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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The maturity was expressed in almost-to-the-knee skirt lengths and chunky costume jewelry sets worn by every model, giving a bourgeois, grown-up quality to a runway that only a year ago paraded jodhpurs, school-girl blazers and colorful scarves festooned with dangling coins (which, by the way, was the style favored by oodles of models backstage, many of whom copped the look with finds from H&M and Zara).

“It’s very interesting to see how the styling trickles down,” Ghesquière says, his infectious smile palpable in his voice over the phone. “I’m really happy to see the influence of the Balenciaga silhouette on the street.”

Ghesquière acknowledges it’s problematic if copycats can deliver his looks faster than the brand, something Balenciaga has worked to eliminate. Still, it’s gratifying for him to see ideas become popular, given how some have derided his designs as exploratory, niche or even unwearable.

“In my shows, I always do some more experimental or extreme pieces, but it’s very rarely a caricature of women,” he stresses. “That’s why there is always one girl per outfit and usually little makeup. It’s important to see who the girls are. I like that idea of reality. This season especially I wanted something that looks more wearable.”

Given that many editors and retailers rely on him to set the fashion agenda, Ghesquière is conscious of the pressure. “But the first pressure is the one I put on myself,” he says. “Ours is a small show. I know almost everyone in the room personally, so it’s very important for me to make a strong proposition. You want to surprise them. That’s the minimum of this job: to make a new proposition, and to be at the level of expectation.”

First and foremost, instinct guides Ghesquière about where to take fashion next, plus “there’s a lot of reaction to past seasons,” he says. If fall has a darker, more austere tone, it was surely because spring was abloom with vivid color, floral prints and embellishments galore. Yet it’s a sign of Ghesquière’s maturity and confidence that he doesn’t feel compelled to zigzag from one trend to another every six months. For example, for the past two seasons he has been working on and refining the “semifitted silhouette,” as much a staple of the Balenciaga vocabulary as the sack dress. For fall, he expressed it in a new way with double-layer compressed fabrics, which made his silhouettes sharp, yet lighter and softer than they appear. “I think it’s super Balenciaga,” he enthuses. “More and more, I’m working with the codes of the house; I’m trying to define the codes.”Hailing from the small French town of Loudun and without any formal fashion training, Ghesquière got his start in fashion by filing, photocopying and cataloguing fabrics at Jean Paul Gaultier, ultimately landing at Balenciaga and designing lowly licensed lines, including office uniforms, bridal gowns and widows’ dresses for Japan. Once promoted to the helm of the ready-to-wear line in 1997, he quickly won acclaim for designs straddling futuristic Goth and Parisian chic. Jump to last January, and PPR honcho François-Henri Pinault decorated him as a Chevalier of Arts and Letters, one of France’s highest honors, while the likes of Charlotte Gainsbourg looked on.
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