Chic Happens… Ghesquière leaves Balenciaga

After 15 years as head designer of Balenciaga, Nicolas Ghesquière is leaving.

Brown wool and silk two piece dress by Balenciaga c. 1961 Fashion History Museum collection

Balenciaga is Spain’s biggest contribution to modern fashion. Born in 1896, Cristobal Balenciaga trained as a tailor, opening his business in 1918 but closing in the early 1930s as the Spanish Civil War heated up. A law in Spain does not allow a business owner to re-open under a previously used identity, so when Balenciaga reopened his Spanish business, he used his mother’s name Eisa.

At the height of the Spanish Civil War, Balenciaga left his native country to open a couture salon in Paris. It was here that he became internationally known for his architecturally tailored styles, especially in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The cut of his clothes were deceptively simple looking but in reality were complex sculptures of seaming.

Although Balenciaga worked as a couturier in Paris, he never officially joined the Paris Couture Syndicate, and so was not bound by their rules of membership. He influenced many designers, especially those who worked as assistants at his atelier, including: Hubert de Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta, Andre Courreges, and Emanuel Ungaro. In 1968, Balenciaga retired – he died four years later in 1972.

Balenciaga.Edition, 2009

In 1986, the rights to the Balenciaga name were acquired by Jacques Bogart and Michel Goma was hired as head designer to produce the first collection under the revived Balenciaga name in fall 1987.  Thimister replaced Goma in 1992 and Nicolas Ghesquière replaced Thimister in 1997.

Ghesquière top based on Wong’s 1973 vest

For fall 2004, Ghesquière began creating line-for-line copies of Balenciaga originals from the company archives. Labelled Balenciaga.Edition – these are arguably the only dresses created by Ghesquière that have any resemblance to Balenciaga’s architectural design principles.

Wearable art piece by Kaisik Wong, 1973

In 2001 Balenciaga was acquired by the Gucci Group, which apparently brought Ghesquière and Tom Ford into conflict on more than one occasion. Ghesquière, who has been repeatedly caught pilfering other people’s designs, first got into trouble for his line for line copy of a 1970s wearable art piece in 2002. By some accounts Ghesquière’s future at Balenciaga almost came to an end, but in a strange turn of events, Tom Ford left Gucci in 2003, securing Ghesquière’s position. His star has since risen as Balenciaga became a profitable luxury brand based on Ghesquière’s designs that included green cargo pants and motorcycle inspired purses – pieces that have nothing in common with the founder’s style.

I bet Ghesquière will resurface in a year or two under his own name, probably financed by the other fashion conglomerate LVMH.

Film and Fashion – The Sack of Rome…

I finally watched Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita the other day. Everybody knows parts of the film – its ingrained in our culture, but I felt it was time to know all of it. It’s a bit long but I find I am still thinking about it, and that’s a good sign. There are plenty of  reviews about what the film means so I won’t go into that, but what I did find particularly interesting is that the inspiration for this film was the sack dress!

In various interviews, Fellini claims La dolce Vita was inspired by the sack dress style. Balenciaga is usually credited with its invention, however, many designers had versions of the style in 1957 including Givenchy and Norman Norell. The sack style looked glamorous but hid the female form.

Commenting on the style, Fellini said: “I saw women walking along dressed in a fantastic and extraordinary way, so fascinating that it set light to my imagination.” Brunello Rondi, Fellini’s co-screenwriter and collaborator, confirmed the story explaining that “the fashion of women’s sack dresses… struck Fellini because they rendered a woman very gorgeous who could, instead, be a skeleton of squalor and solitude inside.”