Purple Magazine
— The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

nicolas ghesquière 10 year anniversary at louis vuitton


Nicolas Ghesquière 10 Year Anniversary at Louis Vuitton





Stephane Lancien at Calliste, hair

Hannah Murray at Streeters, make-up

Elsa Deslandes, nail artist

Carole Savaton, tailor

Corinne Mutrelle And Aurelien Nobecourt-Arras, photographer’s assistants

Xenia May Settel And Tess Pisani, stylist’s assistants

Ana Esparza At Blanc Agency, production






OLIVIER ZAHM — The idea of this issue is to question fashion. Why do we continue to love fashion in a world heading toward its demise? What still interests us in fashion? Why aren’t you tired of creating collections and runway shows, and me of making a magazine for more than 30 years? What is the basis of our desire for fashion? Your 10-year anniversary at Vuitton, renewing the contract for another five years, is the moment to reflect on fashion, given its magnitude and, at the same time, the madness of this world. So, let’s start from the beginning. What idea did you have of fashion when you dreamed of this world as a child? When you were around 10 to 12 years old, you began to draw like crazy on your own in a small provincial town, without knowing that it would be your destiny.

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — I was drawn to fashion at a very young age and had the very pure desire to create clothing as well as accessories; it was like creating characters for me. And it still is today. Ultimately, when you create a silhouette, it’s like crafting a little fiction. I think that as a child, there was a desire in me to develop my imagination through clothing and fashion. And there still is!

OLIVIER ZAHM — How has your vision of fashion evolved?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Let’s say that early on, at the start of my career, thanks to the media of the ’80s — which weren’t yet social networks — I quickly detected that fashion was a crossroads, a meeting point between artistic practices and cultures. I understood quite early on that fashion also served as a pretext to bring together artistic practices. It’s not new — it has always existed, especially between couturiers and artists — but more and more, various domains of culture, in general, come together through fashion. It began in my early days, in the mid-’80s to early ’90s, and it hasn’t stopped gaining momentum. For me, the transformation occurred at that time, when fashion became more than just insiders, a restricted circle, a world still largely artisanal. Fashion used to speak to people in fashion and was then passed on to young people in fashion. Today, the dimension of this industry, this gigantic crossroads, has completely changed. There are, of course, artists, but almost all possible talents can participate in this world of fashion.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was it this openness in fashion that you presented and that attracted you in the beginning?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Yes, that’s what appealed to me intuitively at the beginning. Instead of choosing to study architecture or something else, I thought: I’ll go into fashion, and through fashion, I’ll be able to embrace other fields, discover other territories. It was choosing a meeting place, choosing a crossroads.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Before establishing yourself at Balenciaga, you worked for Agnès b, Corinne Cobson, Thierry Mugler, and Jean Paul Gaultier. So, at the age of 20, you were in the midst of this world of creators, this small milieu of the mid-’80s that shook up the fashion scene in France.

I was doing freelance collections. I consulted. At that time, I also worked for a successful shoemaker, Stephane Kélian. I was fortunate to witness that moment and even participate toward the end. And it was very Parisian because we traveled much less at that time. There was already a strong sense of community.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It was impressive to see a young designer suddenly becoming a star, like a musician or an actor in the style of Thierry Mugler, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, or Claude Montana.

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — For me, Jean Paul Gaultier is the exemplary figure of that time, and he was the first to take me under his wing and employ me!

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because the previous designers, those from the ’60s and ’70s like Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, were already enormous figures at the time, but they were hidden, somewhat elitist figures, from a world still in the aristocratic myth. It wasn’t the world of music, it wasn’t cool, it wasn’t the media.

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — It wasn’t pop, actually! Pop culture had not yet embraced fashion. And in fact, Jean Paul is emblematic of this transition. For Karl, in the end, it was more gradual, but when he understood the communication tools of his time, he played them better than anyone thanks to his legendary flamboyance. Then there was Tom Ford in the ’90s, who also changed things a lot in the role of creative director, showing the way to this kind of pluralism in his talent for creating multiple collections at the same time, his ability to communicate beyond clothes — to communicate a Gucci lifestyle. Tom Ford knew how to impose a lifestyle — something Jean Paul didn’t do, although he cleared the way, opened other paths. People dress today in this way thanks to Jean Paul Gaultier! The terms are different today to describe what he initiated: inclusivity and fluidity, in a very natural and absolutely spontaneous way. He reflected and accelerated this change of era. It was really fascinating to be by his side at that time.

OLIVIER ZAHM — This conversation about the essence of fashion is an opportunity to pay tribute to him. You worked for him initially, and I didn’t know that he was cardinal in your commitment to fashion.

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Jean Paul Gaultier was decisive! First because he was a very strong media figure. Jean Paul wasn’t on social media at the time [laughs], but he did a lot of television. He was excellent on the screen, and he made you want to be in this profession. It wasn’t just because of his celebrity, but also because of the people around him, his community. At the time, there was Régine Chopinot, the choreographer; Sapho, the singer; and completely inspiring people around him. He built his collections — and, of course, his fashion shows — by including all these artistic expressions around him and, at the same time, using his very assertive style. It was very important for me to see him work in the studio, behind closed doors, isolating himself to build things and technically combine them, put them in place, then explosively and communicatively share the result. What was absolutely fascinating about Jean Paul was that we didn’t always understand what he was doing. We didn’t question him, but we thought, “What is this going to lead to?” And only he had the key to this explosive final combination with the success we know. It was magical for me to discover that an artistic director, a creator, is also this very personal orchestration of ideas and how we are going to share them — without always explaining what we are doing.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do we need to explain fashion?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — We don’t always need to explain. Today, we explain too much! Because everything needs a narrative… I find it beautiful to express oneself primarily with clothes, with a shared but almost intangible emotion. That’s what fascinates me about fashion.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a beautiful idea that we tend to want to make fashion a message, even though it’s not always very clear. At the heart of the present and its confusion, it remains partly mysterious.

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — It has to remain an enigma, too. But today, the system has changed so much. It has taken on such magnitude, that the story, the narrative, the theme of each collection must be very clear. This can be problematic for creators at times because we are sometimes forced to put words where we wouldn’t necessarily want to, when we want to invent. Today, the message that begins in the studio has to spread everywhere — to the stores, the shop windows, the communication — and this message has to be clear! In two words, we should be able to say, “Here, that’s it!” But it’s interesting, too; I like to participate in this transformation. I’m not at all in the “It was better before!” mindset, but inevitably, in order for fashion to endure, we have to question ourselves, find new methods to work. And that’s where working with young people — even if we’re still very young, Olivier [laughs] — is very enriching because this ultra-fast formula is instinctive for them. This generation knows how to do it, and they know it’s important.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’ve witnessed all these transformations over the past 30 years: four or five years as a freelancer, 16 years at Balenciaga, then 10 years at Vuitton. You seem to embrace all the evolutions of the fashion world with incredible ease. How do you combine the exclusivity of fashion as you conceive it at Vuitton and the hyper-accessibility of fashion on social media?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Social media has changed a lot of things. It has given many people access to the world of luxury in general and what it conveys in terms of artistic and creative dimensions. Now everyone has an opinion on fashion, criticizes fashion, and it happens very quickly. It’s quite beautiful that it’s so widely shared. Of course, some things are not always pleasant to hear. I find it really interesting, this opening of the world of luxury and fashion. I like the idea of exclusivity in the creative process, the exclusivity of an idea, the exclusivity of a luxury or unique object. But for the rest, I love that fashion spreads and becomes the subject of such an exchange.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You have been the creative director at Vuitton for 10 years, and you just renewed your contract for five years. Such longevity is rare in the fashion industry! Why did you make it public?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — You are right: it’s not always announced when designers are renewed at a house; it happens, but it remains confidential, not disclosed. But Vuitton wanted to announce it. I was quite surprised by the impact of the announcement made by Vuitton. And I thought it was very good to show that a creator can commit for the long term, that even in a setup that can sometimes seem daunting — in a very large group, a very large house, with results that can seem overwhelming when you just look at the numbers — well, it’s still and always a personal adventure, human relationships that span time, loyalty, values. I’m not saying these values are lost, but it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when people think about fashion.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Speaking of longevity, Martin Margiela’s career was only 18 years. Helmut Lang, barely more. You marked the end of the ’90s and the 2000s with your success at Balenciaga for 16 years. Today, you’re inventing the Vuitton woman and still staying at the forefront. So, succeeding in making a mark for more than a decade is already enormous in an ever-changing fashion world that exhausts creators. You sustain your collections, maintain your style, and don’t get lost in this confusion. It’s remarkable because there are few examples of that. Karl is a spectacular example… Saint Laurent was a ghost of himself in his last decade. How do you explain your longevity?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — It’s a mental discipline of work, and it’s luck, but it’s also very personal to each creator. Some designers express themselves over a short duration. I am one of those who need to express themselves over time. The luck I had was very clear: the encounter with Balenciaga. I arrived to temporarily replace a departing creator and stayed for 16 years. What a chance to arrive at a house and in a universe that matched me and that needed to be resurrected, entirely reinvented because it had almost disappeared from the fashion galaxy. It’s something that I’m very proud of today. It was 16 years of very, very strong expression. I learned by doing. It was my school and, at the same time, my field of expression. The second great chance I had — I can say the greatest chance — was my encounter with Vuitton!

