PARIS — Nicolas Ghesquière may be one of the most uncompromisingly experimental designers in fashion, but he has a practical side, too. That’s why, with his first official cruise collection for Balenciaga, the French designer is eager to make his label and his cutting-edge style more inviting, easier to wear and — heck — even a bit more classic.
“The challenge is to always give a priority to the research in fashion, but also to be close to what’s selling, to be real,” Ghesquière told WWD during an exclusive preview, adding that he intended to address both considerations in the collection. And his suggestions for the season are certainly inviting and easy to grasp, with lingerie in soft, pretty colors, grunge and even marching bands among his key themes and inspirations. “I wanted something very optimistic,” he says, “to take the risk to show something with color, very soft and positive. The role of the pre-collection is to touch more people than [would be reached by just] one silhouette.”
The lingerie styles, for example, include an intricately pleated, blush pink dress with strategically placed tulle insets. But the collection also features oversized kimono sweaters in boxy shapes that practically any woman could wear. Ghesquière describes his grunge group as the most fashion forward because in it, he mixes diverse elements, such as a loosely knit gray sweater, shown with a fluorescent athletic tank and a raw linen kilt.
The designer, of course, is famous for his Balenciaga runway shows that edit his ideas down to an edict — gossamer angel dresses one season, high-waisted pants the next. And he intends to retain their singular focus. But he said that he’s decided this time to elaborate on themes from last season and also to reinterpret some of his greatest hits, such as his cargo pants, small-shouldered jackets and narrow trousers.
Ghesquière allows that there are “economic reasons” for the more commercial bent of his cruise collection. Since Gucci Group bought a 91 percent stake in the fashion house two years ago, granting creative director Ghesquière a 9 percent share, “we have been trying to industrialize Balenciaga more and more and to deliver more and more quickly,” he says. “It’s very important to have the structure. We always had an interest in growing in our way.”
Adding more collections per year is part of the plan. The 150-piece cruise collection went on sale here on Saturday, along with the designer’s men’s wear line, in its third season. The footwear and accessories collections also are being expanded, and Ghesquière notes that the cruise line includes linen and patent versions of his celebrated lariat bag, along with new “boxy, rigid” bags that are a cross between sport shapes and classic Fifties handbag styles.
When Balenciaga’s New York flagship opened in February, Ghesquière acquired another window on the international market, and he said he tracks sales trends carefully. “That’s something that’s very interesting,” he explains. “It’s very rich to have that information.” Meanwhile, Ghesquière also has a new design project: his new headquarters on Rue du Cherche-Midi on the Left Bank. He’s overseeing the redesign of a 17th-century hôtel particulier for his design studios and press office there, which will be near his new art gallery-like commercial showroom on the Rue Cassette.
He’s also staying close to home this fall. After showing his Balenciaga collection in New York last season, Ghesquière confirmed that he’ll be back on the Paris calendar in October.
— Miles Socha
PHOTOS BY STEPHANE FEUGERE