Among Guichot’s other pressing concerns is finding a temporary store for Balenciaga in Manhattan as its flagship in the Chelsea art district was “destroyed” by the storm surge engendered by Hurricane Sandy, and its forthcoming unit in SoHo isn’t slated to open until spring.
The exit of one of the industry’s most lauded and daring talents is sure to fuel discussion over the tug-of-war between business imperatives and creative expression.
The change also caps off a turbulent year at the highest levels of international fashion, with Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent among French brands bringing in new creative directors.
Ghesquière has been creative director of Balenciaga since 1997, transforming it into one of the most influential French brands and most coveted tickets during Paris Fashion Week.
His rapid-fire shows delivered a fashion message as direct as a bullet, spectacular in their workmanship and imagination. He had a penchant for futurism and the Eighties, while also exploring key silhouettes and themes from Balenciaga, a Spaniard who founded his couture house in 1919 and established himself in Paris in 1936.
Despite international fame, Balenciaga closed his couture business in 1968, leaving licensed fragrances as the main business. He died in 1972.
Ghesquière’s next career move could not be learned, but the sudden availability of such a high-profile talent is sure to attract the attention of rival luxury groups.
Dior heavily courted Ghesquière last year as it sought to replace its disgraced couturier John Galliano, ousted in the wake of racist and anti-Semitic outbursts. Dior ultimately opted for Raf Simons, another media darling who had been shown the door at Jil Sander a few months earlier despite an acclaimed seven-year stint at that Milan-based brand.
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Meanwhile, YSL, also owned by PPR, ultimately took on designer Hedi Slimane, without a label since he exited Dior Homme in 2007, to succeed Stefano Pilati.
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Sources speculated that Ghesquière might wish to mount a signature brand, an ambition he had stated many times while ensconced at Balenciaga.
The sudden vacancy at Balenciaga is bound to ignite a guessing game about who might take his place in one of the plum seats in Paris. According to sources, Alexander Wang and Joseph Altuzarra could be among the candidates, given their press following and modernist fashion leanings. Kostas Murkudis and Bouchra Jarrar, an alumna of Balenciaga, are among lesser-known possibilities.
According to sources, talent scouts at PPR have also been keeping an eye on hot talents in London, who include Mary Katrantzou, Christopher Kane, J.W. Anderson and Thomas Tait.
Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough of Proenza Schouler were others mentioned as possible candidates, although other sources dismissed that possibility given their new ownership and the designers’ focus on building their own brand.
Whomever PPR chooses will walk into a sizable business that now counts 62 directly operated stores and a new fragrance fronted by “Twilight” actress Kristen Stewart. This year, the brand strengthened its presence in Asia, opening stores in Mainland China to bring its complement there to 11.
At a recent press day here, PPR group managing director Jean-François Palus noted that Balenciaga has multiplied in size by 11 times since it was acquired.
Parent of Gucci and Bottega Veneta, PPR does not break out figures for its other luxury brands, which include Stella McCartney, Boucheron, Alexander McQueen and Sergio Rossi. In the third quarter, the division posted sales growth of 45.6 percent, with all brands and regions contributing to the performance. In comparable terms, sales were up 15.5 percent.
“Momentum remained especially strong for fashion and leather goods, which achieved growth of more than 13 percent in the quarter, driven by outstanding success of the designer brands and the very solid performances of Brioni and Sergio Rossi,” PPR stated at the time.
In the first nine months of the year, other brands recorded a sales rise of 60.8 percent in reported terms and of 18.8 percent in comparable terms.
Earlier this year, PPR chief financial officer Jean-Marc Duplaix had cited a “strong” performance at Balenciaga in the first quarter.