Fashion: The man who turned Madonna into a Goth

When Madonna gives a designer her seal of approval, his success is assured. Nicolas Ghesquiere, the new man at Balenciaga, cannot fail: the pop star is already quite a fan. Ian Phillips meets the great couturier's latest successor at his Paris studio

WHEN the fashion house Balenciaga was looking for a new designer early last year, there were reports that it was planning to bring in a big-shot designer. The names of Helmut Lang and Yohji Yamamoto were bandied about. The fashion flock started to get all flustered. Then, it was announced that an unknown 26-year-old called Nicolas Ghesquiere would actually be taking over. To which the general reaction was "Er, who?"

At the same time, Ghesquiere was also hired to design the women's collection for Trussardi, and just 12 months later both appointments look like an incredibly smart move. His latest collection for Balenciaga was the highlight of Paris Fashion Week, and shortly after his first collection in October, Madonna adopted him as one of her new fashion darlings.

At the Golden Globes in January, she chose not to wear any of her favoured designers, such as Dolce & Gabbana or Versace. Instead, she turned up in a long-sleeved, full-skirted black Balenciaga dress, which she described as "Goth". On a trip to Paris last month to promote her new album, she took time out to pop into Balenciaga for a fitting and walked away with a choice of 10 outfits for the Academy Awards. On the night, she chose to wear an outfit by the latest avant-garde designer on the block, Olivier Theyskens, but that's another story.

When asked about his most famous client, Ghesquiere is suitably discreet. He will, never the less, reveal that she discovered his creations during a shoot for Spin magazine with Dutch photographer Inez van Lamsweerde (a big fan of Ghesquiere). "She immediately fell for my clothes," he says. "She feels they fit into the new direction she wants to take and have obvious links to religion - something which has always fascinated her."

Indeed, Ghesquiere admits to being very attracted by the monastic aesthetic, as indeed was the old master Cristobal Balenciaga himself. In the collection for autumn/winter `98, it was apparent in the pared-down, sombre, black forms and clothes inspired by capes and cassocks. Right up until the last minute, Ghesquiere had even planned to tie thick ropes around the models' waists in the guise of belts.

In one corner of his sunny Paris office stands a board covered in pictures of nuns. Next door, the American department store Barneys is placing an order.

Ghesquiere himself is sitting at a marble desk, dressed in a long-sleeved black T-shirt with his long hair scrunched up at the back of his head with the aid of an elastic band. Out of the window, he has a view of the House of Dior and says that he often admires John Galliano's Mercedes as he drives by. "When I walk out of the door with my nylon bag on my back in the evening, I say to myself, "Life's not fair," he jokes.

His passion and enthusiasm are quite infectious, and particularly evident when he recounts how he has always wanted to be a fashion designer. As a child, his parents worried about him because he would spend all of his holiday sketching clothes - even on the beach. In secondary school, he used to give the local butcher's daughter fashion lessons and at the age of 15, spent his summer working for Agnes b. At 18, he was hired as a design assistant by Jean-Paul Gaultier.

For him, Balenciaga, who set up his first couture business in Spain in 1919 and closed it in Paris in 1968, is one of the top three couturiers in fashion history. Balenciaga died in 1972, but the house is now set to flourish again under Ghesquiere; since taking over the design helm, the young designer has managed to revive the great Spaniard's style. There is the same purity in the lines, the same bubble shapes and the same analysis of volumes, and the same relentless modernity.

"Balenciaga took his inspiration from Velasquez," he says, "I take mine from Princess Leia's dress in Star Wars." The construction of each piece is carefully thought out and highly original. Skirts, for example, consist of four separate panels. Tunic-style tops have sleeves at the front, but look like capes from the back.

"I really don't have too much trouble designing," he says, "because Balenciaga's heritage is so inspirational." He certainly seems well informed about the late couturier's life - how he started off reproducing models of Parisian couture in San Sebastian; how he was "not at all sociable, but rather solitary, discreet and stern"; and how, when he announced that he was quitting fashion, Christian Dior himself came to beg him to continue.

"Before he quit, Balenciaga did say one thing," he continues. "That he regretted not being younger so that he could do a ready-to-wear collection for a younger, more active woman." In Ghesquiere, at least, he has a worthy heir to carry out his wish.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

    £40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor