Why Balenciaga’s Designer Was So Influential

Photo: Balenciaga

The news of Nicolas Ghesquière’s departure from Balenciaga yesterday wasn’t just bad news for devotees of his skinny silhouette and philosophic design sensibility, but also for any civilian or celebrity who wore his bags. And even more so, for those who feasted on the details at his  Paris runway show every year, where the clothes were obviously out there, but also an inspiring assemblage of absurdly strong shoulders, metallic bodysuits, and head-to-toe floral separates. Since 1997, he’s established himself as a mathematical constant within the fashion world: If other collections disappointed, Balenciaga delighted, even if you didn’t get the vibe of the collection right away; even if you weren’t quite sure who was wearing these clothes. Until, months later, you would recognize them on some impeccable stranger having a fabulous lunch.

Kristen Stewart and ultra-thin models aside, Ghesquière has always been ahead of the curve technically, pioneering new methods to obtain old-school results — like when he used neoprene’d silks to update architectural shapes Cristóbal Balenciaga was known for — and to create collections that felt elegant, yet fearless. When Cristóbal launched the house nearly a hundred years ago, he was considered among the first couturiers to reimagine fashion as architecture for the body; he inspired fashion obsessives with his iconic structured shapes that became the haute couture look of the fifties and sixties. But it’s Ghesquière who has become a visionary designer by taking an old brand and maintaining the house’s heritage while propelling its futuristic look — both aesthetically with its techno-silhouettes and advanced technical details, and commercially with its steady rise in Asia.

We’ve taken a look back at Ghesquière’s hits over the past decade, swooning over quite a few in the process, and are now sharing our favorite looks and ads over the years. His best shows came almost squarely in the middle of last decade, where standouts included the hand-pieced lace collars and cuffs from his spring 2006 collection, the sculptural wool ruffles and jacquard cape of fall 2006, and the molded, floral silk-neoprene shoulders of spring 2008. Zoom in to see those details, and more, all before these clothes end up in a museum, where they belong.