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The Art and Science of Nicolas Ghesquière

Some designers are showmen; others are realists. Nicolas Ghesquière is a scientist who conducts experiments with fashion, distills it down to a concentrated essence and uncorks it for a rapt audience every season in a seven- to 10-minute runway...

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Some designers are showmen; others are realists. Nicolas Ghesquière is a scientist who conducts experiments with fashion, distills it down to a concentrated essence and uncorks it for a rapt audience every season in a seven- to 10-minute runway dissertation.

There is such precision in his work at Balenciaga that it’s not surprising to find the arresting necklaces from his blockbuster fall collection curled into petri dishes at his Rue Cassette fashion show venue, now transformed into a buzzing showroom. There is much to discover up close: how couture fabrics are sandwiched with foam to create sculptural jackets and dresses; how tiny glass beads are embroidered onto hand-painted latex to evoke blossoms on an Asian landscape; how killer heels are rendered both edgier and slightly more wearable with a slab of gel, like a miniature Rachel Whiteread sculpture, fused to the sole.

That Ghesquière could open his show with something as potentially mundane as a little black dress—and blow away even the most forward-thinking retailer or editor—is testimony to both his sharp fashion instincts and technical prowess. Each of the 34 looks stalking his catwalk was a marvel of imagination and intricate construction, intriguing from all angles. “The dress that opened the show, I refitted the waist one hour before. I wanted it to fit her perfectly,” Ghesquière relates from California, where he is readying Balenciaga’s new Melrose Avenue boutique in West Hollywood. “The girls come in for fittings five times in the two or three days before the show. When you make something with precision, and good craft, it makes all the difference.”

Ghesquière’s quiet arrival at the design helm of Balenciaga 11 years ago has certainly made all the difference, transforming an almost forgotten brand into one of the hottest names in the business, snapped up by Gucci Group in 2001. Ghesquière’s latest collection demonstrated a new ease and confidence, showing him able to nimbly reference the legacy of the late great Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga, while increasingly asserting his own daring, futuristic sensibility.

“Mature” and “wearable” are among the words Ghesquière uses to describe the fall collection, pronouncing them with a shoulder-hunched sheepishness, given his reputation for clothes that are often ultraradical and strict—neither for the faint of heart nor full of hip. “I wanted the collection to be austere, but not minimal, more mature, but still sensual,” he says. “I don’t want to fall into a formula.”
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