Vuit­ton’s Vi­sion­ary

In a rare In­ter­view, Nicolas Gh­esquière— ar­guably the most pow­er­ful fash­ion de­signer In paris— tells Melissa TWIGG about his child­hood, his cre­ative chal­lenges and his com­pelling aes­thetic for louis vuit­ton

Hong Kong Tatler - - November -

Nicolas Gh­esquière, ar­guably the most pow­er­ful fash­ion de­signer in Paris, opens up about his child­hood, the cre­ative chal­lenges he has faced, and his com­pelling aes­thetic for Louis Vuit­ton

She is de­sir­able and recog­nis­able. She has mul­ti­ple facets. She is straight­for­ward, cool and ca­sual. She is con­fi­dent with her clas­sics but she also breaks the rules and mixes gen­res. I see her as hav­ing a sub­tle free­dom,” says Nicolas Gh­esquière when asked to de­scribe the woman he imag­ines wear­ing his clothes. But swap the pro­nouns and the artis­tic di­rec­tor of Louis Vuit­ton could eas­ily be talk­ing about him­self.

There has al­ways been an aura of cool about Gh­esquière. He is in­cred­i­bly hand­some, which never hurts—a liv­ing em­bod­i­ment of ev­ery teenage girl’s fan­tasy of a dash­ing French­man, with thick black hair and pierc­ing blue eyes. There’s the ac­cent, a thick Bur­gundy lilt, and the al­most stereo­typ­i­cal way he pep­pers his sen­tences with an oh la

la, or a mon dieu. Then there are the girls, his staunch co­terie of muses, who are all in­tim­i­dat­ingly chic—char­lotte Gains­bourg, Jen­nifer Con­nelly and Ali­cia Vikan­der, to name a few. But that bank­able brand of Gh­esquière cool mainly comes from his work—in just four sea­sons as artis­tic di­rec­tor of Louis Vuit­ton, he has re­vived the logo, cre­ated an era-defin­ing sil­hou­ette and brought out a range of ac­ces­sories cov­eted by the kind of women who wouldn’t have been caught dead car­ry­ing a mono­grammed It bag four years ago.

Gh­esquière’s ap­point­ment to the top job at Louis Vuit­ton was the talk of au­tumn 2013. The news was an­nounced a full year af­ter his 15-year ten­ure as cre­ative di­rec­tor at Ba­len­ci­aga ended and, due to his some­what ac­ri­mo­nious de­par­ture (he ac­cused the own­ers of Ba­len­ci­aga of hav­ing no vi­sion or sense of cre­ativ­ity), fash­ion pun­dits started ques­tion­ing whether Gh­esquière’s seem­ingly stel­lar ca­reer had crashed back to earth. But the tim­ing was ac­tu­ally spot-on. With so many of the defin­ing tal­ents of the past two decades no longer in the pic­ture—hel­mut Lang’s res­ig­na­tion; Alexan­der Mcqueen’s death; John Gal­liano’s self-de­struc­tion; Martin Margiela’s dis­ap­pear­ing act—the fash­ion com­mu­nity breathed a col­lec­tive sigh of re­lief when news broke that Gh­esquière was back.

And back with a boom. Artis­tic di­rec­tor of Louis Vuit­ton is prob­a­bly the most pow­er­ful cre­ative job in fash­ion. Vuit­ton is a gi­ant, a

Us$10-bil­lion-a-year, 460-store mon­ster, and this ca­reer-defin­ing ap­point­ment must have been daunt­ing for a de­signer with no for­mal train­ing, whose pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence had been at much smaller houses. Luck­ily Gh­esquière’s knowl­edge of fash­ion is pro­found, the re­sult of an ob­ses­sion (his word, not mine) that first de­vel­oped when he was a teenager liv­ing a seem­ingly bu­colic life in the Loire Val­ley in the early ’80s. “When I was grow­ing up, fash­ion was pop­u­lar, but not as pop­u­lar as it is to­day. Like any kid, I was fas­ci­nated by draw­ing. But when some of the kids let go, I kept draw­ing. More and more, I was draw­ing women’s clothes. When my par­ents re­alised that I liked fash­ion, they sup­ported me. I ad­mire them for not say­ing, ‘It’s a world we don’t know; it might be strange,’ or, ‘It’s not a se­ri­ous pro­fes­sion.’ In­stead they said, ‘Try. We’ll help you.’ I’m so thank­ful to them for not think­ing it was an im­pos­si­ble dream.”

