While there were several theories floating around (frustrations with Balenciaga parent company Kering, disagreements over the commercialization and expansion of the brand, some even say Wang was being courted before Ghesquière left), it was never made clear why Nicolas Ghesquière split from Balenciaga back in November. Now, the designer is finally setting the record straight himself.
Ghesquière opened up to new magazine System (guest edited by his long-time collaborator and stylist Marie-Amélie Sauvé and excerpted on Business of Fashion), about everything from how his relationship with Balenciaga soured to what he plans to do next.
While the split shocked the fashion industry, it was actually a long time coming.
[I felt like my ambitions for the house were incompatible with Balenciaga's] all the time, but especially over the last two or three years it became one frustration after another. It was really that lack of culture which bothered me in the end.
Part of the problem was that, according to Ghesquière, there was not enough business leadership.
No one helping me on the business side, for example…I never had a partner, and I ended up feeling too alone. I had a marvellous studio and design team who were close to me, but it started becoming a bureaucracy and gradually became more corporate, until it was no longer even linked to fashion. In the end, it felt as though they just wanted to be like any other house.
And that the brand’s focus on merchandising was misguided.
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 realised 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. This accelerated desire meant they ignored the fact that all the pieces that remain the most popular today are from collections we made ten years ago.
Not that he has any problem with selling clothes. Contrary to popular belief, Ghesquière was happy to make Balenciaga a commercial success.
It actually makes me smile today when I think about it because it was me who had to invent the concept of being commercial at Balenciaga. Right from the start I wanted it to be commercial, but the first group who owned the house didn’t have the first notion of commerce; there was no production team. There was nothing.
But he couldn’t do it all himself.
With just one jacket we could have triggered whole commercial strategies. It’s what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t do everything. I was switching between the designs for the catwalk and the merchandisable pieces – I became Mr Merchandiser. There was never a merchandiser at Balenciaga, which I regret terribly.
Eventually he hit a breaking point.
It all became so dehumanised. Everything became an asset for the brand, trying to make it ever more corporate – it was all about branding. I don’t have anything against that; actually, the thing that I’m most proud of is that Balenciaga has become a big financial entity and will continue to exist. But I began to feel as though I was being sucked dry, like they wanted to steal my identity while trying to homogenise things. It just wasn’t fulfilling anymore…I just said to myself, ‘Okay, well you have to leave, you have to cut the cord.’
As for what he’ll do next, Ghesquiere says, “The best way to move forward is to go back to work.”
Whatever choice I make, the possibilities are open, and that was confirmed with the freeing of my name from Balenciaga…Now I can imagine a whole new vocabulary. I’m regenerating again, and that’s very exciting because it’s a feeling I haven’t had since I was in my twenties.
Needless to say we’re all waiting at the edge of our seats for Ghesquière to get back to work.
Read the full interview on Business of Fashion.