Nicolas Ghesquière brings his refined eye to Louis Vuitton

Bearing a slight resemblance to Joaquin Phoenix (handsome, dark eyebrows, blue eyes), and to Romain Duris (for his Parisian demeanor and his smile that aims downward), 42-year-old Nicolas Ghesquière is a man in fashion this week. By becoming the new artistic director at Louis Vuitton following the departure of Marc Jacobs at the start of October, he suddenly finds himself at the helm of a company with sales of €7.5 billion, double that of Gucci (€3.6 billion).


“For me, Louis Vuitton has always represented the ultimate symbol of luxury, innovation and exploration,” says the young 40-something now tied to the French brand, famous for its Monogram Canvas and bags, which ensure the profitability of the LVMH group. But of the man himself, we know very little indeed.


We know that he was born in Comines (the French side) in 1971 and that (even Wikipedia could not shed much more light), “he grew up in Loudun, in Poitou-Charentes.” And that’s it. School of fashion? Qualifications? Awards? Nothing. Prior to 1997, the date he was appointed artistic director at Balenciaga – the brand established by Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga, which has struggled since the departure of its founder in 1968 – there was no trace of Ghesquière.


A talented self-taught man, he had already infiltrated Jean Paul Gaultier, had worked in knitwear design at Thierry Mugler and had been a designer at Trussardi. But it was during the 16 years that he spent at Balenciaga that we learned a little bit more about the man himself. He’s been described as “radical”, “unwilling to give an inch”, “structuralist, “an intellectual”, “a visionary” and “futuristic” (he’s a fan of Star Wars and Logan’s Run). He designs shapely clothes with straps, conjuring up images of the world of sports. Actresses Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kristen Stewart, who swear by his creations, have helped to perfect this image of a young, refined and avant-garde designer, light years away from Marc Jacobs, the showman.


And Louis Vuitton has recently moved in a more artsy direction, forced into a change by LVMH’s stuttering performance. Third-quarter sales figures for the fashion and leather goods division showed a 3.77 % drop to €2.43 billion in comparision with the same period in 2012. This was a shock in a luxury sector accustomed to double-digit gains. And so changes have been made: responding to a clientele that appears weary of logos and is keen on more exclusive products, Louis Vuitton has tightened up its product range, increased its prices and swapped canvas for leather.


Ghesquière seems to be the right man at the right time. A refined approach might well do the trick. So much so that Balenciaga has not hesitated to bring out its heavy artillery. The fashion house is suing him for €7 million for making allegedly harmful comments about the brand in a press interview. That just about corresponds to the amount he received – aside from the €32 million granted to him for his shares – as compensation when his contract was terminated, a contract that expressly forbade making any damaging declarations to the media.



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