Purple Magazine
— S/S 2008 issue 9

Nicolas Ghesquière

interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
portrait by DAVID SIMS
fashion story featuring French actress CLÉMENCE POÉSY by TERRY RICHARDSON

All clothes BALENCIAGA by Nicolas Ghesquière


Collection after collection, NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE is proving himself to be the most brilliant young designer of his generation. Constantly exploring new concepts and developing new ideas, he seems able to daringly reinvent Balenciaga’s aesthetic, while paradoxically staying true to its heritage.

This summer collection was one of his most radical and conceptual. He combined elaborate, maybe even excessive, floral patterns with organic futuristic cuts and silhouettes — which looks like aristocratic sportswear — to accentuate the power of women. We employed the Proust questionnaire for a more personal conversation with Nicolas.

Nicolas Ghesquière by David Sims


Iridescent jacket and skirt, brown leather high heel sandals BALENCIAGA by NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE, photo Terry Richardson Drilled and printed Casimir dress BALENCIAGA by NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE, photo Terry Richardson Printed Radzimir jacket BALENCIAGA by NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE, photo Terry Richardson

OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s your primary character trait?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Impatience. Both good and bad.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Have you always been impatient?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Yes, very impatient. Impatient to do new things, impatient to get out of school, impatient to meet people I’ve never met, impatient to see things I haven’t yet seen, to see new films, read unopened books…. I could say determination or curiosity is more important. But impatience takes first place. Oddly enough, it’s a motivation; it becomes a motor. It allows me to do all kinds of things … find solutions … apply tricks of the trade. It helps me in my design work.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Impatience suggests a constant desire, an eagerness, for what you want to happen.
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE —It’s probably the things I imagine that make me impatient. This has always been the case, even when I was a child … my wish for change. I’ve always had the impression that I needed to be somewhere other than where I was, and to get to the next stage. My eternal dissatisfaction motivates my explorations. This can help creativity, but it can also get on people’s nerves.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is this something people complain about?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE —Yes, a lot. When I try to calm down, I get even more impatient. It’s not getting better with age, but it’s not getting worse, either. It’s just that the freedom I have today is such that I can show my impatience more than before.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you take advantage of it?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE —Absolutely. To the point that I sometimes get slapped in the face for it — even to the point that I feel I’ve gone too far.

OLIVIER ZAHM — As a designer, or just as a person, what quality do you like to see in a man?

OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s what Proust said when he answered his own questionnaire.
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — So, in anticipation of your next question, I would say that what I like in women is their masculine side. I’m attracted to the masculine side of a woman’s charm.

OLIVIER ZAHM — In their physical aspects, or in their attitude?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE —All of it. It’s not that women have to resemble men. I like women who are free, independent … in the political sense, too. But physically as well.
I like girls who are not too feminine, who have more androgynous bodies. The body has transformed over time. It has been recognized: women’s bodies have changed throughout the centuries. They’ve gone from more rounded shapes with a distinguished waist to a much straighter body. More androgynous, less bosom, and more shoulder.

OLIVIER ZAHM — The speed and energy of your runway models are good examples of masculinity. What about sensuality?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE —Of course it all has to remain sensual. I am dealing with women. Their sensuality moves me. But the girls around me are rarely sex symbols in the carnal or voluptuous sense. I prefer Johanna Preiss or Charlotte Gainsbourg to Scarlett Johansson.
I prefer Françoise Hardy to Marilyn Monroe.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Except for the long legs and high heels….

OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you appreciate most about your friends?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE —Their absence. Or, let’s say a distance that lets me manage a friendship. I don’t know how people deal with friendships. There are certainly people
I want to see, but never do. I feel like I have to give excuses when people want to see me and I don’t have time to see them. I really have a hard time with the demands of friendship. It immediately turns into acute paranoia and I feel very guilty for not seeing people. I make lists of priorities to determine which friends I’ll see. Which becomes a nightmare. It’s easier with friends who don’t ask too much — but I don’t like to be alone either. I like my friends to stay at my house. It’s actually quite childish, spending the day together, finding each other at night, but continuing to do things on your own. This is a teenage kind of behavior I’ve never lost.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, friendship is sort of organic for you — more about free relationships without rituals or rules.
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Right. I like people who can leave me alone. That’s why I rarely go out. I’m not so good at managing the moment when I have to go home…. Once I’m out, I’m out. But the next day can be tough.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s your greatest shortcoming?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Impatience, like I said. And the tone I use with others when I’m in that state. When I’m really annoyed I have a way of asking for things that becomes very firm, and I can seem insulting or ironic at the wrong moment.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have a domineering side?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Not really. That’s not it. I’m just as happy when I’m told off or challenged. I can become relatively aggressive or domineering when I’m misunderstood. What I do is try to convince people around me to accept and understand my ideas and give them life. I therefore have to formulate my wishes quite clearly so that I can share them and build on them with others. I don’t do anything alone, of course. I’m anxious about not being understood or not being able to formulate things clearly. Not finding a reference that’s identifiable enough. I often feel anxious when things get stuck. I lose my temper more at work than in daily life.
I can become stupidly aggressive, and ask for something with too much authority. But for me, it’s not necessarily a shortcoming. It’s just what happens when you want to bring people into your vision.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you aware of any other shortcomings?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Of course. I have to be pretty self-centered. I don’t know if it’s in my character or if it’s inherent in the profession. In this trade you can’t be too humble or discreet. You have to get your ideas out. In order to do that, you have to arm yourself against outside influences. You have to raise your own flag so that others follow. It’s never easy to persuade people. It all makes you self-centered.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have a favorite pastime outside of work?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Smoking cigarettes and drinking with friends. If I could choose one thing to do nonstop, it would be to live leisurely.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s your idea of bliss?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — I don’t have a specific idea of happiness. I see it more as
a series of moments. At times you stop and say to yourself, this is a moment of happiness. It’s precisely because it’s fleeting, because it doesn’t last, that you can identify it as happiness. If happiness were permanent, it probably wouldn’t exist.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You don’t have an ideal of happiness that guides you?

nNICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — No. I think happiness only makes sense in the moment. Otherwise, day-to-day, I’m mostly happy. I haven’t always been so. When I was unhappy, I wanted what I have now. But my idea of bliss? Think of the magma at the end of Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island: a journey through the desert that’s filled with unknown sensations and is something like
a solar or galactic experience.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s like the end of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema. The father leaves to bury himself naked in a fantastical, mythological desert.
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Yes, an extrasensory experience — organic, primitive — that abolishes time and space. That’s my idea of bliss.

OLIVIER ZAHM — They’re poetic experiences as much as they are drug experiences.
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Yes, but because drugs aren’t my thing, it’s never happened to me. But maybe you’re going to tell me that bliss can be found in heroin. [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — What is your idea of misery?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Solitude, sickness, dependence, frustration … the day I won’t be able to invent or reinvent things. If design were to disappear from my life I would become very, very unhappy.

OLIVIER ZAHM — If you weren’t who you are, who would you want to be?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — A great sportsman, maybe. Something very extreme.

OLIVIER ZAHM — That brings us back to the physical journey you were talking about earlier.
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Yes, I think there’s an escape in sports that’s not purely physical.

OLIVIER ZAHM — If you didn’t live in Paris, where would you like to live?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Like everyone, I wanted to live in New York. Now I’d like to live in Los Angeles. But my desires change every season. It would be a real luxury to be able to spend one season in Tokyo, another in Los Angeles, then another in another city, with my whole team, experiencing different people and other ways of working. My ideal is to become a kind of fashion globetrotter. But I do love Paris. I know everyone complains about it. But I’m very happy to be in France.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have a favorite color?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — It changes all the time. But I do have a particular affection for blue.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is there a flower you call your own?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — No. The flower for the House of Balenciaga is the carnation. So, I’ll say a carnation. But I’m not sure.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have a favorite writer?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — No, I don’t read enough poetry to be able to name someone.

OLIVIER ZAHM — In fiction, do you have a favorite heroine?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — No, not really.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Favorite painters?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Francisco Zurbaran, and all austere religious painters. In a more realist, even hyperrealist, vein, I like the little-known Chilean painter, Claudio Bravo. It’s almost photography, rather static and contemplative. They’re usually still lifes or Moroccan interior scenes. A bit Orientalist, and then, all of a sudden, a very ’70s motor-cycle helmet or motorcycle suit appears hanging on a wall. It’s something that really inspires me, like a hidden source. And then there’s Irving Penn, whom I consider like a genuine painter – to me, he’s a master, one of the most important artists of the twentieth century.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have a favorite composer?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — It changes a lot. I don’t seek out music, but it often surrounds me. People show up with albums for me to discover or rediscover. That’s what I like about music. It just happens. I don’t have to find it. That said, I can become obsessed with some pieces. I’ll listen to something fifty times, exhausting it and everyone around me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What would you consider great social progress or important political policy?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — I’d say gay marriage and adoption for gay and lesbian couples. These are reforms I hope for. I don’t understand why I live in a country as a third-class citizen. I don’t understand why I have this public life, this fame, this creative and social role, and yet I only half exist because of my sexuality. Gays are considered people who should have limited social freedoms, and I want this to stop. I think gay people should be able to make or adopt children. This would be a sign that a country has evolved.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It would be a major social transformation.
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — This is the direction we’re going in. Gay people have illegally adopted children for decades. The authorities let it happen illegally, but that doesn’t move things forward. It only perpetuates an unjust situation. I’m not preaching total freedom. Just reform that would lay down a framework.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is there a gift or a talent you don’t have that you would like to have?
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Being able to write well. Writing is so far away from what I do. I’m always working in emergency situations. Writing is a luxury that has totally disappeared from my life.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How would you like to die?

OLIVIER ZAHM — Still impatient!
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Yes, impatient up to the last second. [laughs]



David Swanson and Brian Ziegler, photographer’s assistants — Seth Goldfarb, lighting director – Charlotte Collet and Lola Raban Oliva, stylist’s assistants — Emmanuel Samartino @ MARIE-FRANCE, make-up – Coco Clanet and Sandrine Cano, make-up assistants — David Mallett @ SALON DAVID MALLETT, hair 

[Table of contents]

S/S 2008 issue 9

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