After weeks of speculation, market sources have finally confirmed that Alexander Wang will replace Nicolas Ghesquière as creative director of Balenciaga. Ghesquière, who led the brand’s global expansion over the past 15 years, officially leaves the company today.
Wang, 28, launched his eponymous label in 2007, shortly after dropping out of the Parsons School of Design. He quickly became a New York favorite for his slouchy, nonchalant collections that go heavy on the jeans, parkas, sportswear, and t-shirts. Critics frequently associate his edgy elegance with the downtown crowd and “off-duty model look,” which Wang peppers with a bit of androgyny. His garments play on the grunge aesthetic of the 90s, as seen in the leather t-shirt dresses and his sheer jerseys with tribal motifs, and his experiments on the catwalk often result in almost futuristic couture. Wang’s Spring 2013 collection includes dresses that consist of cut-out geometric pieces threaded together to censor key body parts.
Today’s confirmation, which was reported by Women’s Wear Daily, isn’t a surprise. In recent days Cathy Horyn of the New York Times and editors at Purple Magazine claimed to have heard from reliable sources that Wang had emerged as the leading candidate. Horyn’s account seemed particularly plausible; in April she broke the news that Raf Simons would replace John Galliano at Dior.
Ghesquière has remained coy about his reasons for leaving. But speculation is rife that he disagreed with PPR bosses who wanted to emphasize the commercial aspects of the business, presumably at the expense of his creative freedom. Wang brings the commercial appeal that PPR covets. His line is already stocked in top-flight department stores from Bergdorf Goodman in New York to Selfridges in London, and has a growing global footprint. He amassed a turnover of $25 million by the time he was 25. An entrepreneurial spirit may be in his DNA. His parents, Taiwanese immigrants, worked in the service sector before setting up a successful business that manufactures plastics.
His background may also pave the road to riches in the ever-expanding Chinese market. Wang speaks Mandarin, his father lives in Hong Kong, and his mother resides in Shanghai. Frequent visits to see his family have helped him understand the aesthetic and desires of the Chinese consumer. “In a way, I know there’s an audience that connects with me,” he said recently. “How I identify that or what I pinpoint that to, whether it’s because of my background or because I connect with people of my generation in New York or London — that, I don’t know how to explain or quantify.”
Commercial matters aside, Wang’s key task will be maintaining Balenciaga’s momentum. Ghesquière breathed new life into the label almost immediately after taking over in 1997. He transformed it from something of a dusty relic into one of the most glittering gems of the fashion map. Despite being experimental and pushing boundaries, Ghesquière honored Cristóbal Balenciaga’s vision by crafting silhouettes with broad shoulders and a small waist. Balenciaga is now 11 times as big as it was in 2001, when the Gucci Group (now PPR) acquired it.
Wang’s appointment won’t just affect Balenciaga. In recent months the winds of change have swept through some of Paris’s most iconic fashion houses. Belgian designer Raf Simons has moved from Jil Sander to Christian Dior, and cutting edge designer Hedi Slimane, formerly of Dior Homme, has moved to Yves Saint Laurent. As this trio of designers strive to make a mark on their respective houses they won’t just be compared to their predecessors, but also to each other. Let the games begin.