Balenciaga and its star creative director, Nicolas Ghesquière, will part ways at the end of the month, the company’s parent company announced Monday morning. François-Henri Pinault, chairman of PPR, said in a statement:
Cristóbal Balenciaga was a master, a genius whose avant-garde vision dictated fashion’s greatest trends and inspired generations of designers. With an incomparable creative talent, Nicolas has brought to Balenciaga an artistic contribution essential to the unique influence of the house.
The move is a “joint decision” according to the statement, though it’s certainly unexpected and caps off a year of musical chairs in the fashion industry, which saw Jil Sander return to her eponymous brand, Raf Simons move to Dior and Hedi Slimane take the helm at Saint Laurent.
The decision is surprising in part because Ghesquière has consistently turned out remarkable collections for Balenciaga since he assumed the position in 1997, when he was just 26. But beyond having the stamp of approval from esteemed fashion editors and critics, Ghesquière made Balenciaga covetable and cool among the fashionista set over the last 15 years, garnering attention for his futuristic accessories and shoes.
For designers who come to such storied fashion houses, such as Balenciaga or Chanel, it’s always a difficult and delicate task to simultaneously maintain the brand’s history while introducing something new. Ghesquière has been a master at this, and he is highly praised for his ability to incorporate a more avant-garde vision to collections, while still referencing Cristobal Balenciaga’s signature contributions—broader shoulders and waist—in his work. There’s no word on Ghesquière’s successor, and if Dior’s search is any indication of the time it takes to replace such a renowned creative director, Balenciaga may be leaderless for a while yet.