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your work for Vuitton over 10 years is an undeniable success. You’ve created the brand’s sartorial vocabulary, a deep identity that evolves over time.

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — One can say “success” undoubtedly, but for me, it’s primarily about bringing things to a certain level of personal satisfaction, personal fulfillment.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Since you have a very precise, distinct style, honed by the avant-garde spirit of Balenciaga, weren’t you afraid of continuing the same thing under another label?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Yes, my fear upon arriving at Vuitton was to reproduce what I had already done and thought. It’s a house that Marc Jacobs had made extremely contemporary. He invented and told a fashion story that had not existed at Vuitton, with collections that were very different from each other. Vuitton is an entirely new fashion story: from Marc Jacobs to me, that story is no more than 25 years old. From that perspective, it’s the most contemporary house. Marc Jacobs at Vuitton roughly corresponds to my period at Balenciaga. Upon arriving at Vuitton, I discovered a new and pure terrain of expression. And there was so much to do — cruise collections, developing the women’s universe, accessories. I quickly understood that there was no risk of repeating myself.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s also a chance to be the second creator in a house and to have the opportunity to write the history of the house.

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Yes. With Balenciaga, I already had that chance. It was necessary to do something completely unprecedented! I think it’s the same with Vuitton: it’s about combining renewal and duration, persistence over time. That’s what stimulates change. I am delighted to continue with Vuitton because I am still as inspired, and I still have the same love for what I do and for this environment as well.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And are you loyal to teams as well? The stylist Marie-Amélie Sauvé has been working with you for a long time. I don’t know all the others, but…

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Yes, There’s Florent Buonomano for imagery, Natacha Ramsay-Levi as a freelancer sometimes. We haven’t parted ways since the Balenciaga adventure. Julien Dossena is at Rabanne, but we are still connected. These are deep connections. The same goes for the teams at Vuitton; people who were there when I arrived, who had worked with Marc for a long time, are still with me, and I’m very proud of that. There wasn’t a desire to create a clean slate. There is a desire to change — which is different — but also a desire to integrate myself into the house to learn from them. And that’s what I still do every day.

OLIVIER ZAHM — One of the reasons for your stylistic longevity and the power of your design may be due to the fact that you establish connections and engage in relationships with art and architecture. You don’t work in isolation.

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Fashion is a clothing construction, a small architecture of the body. It’s geometry in space, and it’s highly technical. It’s about transforming one dimension into three others and then creating a universe from these stylistic constructions. My clothes have often been associated with an idea of self-confidence, with an “empowering” effect. That’s not intentional on my part, but there is something like the idea of a “superpower” in my work.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Superpower?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Yes, like you would say of a science-fiction character. There’s always a bit of that “power” idea in what I do. I think it’s very present, but I’m not sure where it comes from. Perhaps, in part, from my interest in architecture.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Why architecture?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — It influences a lot the way one feels in space, based on how it is designed and thought out — in a very tangible way as well. Also, architecture can inspire clothes for me. That’s why the choice of cruise destinations for Vuitton is very important to me. It’s not just geography and culture; it’s a very specific place to discover or rediscover that can inspire characters as a film or a novel would. It’s about imagining a character in a kind of ideal world, a bit like a tangible utopia, how they would live and dress in that architecture. In the end, fashion is an architecture within architecture. That’s how I approach collections. When we presented the cruise show in San Diego at the Salk Institute, designed by Louis Kahn, it was incredible for me — a dream of a new reality. Or the collection presented at the MAC [Contemporary Art Museum] in Niterói near Rio de Janeiro, designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, architecture is a source for you? Even more than contemporary art?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — I’m captivated by architecture. I’ve rediscovered, for example, Mario Botta, whom I find incredible, especially all the places of worship he has built. And Ricardo Bofill, of course… Architecture is also a narrative; it helps me a lot, for example, to explain the idea of certain collections, especially the cruise collections.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, because it is inherent in your creations. It’s not just an external source. It’s not just an idea to tell your idea — it is the idea itself.

