Champagne corks are presumably popping at Louis Vuitton’s headquarters this afternoon to celebrate the announcement, after months of speculation, that Nicolas Ghesquière will be the new artistic director of womenswear.
The 42-year-old takes over for Marc Jacobs, who stepped down from the role in October following the Spring/Summer 2014 show in Paris. Ghesquière will bring his long-term collaborator and stylist Marie Amélie Sauvé with him, and there are rumors that his former first assistant at Balenciaga, Natacha Ramsay, will also join his team. (Though this has yet to be confirmed, the word in Paris is that Ramsay left a consulting job last week, citing a new role at Louis Vuitton.)
Since Ghesquière’s abrupt departure from Balenciaga last November, there has been much speculation over his next move. In May, System magazine published an exclusive tell-all interview with the designer, in which he detailed the challenges he faced while working under parent company Kering.
In the interview, the designer confessed, “I began to feel as though I was sucked dry, like they wanted to steal my identity while trying to homogenize things.” Ghesquière’s indiscretion violated his separation agreement, and Kering filed a lawsuit to cover damages to the brand.
Despite bitter endings, the designer’s 15-year term at Balenciaga was defined as a phenomenal success. As early as 2001, Suzy Menkes of The International Herald Tribune said, “Nicolas Ghesquière is the most intriguing and original designer of his generation. His collections are explorations of shape, volume, and embellishment that seem totally new—yet reflect in a glancing, abstract way the style of the iconic design house that shelters him.”
His work amassed such a cult following that it inspired the pertinent (now-defunct) Tumblr, Balenciaga Did It First, and his exacting mix of sportswear, tailoring, and shapes cut with couture-like precision defined the fashion landscape for many seasons. The fashion world largely has Ghesquière to thank for popularizing everything from bra tops and sculpted sleeves (although Cristobal Balenciaga did do that first), to graphic slogan sweaters—like those from the Balenciaga Fall 2012 collection that still remain the most photographed street style look in recent memory.
Rumors of Ghesquière’s potential placement at Louis Vuitton date back as March, when Jacobs still held the position. At the time, Sauvé spoke to The Daily Beast, describing her connection with Ghesquière as “love at first sight.” The influential consultant hinted even then that a bigger project was in the works. “Nicolas is deeply committed when he is involved in a project. The rebirth of Balenciaga was one of these examples … Now the focus is on our dream project.”
Around the same time, Style.com’s Tim Blanks also shared his thoughts on the premature rumors surrounding the designer’s next move. “We know what Ghesquière could do under the umbrella of a big house, I think he re-wrote the book on that concept,” he said to The Daily Beast.
That is a quality Ghesquière and his predecessor, Jacobs, have in common. Jacobs launched ready-to-wear for the luxury house and, during his 16-year career, helped build the booming business that is now defined as LVMH’s “cash cow.” It was also during Jacobs’s time that Louis Vuitton was at the forefront of logomania, which, despite hefty price tags, inspired mass-market appeal and copycats across the globe.
It’s probable that Ghesquière, whose approach to womenswear recalls that of studied couturiers, will focus on instilling a more elite sensibility to the collections and the brand at large. It poses the question: will the spectacular Louis Vuitton presentations at Paris Fashion Week be a thing of the past? The media has come to anticipate fantastical sets, not to mention generous ticket allocations, at the Louis Vuitton shows. But, large-scale events and theatrics are not Ghesquière’s way: he prefers intimate, more traditional presentations.
Regardless, the new artistic director will assuredly take the brand (which celebrates its 160th anniversary next year) to an exciting new place—it’s sure to be an interesting ride come March.