Demna Gvasalia — the 34-year-old Georgian designer who made an instant success of his one-year-old Paris-based ready-to-wear label, Vetements — has been appointed the next artistic director of one of France's most storied couture houses, Balenciaga.
He replaces Alexander Wang, who staged his last show for the brand on Friday. Balenciaga's parent company, Kering, announced in August that it was not renewing its two-year contract with the New York designer. The separation appeared to be mutual: Though reviews of Wang's collections were steadily improving and sales growth appeared to be solid, the partnership was never a glowing one, and Wang's commitments to his own rapidly evolving label — and his decision not to buy an apartment in Paris — had come under increasing scrutiny.
Since August, Kering has quietly signaled that it wanted to hire a quieter, lesser-known talent to succeed Wang, after the positive reception — and immediate sales success — that followed Alessandro Michele's promotion at Gucci in January. Outside of the fashion industry, Gvasalia's name is virtually unknown, but his appointment comes as a surprise to some given that, like Wang, he is perceived as a hot young "underground" designer, with no direct experience in haute couture. He, too, will continue to operate his own brand, though given that it's based in Paris, that should be somewhat more manageable.
Though Gvasalia has not worked in a couture atelier, he has held senior positions in the women's ready-to-wear departments of two major French houses: Maison Martin Margiela, where he worked as head of women's collections from 2009 to 2013, and Louis Vuitton, where he worked as a senior designer of women's ready-to-wear for two years before launching Vetements at Paris Fashion Week in February 2015.
In a statement, Isabelle Guichot, president and CEO of Balenciaga, said that Gvasalia "quickly emerged" as the best choice for the job "with his mastery of techniques, his expertise and fashion knowledge, in conjunction with his innovative and carefully considered approach." François-Henri Pinault, president and CEO of Kering, echoed her statement, emphasizing Balenciaga's "distinctive and radical" heritage and Gvasalia's "unique approach to the profession, marked by a sociological observation of the wardrobe’s essentials and the way he remains humble and rigorous in his creative work."
Gvasalia will present his first collection for Balenciaga at the Paris ready-to-wear shows in February. If it has anything like the spirit of his work at Vetements, it's going to be a tremendously exciting debut.