“There will be a lot of brand owners who will be scratching their heads wondering how they can attract him,” said Pierre Mallevays, managing partner of Savigny Partners, a London-based boutique investment bank specializing in luxury goods. “Major fashion talents can truly have a transformational impact on brands,” he continued, citing as examples Alber Elbaz and Phoebe Philo, who respectively catapulted Lanvin and Celine to critical and commercial success.
As for the possibility of finding a fund to mount a signature fashion house, Mallevays downplayed that likelihood.
“I don’t see private equity or hedge funds backing (a Ghesquière) brand, because of time horizon and fashion risk,” he said, pegging the required investment for such a high-end designer brand at around 50 million euros, or $63.7 million at current exchange, over five years — with no guarantee of immediate financial return. “Only a strong group with a confident vision and the means to boot would seriously contemplate that. The temptation for any such potential backer will be to try to apply Ghesquière’s talent to an established brand with operating leverage, not just to a start-up, however prestigious.” RELATED STORY: Balenciaga RTW Spring 2013 >>
Luxury titan Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is said to be keeping close tabs on the hot French designer, having courted him aggressively last year as a possible successor to John Galliano at Christian Dior.
Contact between LVMH and Ghesquière dates back at least a decade, including a long-ago proposition for him to become Givenchy’s couturier, a Paris-based source said.
According to another source familiar with the luxury empire, building a signature fashion house for Ghesquière is seen as a less favorable option than plugging the star talent into one of Arnault’s galaxy of global brands, which include the likes of Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Celine.
Indeed, one of the few times Arnault launched a fashion brand from scratch was in 1987, when he launched a couture house for Christian Lacroix, eventually off-loading the troubled firm in 2005 to Falic Group, the Florida-based travel retail firm.
LVMH officials declined all comment, and Ghesquière could not be reached for comment.
Stefano Corneliani, senior analyst at Intermonte SIM in Milan, agreed that designer start-ups are a rarity in today’s climate.
“The market is overcrowded, and one in a thousand succeeds. To build a business from a designer name doesn’t work — it’s the other way around. You invent a business proposition, then you tap a designer,” he said, citing Geox and Tod’s as examples — where designers are not even paramount. “You start with an idea, such as the breathable shoe for Geox and the formal casual designs for Tod’s, and back that up with strong marketing and media communication,” he explained.
Corneliani noted that “Cyclopean investments are needed the smaller you are, and you are lucky if you break even in five or 10 years.”
He noted that Ghesquière could work for a typical Italian brand that would want to become more international, pointing to Hogan and its recent collaborations with Karl Lagerfeld as an example.
Sources close to Ghesquière said he intends to take some time off, though he has already been approached regarding several projects, some of an artistic nature. He is said to be seriously considering mounting a signature brand, while remaining open to opportunities working for another couture name.
Karine Ohana, a managing partner at boutique mergers and acquisitions firm Ohana & Co. in Paris, agreed private equity would be a remote possibility for Ghesquière given the importance of deal size and exit strategies for such funds.
“I believe only private investors that have a good trust and understanding with the designer can back such a lifetime project,” she said, noting that Tom Ford has a private family among his backers, and Proenza Schouler is “beautifully developing through a private fund as well.” (In July 2011, Proenza Schouler disclosed a partnership with a group of 20 investors led by financier John Howard and Andrew Rosen, the Theory founder and co-ceo who’s known for nurturing emerging talent.)
As for Ghesquière, Ohana said he has attained international renown and “stands among the most talented and reputed worldwide fashion designers today….He is probably perceived as one of the very few who are perpetuating the French couture image, glamour and know-how, in line with Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Lanvin.”
Executive search professionals agreed designers of Ghesquière’s stature rarely come onto the job market.
“I would expect that if Nicholas Ghesquière wasn’t already in talks with or committed to another brand at his departure from Balenciaga, there would be some brands or backers lining up to court him. I say ‘some’ because only a heavyweight with pull and power would have the confidence and seductiveness to even approach him,” said Mary Gallagher, European associate for New York-based search firm Martens & Heads. “Over the years, he has become as legendary as (Balenciaga founder) Cristóbal himself and would imbue star power to a brand.”
