneta in sales volume.
“With an incomparable creative talent, Nicolas has brought to Balenciaga an artistic contribution essential to the unique influence of the house,” François-Henri Pinault, chairman and ceo of PPR, parent of Balenciaga, said in a brief press statement. “Cristóbal Balenciaga was a master, a genius whose avant-garde vision dictated fashion’s greatest trends and inspired generations of designers.”
Pinault, due to speak at today’s Pambianco conference in Milan, was not available for further comment Monday. He and other PPR officials had brushed off speculation that the designer and Balenciaga might be heading for a divorce when questioned about it during Paris Fashion Week.
Ghesquière is in Japan for a friend’s wedding and could not be reached for comment.
Guichot told WWD a successor would be named “as soon as we’re ready.”
“We have a short list,” she added, declining to identify potential candidates or give a deadline for making an announcement.
“My biggest interest is to focus the organization, accompany the team and develop the brand potential, so it’s in my interest to do it as soon as possible,” she said.
Guichot characterized the forthcoming change of creative leadership as “part of the life of a fashion house” and that Balenciaga and Ghesquière agreed, after discussions of long duration, to open “new chapters” in their respective development.
“We have huge ambitions and we have huge reserves of growth,” the executive said. “Year-to-date, we’re still at double-digit growth.”
Guichot noted that Balenciaga is a brand with strong codes recognized by consumers, and she stressed it still has room to grow via geographic, retail and product expansion.
Asked if Ghesquière’s exit could hurt Balenciaga’s momentum, she said the “brand is strong enough, developed enough and structured enough to express itself without fear,” she said. “Now the company is so mature in its organization, in its processes, the business is really moving forward.”
She also trumpeted the health of its ready-to-wear business, girded by six capsule collections — leather, knits, pants, T-shirts, silk and black dresses — along with its vintage reeditions line, known as Edition.
She declined to speculate on Ghesquière’s next move. “It was an incredible tenure for Balenciaga, in its creativity, its content, its length,” she said. “Nicolas has many talents, he needs to express his talent and I’m sure he will do so.”
Gucci Group, the precursor to PPR’s luxury division, acquired the Balenciaga business in 2001 from Groupe Jacques Bogart, a fragrance and fashion firm, with Gucci owning a 91 percent stake and Ghesquière holding the balance.
Guichot declined to say if Ghesquière still held shares in the company, and if so, if Balenciaga or PPR might acquire them. “All I can say is Balenciaga is already 100 percent fully integrated in PPR’s accounts.”
She also declined to comment on his current employment contract, which sources said expires sometime in 2013.