When French designer Nicolas Ghesquière was plucked from relative obscurity in 1997 to become the creative director of Balenciaga—which, though one of the most esteemed houses in fashion history, had remained slightly adrift since its namesake died in 1972—no one was quite sure what to expect. And no one was prepared for what they found. Within a few seasons, Ghesquière had developed a reputation as the designer who would lead womenswear into a new dawn: His work consistently managed to be hard-edged, geometric, and rigorously precise, while still allowing for a free play of the feminine. In other words, women inGhesquière’s designs looked like masters of and not slaves to their clothing. Perhaps some of Ghesquière’s success can be attributed to his frequent nods to Cristóbal Balenciaga and his architectural silhouettes (plus having access to the exclusive archive). Or maybe it’s due to Ghesquière’s training in the early ’90s with the radically imaginative Jean Paul Gaultier. Or it could be the fact that, while so many designers of the ’00s tried to turn themselves into instant household names, Ghesquière held back and worked with singular focus on his collections for Balenciaga. More than a few have wondered just how long it will be before Ghesquière launches his own eponymous label, although he seems perfectly content where he is, having now spent nearly 13 years at the helm. As the next decade strikes, however, the 38-year-old designer does have a few new missions. His spring/summer ’10 collection has a rougher, tougher sense of the street. And this month, in collaboration with his longtime friend and muse Charlotte Gainsbourg, he also helps bring the entire house of Balenciaga into a larger demographic, launching the brand’s first-ever fragrance.
Tom Ford, also a notoriously focused designer (and now film director), is, in many ways, very different than Ghesquière—although Ford did help Gucci Group acquire Balenciaga in 2001, largely because of the interest in Ghesquière’s talent. The designers spoke recently by phone—and, somewhat paradoxically for two men who have done so much to define fashion, Ford conducted the interview entirely naked.
TOM FORD: I want to ask you about golf.
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE: Really?
FORD: Because I was reading somewhere about you playing golf. I don’t think people ever imagine fashion designers doing something like playing golf. You are probably going to hate this question, so we won’t print it if you do not like it—
GHESQUIÈRE: [laughs] Okay.
FORD: But you play golf?!
GHESQUIÈRE: I don’t. [laughs] No, I’m really bad. I grew up in a family that played golf, and my brother was much better than me, so I kind of put that aside. I had to be good at something other than golf. So, no, it wasn’t really my thing.
FORD: So golf clothes have never been a big inspiration?
GHESQUIÈRE: Actually, I love golf clothes! I think this is the most interesting part of golf! [laughs]
FORD: I love golf clothes too! Especially for women! There is this great movie, Ordinary People, with a scene with Mary Tyler Moore . . . . I don’t know if you know that movie. It probably came out before you were born, in ’80.
GHESQUIÈRE: I was born!