Nicolas Ghesquiere (born 1971, in Comines, Nord-Pas de Calais, France, raised in Loudun, Poitou-Charentes, France) is a globally recognized fashion designer and is currently creative director for the house of Balenciaga owned by the Gucci Group (Pinault-Printemps-Redoute).
He was the son of a Francophone Belgian golf-course owner and manager in the 9,000 inhabitants Poitevine town of Loudun and a French mother who enjoyed fashion. From a young age Ghesquiere enjoyed and practised sports (horse riding, fencing and swimming) and many of his collections use that inspiration, most notably his scuba minidresses and most recently his equestrian inspired Fall/Winter 2006 Ready-To-Wear collection. He said himself that he loved the elegant fencing clothes.
Raised in the small town of Loudun in western France (in the Poitevin-Saintongeais-speaking part), Ghesquiere announced at the age of 12 that he wanted to be a designer, though he now admits this was partly from an adolescent desire to do something different from his parents and to alleviate country boredom. So that's by the age of 12 that Nicolas was dreamily sketching dress designs in his school books, making dresses out of his mother's curtains and making earrings out of his grandmother's chandelier crystals.
He diligently did internships during his school holidays. At 14, he got an internship with French designer Agnes B for which he was paid in clothes. His next apprenticeship was with Corinne Cobson, afterwards he decided that fashion was too hard work and came home to finish his schooling.
After completing his studies, Nicolas worked from 1990-1992 as an assistant to designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. He then worked at Pôles, designing their knit wear line followed by a series of inauspicious assignments with different companies including the Italian house of Callaghan.
Through his contacts with Marie-Amélie Sauve and Nathalie Marrec, of Balenciaga, Ghesquiere eventually landed a job doing the licensing for Balenciaga (the unglamorous, mass-production side of fashion) and designing for the Asian market.
In 1997, at the young age of 25, Ghesquiere was the surprise choice to head Balenciaga. Promoted to creative director of Balenciaga after his Belgian predecessor Josephus Thimister was fired following a disastrous show featuring an ear-splitting live band which quickly emptied the room. At that time, Balenciaga was owned by Groupe Jacques Bogart, in bad shape, and its heads realized his talent when he designed a small collection for one of their Japanese licences. He is known for his sense of silhouette, pairing highwaisted skinny pants with a voluminous blouson, or a tightly cut wool jumpsuit with billowing sleeves.
Consistently reinventing himself by moving in new directions, he turned Balenciaga completely around. An aspect of the designer's devotion to the house's legacy is his respect for Cristóbal Balenciaga's unyielding elegance and inventiveness. However, even though the Balenciaga archives are stored in Ghesquiere's atelier, he can gain entry to the locked room only by special appointment with an off-site custodian.
Yet, he likes to repeat and tries to prove he's far from being a nostalgic and uses his "child of the 80s" (as he describes himself) memories, his vision of fashion's future in his creation a lot. Ghesquiere looks to the future in his collections with a mix of elements of science fiction, organic forms and French classicism.
The Gucci Group (PPR) bought Balenciaga in 2001. Ghesquiere who wanted to stay and expand Balenciaga could only be bought through the house. “It is a happy relationship,” Ghesquiere says. “It has worked because they wanted me to explain what I wanted to do with Balenciaga, not the other way around.” Ghesquiere’s collections are ineffably cool and cutting-edge, but they have also had a huge commercial impact; not so much in terms of what he sells himself (his is a rarefied, high-end designer product) but through his influence on other designers.
At first, he was a complete unknown. In his first year there were blousons on linked circles, apron tunics and batwing tops. There were sheer high-necked dresses with flowing skirts. His first collection was Spring/Summer 1998, a strong collection that returned to the roots of Balenciaga but whose showing very few people attended.
Competing on the Paris catwalk schedule with the likes of John Galliano at Dior, Alexander McQueen at Givenchy, Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton and Stella McCartney at Chloé, Ghesquiere's first collection failed to make a big splash. By 2000, with seven collections behind him, the picture was very different. During the autumn/winter ready-to-wear collections in February 2001, when his show was heralded as "totally original" by Suzy Menkes, Ghesquiere's creations were in such high demand that Balenciaga in Paris was unable to meet the demands of the crowds that gathered daily at the flagship store.
He's often called a designer's designer and compared to Yves Saint-Laurent in his ability to feel and shape fashion. In October 2000, he was named avant-garde designer of the year at the VHI/Vogue Fashion Awards and a year later, he was named Womenswear Designer of the Year by the CFDA. Most recently Ghesquiere was featured in Time's 100 Most Influential People of 2005, the only fashion designer in this year's edition (with exception of Ralph Lauren and Sean Combs, who were not featured for their fashion).
Ghesquiere was called "fashion's most sought-after and influential figure" (American Vogue), "the most intriguing and original designer of his generation ... the hippest, hottest, most sought-after creator by fashion aficionados", "surely one of the few genuinely original voices in fashion today" (Godfrey Deeny). He's also the man who prompted the normally tight-lipped Kate Moss to coo, "I've got so much Balenciaga but it's never enough." and Chloë Sevigny: "I worship Balenciaga".
The house of Balenciaga designed the dresses worn by Jennifer Connelly and Nicole Kidman to the 2006 Academy Awards, as well as the wedding gown Kidman wore for her recent marriage to Keith Urban. Kylie Minogue has also wore a Balenciaga dress for her "Slow" music video and for her concert tour.
His pencil-thin pants are particularly popular, many girls say he cuts the sexiest trousers for women. Ultimate proof of success, they're now widely copied everywhere, have become a fashion paradigm. "His signature silhouette of skinny pants and blouson jacket, a vestige of Ghesquiere's obsession with the '80s (think Bow Wow Wow), is a virtual staple in fashion's contemporary market." (Time). Today, the brand is also famous for its line of motorcycle-inspired handbags, especially the famous "Lariat".
For the present, Ghesquiere's plans are only to focus on building Balenciaga into an international powerhouse brand, developing perfumes, menswear and a full range of accessories.
He often wears clothes by Maison Martin Margiela, another designer he deeply respects. Like Margiela, he likes to keep his private life private and, keen to avoid the label of fashion's new celebrity a title that cannot be held for long Ghesquiere insists that he has never wanted to be famous. But if he achieves his next goal, to eventually produce a label under his own name, something many of his numerous fahionistas fans are wanting him to do, he may have no choice. He says that he is saving his own name for something very new and very different.
He's worn by such fashion icons and "muses" for some of them as Charlotte Gainsbourg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sienna Miller, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, model-singer-actress Joana Preiss, Anna Wintour American Vogue's editor-in-chief, actress Isabelle Huppert, '60s icon in the Francophone world Françoise Hardy, model Irina Lazareanu, Amira Casar, classical pianist Hélene Grimaud, Chinese actress Maggie Cheung, and Marianne Faithfull.