The 16-year-old Gh­esquière sent his sketches to dozens of Parisian fash­ion houses and even­tu­ally struck gold—agnès B, who to this day re­mem­bers Gh­esquière’s in­tel­li­gent eyes, asked him to join her sum­mer in­tern­ship pro­gramme. Next came a week­end job with French de­signer Cor­rine Cob­son, al­though this was still not enough for the pre­co­ciously am­bi­tious teenager, who swore he would be part of Jean Paul Gaultier’s team by the time he turned 18. Whether it was down to per­sis­tence, luck or raw tal­ent, Gh­esquière got his wish and was hired by the de­signer a few months be­fore his big birth­day. “My par­ents wanted me to go down the con­ven­tional route and get a de­gree from a fash­ion school. But my ca­reer has proved that this is not the only op­tion. I was lucky to meet the right peo­ple along the way, like Gaultier. Peo­ple who took a great deal of care of me.”

Gh­esquière—strik­ing, stylish and very ta­lented—was soon mix­ing with the je­unesse

dorée, or gilded youth, of Paris and caught the eye of the big­wigs at Ba­len­ci­aga, who thought he might be the man to re­vive their tired fash­ion house. He was hired, made cre­ative di­rec­tor at the ten­der age of 25, and went on to trans­form the once flail­ing brand into one of the most in­no­va­tive and re­spected houses in Paris. A star was born.

Hun­dreds of col­umn inches over the past 18 years have been ded­i­cated to dis­sect­ing Gh­esquière’s tal­ent. How does he know ex­actly which sil­hou­ette will spark the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion? Why does he have such a cult fol­low­ing? How does a man with no for­mal train­ing make such beau­ti­ful clothes? Gh­esquière has al­ways catered to a cer­tain breed of cool girl, but along with the rock ’n’ roll look that has served him so well is an ap­peal that is harder to de­fine. Male de­sign­ers have of­ten been ac­cused of be­ing too ide­al­is­tic and not prag­matic enough about real women’s bod­ies, but Gh­esquière has a seem­ingly un­canny abil­ity to cre­ate clothes that are both cut­ting-edge and wear­able. This may be

where his real skill lies, in al­low­ing women to achieve that holy grail of dress­ing—look­ing and feel­ing beau­ti­ful, with high fash­ion el­e­ments that en­hance their per­sonal style.

Paris-based ac­tress Char­lotte Gains­bourg— Gh­esquière’s most trusted friend, con­fi­dant and long-time muse—agrees. “Nicolas drew me into his world and made me feel very close to what he was do­ing,” she says. “He made me feel at ease, never any­thing other than my­self. I’ll al­ways have my own look and my own way of do­ing things—the no­tion of ef­fort­less, go-any­where dress­ing is very im­por­tant to me. But, with Nicolas, I’ve learned to mix new pieces into my ev­ery­day wardrobe and I’ve started to en­joy dress­ing for the red car­pet but still feel­ing like me.”

It’s a sen­ti­ment shared by Amer­i­can film star and Louis Vuit­ton muse Jen­nifer Con­nelly. “I al­ways feel at ease in his clothes,” she says. “Nicolas is a lot like me. We’re both highly sen­si­tive, but very hon­est and loyal to­wards our­selves, to­wards oth­ers and to­wards our work. If I’m stand­ing in my closet ask­ing my­self what to wear, I take one of his pieces and I know at once it will be just right. Nicolas plays with con­trasts bet­ter than any­one else. He mixes colours, shapes and tex­tures that re­ally shouldn’t go to­gether, and yet some­how they do. I think it’s be­cause he has an amaz­ing sense of pro­por­tion. I love be­ing con­stantly sur­prised.”

