By  on February 6, 2002

A MUCH-TOUTED QUARTET -- NICOLAS GHESQUIERE. WILLIAM IVEY LONG. JEREMY SCOTT AND MATTHEW WILLIAMSON -- WEIGH IN ON WHAT'S BEHIND THEIR NEW YORK DEBUTS.

Nicolas's New York Moment

Nicolas Ghesquiere was 18 when he took his first bite out of the Big Apple.

Then working as an assistant at Jean Paul Gaultier's Paris studio, he came to Manhattan with a group of friends and colleagues for Christmas and they rented an apartment on Lafayette Street for a week. On New Year's Eve, they ended up at artist Francesco Clemente's apartment partying with the likes of Lauren Hutton.

No wonder he's crazy about the town.

"I've always loved New York a lot," said Ghesquiere. "I find it very inspiring." That's part of the reason he decided to show his 10th collection for Balenciaga here instead of Paris, on Feb. 13 at an undisclosed gallery in Chelsea.

As reported previously in WWD, Ghesquiere doesn't consider the move a permanent one, but an expression of his admiration for the market and a desire to demarcate his partnership with Gucci Group, which bought Balenciaga last year. "It's really about freedom. Paris shows are really about the event, which is great, which is very Paris," he said. "But we are free to change, and we are not stuck in a very heavy concept. What everyone learned last season was intimacy, that presenting the clothes more personally was something interesting."

Since Americans were among the first to recognize his work for Balenciaga, Ghesquiere has a soft spot for them. In fact, while American designers are often derided for being too commercial, Ghesquiere raced to their defense, describing them as "completely international." He also defended American consumers, who are often stereotyped for being conservative in their fashion tastes. "After the second season, American department stores came [to see my collection for Balenciaga]," he said. "There is a real appreciation and a real market for exceptional pieces."

Part of the explanation lies in the fact that the Balenciaga brand is more "neutral" in the U.S., Ghesquiere acknowledged. By contrast, many Europeans stereotyped the brand based on licensed products and an outmoded image of grand eveningwear perpetuated partly by fragrance ads."In the U.S., the judgment on the fashion was very independent," he said. "You can do a fluid dress one season and the next season work only on knitwear, and they're not going to judge you on that. That reaction helped me a lot and encouraged me to push the fashion. It made me realize that fashion was the leader of this brand."

The U.S. accounts for roughly 30 percent of the Balenciaga business, and Manhattan is still a priority for a Balenciaga boutique.

These days, Ghesquiere comes to New York frequently and behaves like a native: taking in movies, art exhibitions, walking in Central Park and dining at favorite spots like Mr. Chow or the Japanese noodle house Honmura An. Currently, he's fascinated by the Upper East Side, which he recognizes is an odd curiosity for New Yorkers. "When you are a foreigner in a city, you are always more open-minded," he said. "New York gives you a lot of freshness."

Ghesquiere said he also likes to visit the vintage clothing markets in New York, fascinated by how American fashions can convey a look and theme with a minimum of details. "There's something very light about it," he said. "I like the culture of fashion in America."

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