Gallagher spied few openings at present that would match the scale of Ghesquière’s talent — and likely his demands. “But with certain brands we’ve seen how someone’s sudden availability can force a situation,” she said, alluding to Raf Simons landing as Galliano’s successor at Dior not long after he was ousted from Jil Sander. “And, depending on when a creative director’s contract is up for renewal, Ghesquière could be on deck for a maison.”
To be sure, several of Ghesquière’s designer peers are keen to see him back in action.
Told about speculation that the designer could mount his own brand, Lagerfeld told WWD he thought it was “not a bad idea,” suggesting it might be time to stop reheating heritage brands and create some new fashion houses.
Elbaz said it “makes him sad” to see “someone so talented” on the sidelines. “It was always Balenciaga, but he always made it himself, too,” he enthused.
Elbaz noted, however, that it is not uncommon today for designers to take a hiatus from design, as has been the case in recent years for Philo, Jil Sander, Hedi Slimane and Veronique Branquinho, to name but a few. Slimane, for example, after exiting Dior Homme, spent five years devoted to photography before taking up the role of creative director of YSL earlier this year.
After being ousted as the designer of Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche women’s ready-to-wear in 2000, Elbaz took an extended break (besides one turbulent season for Krizia Top in Milan) before landing at Lanvin.
Breaking News: @louisvuitton's men's artistic director @mrkimjones is leaving the French fashion house after nearly 7 years. Jones joined Louis Vuitton in 2011, following a three year tenure as creative director of British luxury goods brand Alfred Dunhill. Jones is to exit Louis Vuitton after showing his fall 2018 collection for the brand in Paris on Thursday. Read the full exclusive story on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews #wwdfashion
For men’s fall 2018, @giuseppezanotti drew on elements from streetwear, sport, biker, combat and rock ‘n’ roll. Pictured here are a pair of shoes from the collection, featuring zippers, rhinestones, and silver hardware. Head to WWD.com to see a roundup of the accessories from Milan’s men’s fall 2018 shows. #wwdfashion (📷: Andrea Delb)
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of @ralphlauren’s snowboarding collection, the brand is mining its archives. The iconic brand is reintroducing vintage styles and dropping new designs for a color capsule that will be available in Ralph Lauren stores and @openingceremony on January 25. The capsule will consist of 10 pieces, including the Snow Beach Pullover, pictured here, which is a collector’s item that rapper Raekwon wore in Wu-Tang Clan’s “Can It Be All So Simple” video. #wwdfashion (📷: Tom Gould)
For @rochasofficial’s pre-fall 2018 collection, creative director Alessandro Dell’Acqua channeled the sophisticated and intriguing Catherine Denevue in the film “Belle de Jour.” Polished collarless coats, midi skirts, suits and ’60s graphic motifs were all featured in the collection, adding a sense of discreet luxury. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion
“We tried to produce clothing of that couture quality, but the most daunting part was that we only had a matter of days [to do it],” said costume designer Lou Eyrich, who recreated Gianni Versace’s iconic looks for @americancrimestoryfx. Eyrich searched online retailers and vintage shops for original pieces from the design house and for @penelopecruzoficial, who plays Donatella Versace. Head to WWD.com to read how she created the Versace world. #wwdfashion
Only three months after her stellar debut catwalk season, @kaiagerber has inked her first big design collaboration –– with @karllagerfeld. The collection blends Lagerfeld’s Parisian chic aesthetic and the model’s signature West Coast casual style via RTW, accessories, footwear and more. The #KarlLagerfeldxKaia collection will launch in September with a series of events. Get all the details on WWD.com. #wwdnews #wwdfashion
Harrods plans to remove the famous statue of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed from the bottom of the Egyptian escalators and hand it back to Mohamed Al-Fayed. “We are very proud to have played our role in celebrating the lives of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed at Harrods and to have welcomed people from around the world to visit the memorial for the past 20 years,” said Michael Ward, Harrods managing director. “With the announcement of the new official memorial statue to Diana, Princess of Wales at Kensington Palace, we feel that the time is right to return this memorial to Mr. Al Fayed and for the public to be invited to pay their respects at the palace.” More on the news, with reporting by @loreleimarfil, at WWD.com. #wwdnews