Who is the most influential designer working today? Right now, it’s Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquiere. In a few short seasons, Ghesquiere has risen from total obscurity as a licensee and uniform designer to a position of prominence. Trends started by Ghesquiere continue to rage through fashion; he was the first to romance the Eighties successfully, the first to show a nearly all-white collection, the first to laud the post-industrial-classical Greek goddess hybrid. Time will tell whether his spring collection, with its Koos van den Akker-meets-Naf Naf dichotomy, triggers a resurgence of the Eighties streetwear look. Yet Ghesquiere’s clout isn’t restricted to the runway; he reportedly drove a hard bargain during negotiations for the sale of Balenciaga to Gucci Group. (The deal was completed in July.)
The rapid ascent of Ghesquiere, along with that of the Viktor & Rolf team Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, indicates a shift in the fashion system regarding young talent. Certainly, in this world as elsewhere, youth has its advantages: mistakes more easily forgiven, outrageousness perceived as part of the maturation process. And it seems that only yesterday, designers could work the youth angle endlessly. Cases in point: Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs. While today, both are major designers with businesses on two continents, for years they were considered part of fashion’s young set. Similarly, Anna Sui won the CFDA Perry Ellis Award in 1992 after 12 years in business, Richard Tyler in 1995, at the age of 44.
Now, however, the appetite for newness is ever more voracious, while the communal attention span continues to contract. Young designers may arrive with similar flourish, but they can no longer count on the benefits of a prolonged professional adolescence in which adoring insider supporters indulge their antics as they learn the business of fashion. Today, designers either move swiftly into the mainstream power pack as Ghesquiere has done, or they seem destined for a career on the conceptual fringe. Or worse, as Miguel Adrover is finding out.
And meanwhile, the search for the new enfante continues. Just this year, Phoebe Philo took over at Chloe, while her predecessor, Stella McCartney, inked a lucrative deal with Gucci Group, as did fashion’s archetypal bad boy, Alexander McQueen, who was succeeded at Givenchy by Julien Macdonald. And one relative newcomer may be on his way out: Despite all kinds of denials, rumors continue to persist that Milan Vukmirovic will soon be replaced at Jil Sander by, yes, Jil Sander. As late as last week, the buzz was that Prada was in negotiations with LVMH for the latter to buy the Sander business, ultimately setting the stage for Sander’s return. Perhaps not everyone in the New Ascendency was born yesterday.