When Nicolas Met Cristobal

Nicolas Ghesquière. Photograph by Thibault Montamat

Cristobal Balenciaga

Let’s start with a confession: I am a total fashion magazines addict, I read them cover to cover, I cut out images that I like and I find it hard to throw them away so they just pile up in my apartment and when I move- they move too. W magazine has always been one of favorites. Maybe it’s the large images which I often use for my collages, or the fact that there is always something interesting to read regarding fashion, art and culture. Well, until recently. Since Stefano Tonchi took over as Editor in Chief last year I relate to this magazine less and less. As much as I admire the man, his experience and knowledge, and whilst the editorials are still beautiful it seems there is less substance and more, well… how to put it? It is so much more commercial and shallow. I can hardly find anything to read anymore and sometimes I can’t even tell the difference between the ads and the actual articles. Or maybe I am just getting old….

However, the March issue that just landed in my mail box was somewhat of a pleasant surprise. It features a very interesting interview with Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquière. And here too a confession is in place: it was not until his Fall 2010 that I started to like the designer, I didn’t GET him. But with time his style is growing on me, and I can see past the hype (which always turns me off) surrounding him. His Fall 2010 collection, I thought, was a work of a genius- the cut, the color combination, the over all style- feminine yet not girly, seductive yet not revealing. And the Cristobal atmosphere is there- especially in the simple lines and those sloped shoulders.

Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquière. RTW Fall 2010Photo: Marcio Madeira, FirstView.com

In the interview Ghesquière explains how deeply he is influenced by the legacy of Cristobal Balenciaga. Primarily it is the Edition collection for which original Balenciaga designs are reproduced. “It’s our tribute to Cristobal”, he explains to interviewer Alice Rawsthorn, “ We find something we like, one of his timeless couture pieces, and it’s almost a surgical process, because we open up the piece and look at everything, trying to analyze how he did it. The development takes time; usually the fabric is the most difficult because the yarns don’t exist anymore, and the quality of the weaving isn’t the same. Sometimes it can take a year to get it right, and although it’s, well, not exactly a peaceful process, it’s a relief compared to the rush of trying to find new idea.” In my mind I keep coming back to a story told by Hamish Bowles, curator of the exhibition Balenciaga: Spanish Master, when he appeared in FIT last December to discus the work and research for the exhibition. He mentioned that during conservation work on one of the pieces they found detailed and meticulous handwritten instructions left by Balenciaga himself for his tailor on the inside of the garment. The designer, Bowles said, was known to run his studio in complete silence, almost like a lab, and each collection included one garment that was designed and sewn entirely by him. And the reason that this comes to mind is because friends and employees describe Ghesquière as not less meticulous and dedicated as the master himself.

The stunning Spring/summer 2011 collection opened with a checked coatdress, the creation of which he describes in the interview “The first idea was, let’s try to do an organza dress in the leaf shape that Cristobal often did, I’m like ‘Mmm, mmm, non! It’s not a dress, it’s a coatdress.’ The second step was to build a coatdress. The third step was: ‘Organza is awful. It’s so couture. Let’s find another fabric, some synthetic rubber or plastic thing.’ The next step was to try a print, but that wasn’t working, so we used flat technique of Swiss mechanical embroidery instead. Then we developed the check. Then we start to build the shape. Then we use magnets to flatten the closure. After all that work, which isn’t cheap, I felt the whole plastic thing looked a bit Seventies tacky, so I thought we need beautiful plain black leather for the sleeves and collar. Then we did a whole session to choose contrasting color for the stitching. Then we worked on the collar, which was inspired by one in Diane Arbus photograph. It all took about three months, and maybe 20 or 25 fittings.” The result is striking, and looks like nothing else in the fashion world right now. The initial inspiration was Balenciaga’s design, but the result is totally original. In my point of view Ghesquière perfectly balances legacy and newness, I am sure Cristobal would have been pleased…

Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquière, RTW Spring/Summer 2011. Photo: Monica Feudi / GoRunway.com

Identical Twins, Roselle, NJ 1967

Ghesquière sums up his feelings for the master “It’s impossible to be bored with Cristobal. No other designer compares to him. Every time I go to the archive I see something different. When I was in New York in December, I went with James to see Hamish Bowles’s little exhibition on Cristobal at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute. It was quite fantastic. The radicalism. The modernity. The touch and mass of the fabric. And I felt so proud.”

I find the last remark quite interesting as I think this is where the difference between the two lays, the way each treats the fabric. Balneciaga had a unique ability to create a piece that looks constructed and soft at the same time, while Ghesquière’s designs, even when they are made of soft fabric, seem so have a rigid quality to them.

The interview is a glimpse into the creative process of Ghesquière and his team, and underlines the challenges he faces with keeping the tradition of the house while marching it forward. This is the type of material I expect from my fashion magazines! I guess I will renew my W subscription after all, maybe the new format will grow on me the way Ghesquière style did.

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