Gh­esquière is cer­tainly a vi­sion­ary, but he has some­how man­aged to synch this very per­sonal aes­thetic with the Vuit­ton world. His fa­mil­iar tight sil­hou­ette, with its trade­mark nar­row coats, cropped jack­ets, A-line skirts and skinny trousers, is still there, but he has also brought in new el­e­ments since ar­riv­ing at Louis Vuit­ton. His au­tumn/win­ter 2015 col­lec­tion is a clever blend of the rock ’n’ roll fash­ion we knew and loved in his Ba­len­ci­aga days with peek­a­boo dé­col­letage de­tails and leather miniskirts with bold cut-outs. How­ever, he has in­te­grated sleeker, more so­phis­ti­cated de­signs—thick fur coats, satin trouser suits, em­broi­dered dresses and jack­ets, and chunky chain belts in the sig­na­ture Louis Vuit­ton mono­gram—and the re­sult feels very Parisian and very luxe, and a pow­er­ful de­par­ture from the showier Marc Ja­cobs era.

gh­esquière Is cer­tainly a vi­sion­ary, but he has some­how man­aged to synch this very per­sonal aes­thetic with the vuit­ton world

“I wanted to bring Vuit­ton into real life,” Gh­esquière says. “Vuit­ton is about day­light and daywear, even if there are some evening pieces in the col­lec­tion. It’s about some­thing fa­mil­iar and at the same time ex­tra­or­di­nary.”

Ac­ces­sories have al­ways been the core of Vuit­ton, and Gh­esquière has also launched end­less cov­etable de­signs, from sculp­tural lizard-skin jew­elled pumps to mono­grammed mini-trunks, clutches and tote bags that have wait­ing lists around the world. “I’m con­stantly think­ing about how I can trans­form all the tra­di­tional ac­ces­sories of Louis Vuit­ton, in­clud­ing the Speedy, the Lockit, and the Petite Malle—but at the same time I want to in­no­vate and look for new es­sen­tial shapes. When a bag is good, it should last longer than a sea­son, so that’s the most im­por­tant thing I am look­ing for,” he says.

And Gh­esquière’s vi­sion has quickly trans­lated into sales. LVMH’S 2014 re­sults showed rev­enue was up by 6 per cent to ¤30.6 bil­lion. Bernard Ar­nault, the chair­man and CEO of the con­glom­er­ate, per­son­ally cred­ited his star artis­tic di­rec­tor for some of this suc­cess, say­ing, “For Louis Vuit­ton, 2014 was char­ac­terised by a strong cre­ative mo­men­tum, dom­i­nated by the en­thu­si­as­tic re­cep­tion of Nicolas Gh­esquière’s run­way shows and his new prod­ucts.”

Gh­esquière is mod­est about his ex­tra­or­di­nary suc­cess, but even he can­not ig­nore the cre­ative power that has been un­leashed by com­bin­ing his com­pelling vi­sion with the clout of Louis Vuit­ton. “I knew early on that I didn’t want to make a trendy fash­ion col­lec­tion be­cause I wanted to get deep into the wardrobes of lots of dif­fer­ent women,” he says. “In the fash­ion game you have to con­stantly chal­lenge your­self, but that’s ex­cit­ing be­cause I’m not scared any more. I al­ways say, even the grande clas­siques were once new. They were to­tally in­no­va­tive and maybe even shock­ing, but with time, they have be­come clas­sics. The chal­lenge for me is to look for things that can stand the test of time. Per­haps the clas­sic pieces of your to­mor­row are in my head to­day.”

be­hind the seams All images are from the Louis Vuit­ton Parisian ate­lier dur­ing the mak­ing of the au­tumn/win­ter 2015 col­lec­tion. Clock­wise from above left: the base of an em­broi­dered dress; lizard and python skin jew­elled shoes; at­tach­ing a strap to a leather boot

de­tailed de­sign Above right: Sewing the back of an em­broi­dered coat. Be­low: The in­tri­cate process for mak­ing a jew­elled me­tal belt

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