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — It is the idea itself, exactly. There is a depth, a similar imagination that can be transposed from architecture to clothing, on different scales, using a different vocabulary. That imagination that can be transmitted with clothes as well.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And what is your relationship with contemporary art?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — I am fortunate to be in a house that has done truly exceptional things with artists and historical collaborations — with Marc Jacobs, of course, and after Marc, like last year with Yayoi Kusama. Vuitton has a very strong history with contemporary art, and that aligns with mine, but I wanted my approach to be different.

OLIVIER ZAHM — In what way?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — The idea is not to incorporate art into the collections, but to develop a project with an artist within the framework of the fashion show. Like, for example, with Philippe Parreno in the last two shows. We talk, we exchange ideas, we look for the meeting point, and when we find it, it translates into the scenography of the show. Of course, a show has a much shorter time frame than an exhibition — it’s the construction of a very ephemeral universe. But that’s precisely what interested Philippe Parreno: this idea of a very short time, a unique moment. We forget this when we see the looped images of the models’ runway walks — people don’t realize how much it’s an absolutely unique moment that will never be repeated. Bernard and Delphine Arnault, when I arrived at Vuitton, told me, “The collection is an event, of course, but you have to think of everything as an event.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — With Vuitton, did you have to start to create the event show, the spectacular runway show?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Yes, and at the beginning of my time at Vuitton, I questioned myself a lot about the spectacular aspect, about how to be spectacular without losing the fashion statement. At the beginning, it was a bit all or nothing. Because with Balenciaga, it was radical but very simple: an empty room as neutral as possible, with the models walking very quickly. But toward the end, I still created a very elaborate scenography at Tour Cristal in Beaugrenelle in the 15th arrondissement with the artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, who created an absolutely incredible universe.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Today, it’s different, not only because of Vuitton’s standing but also because there are now so many shows, designers, collections — and Vuitton. You must adhere to the imperative of impact!

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — There are designers who create very, very good shows with collections that may be less relevant. And then, at the opposite end, there are also people who create sublime collections in a very simple setting. It’s true that when I arrived at Vuitton, it was crucial to achieve this idea of an event without losing the thread of the fashion statement — to not make Vuitton runway shows just a show of strength, something that would overshadow the view of the collection. This is where collaboration with a conceptual artist like Philippe Parreno is magical because the entire scenography and music contribute to the same idea. From this perspective, Vuitton has allowed me to express myself and move toward a more artistic statement.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you accept the idea of being seen as an artist? Do you accept the term?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — More and more… I think we need to shed our inhibitions, and there’s a part of what we do that is very advanced, very artistic. But I also like the idea that it’s a team effort. I don’t know if I’m 100 percent an artist, but let’s say the balance leans toward the artistic side.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you, after 30 years in fashion, manage to stay at the forefront, consistently innovating stylistically, and meet the sales targets imposed on you? How do you reconcile your ambition as a designer with the dialogue with marketing teams who come with sales figures, and whom you have to face head-on? It intrigues me.

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Yes, you’re right. It’s simple: I listen, I’m interested, I’ve learned. I don’t see marketing as a constraint; I integrate the constraint and use it. And they let me do it. Of course, some things are very calibrated, but that’s not the essential issue. The question is to renew the classics, to ensure that each collection — with the novelty it must express — offers things that will last longer than just one season and, if successful, become our new classics. So, marketing doesn’t oppose creativity. It is ultimately fueled by real fashion proposals, and they use them. And vice versa, I learn from marketing results. I think that’s also one of the reasons why things work well between me and Vuitton — each season ultimately feeds into something more solid, more timeless. I believe that building things that stand the test of time, while not losing the sharpness of fashion, is what matters most to me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What should change in fashion? The frenetic pace?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — The main issue today is ecology. That’s where our industry needs to evolve and even change radically. It’s a revolution that is coming. I think we still don’t grasp the notion of what will happen or what is happening. And it aligns with luxury: today, people want to know the lasting value of their clothing and accessories. It’s almost an investment. People resell their pieces; they pass them on. And tomorrow, if they part with them, they will want to know that they will disappear without polluting even more. I’m not an expert, but I think that now, it’s common sense when producing something to know how that thing can either endure, and if it doesn’t last, how it can disappear with a minimal, even zero, footprint if possible. I like the idea that there are no sales at Vuitton. In terms of ideology, it shows how much we believe in what we do. Truly, sales completely devalue what we do. It’s still the definition of luxury: something that stands the test of time and gains value over time.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And this isn’t incompatible with fashion value?

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — I’m old enough to see that the clothes I made 25 years ago are still being resold, and they have gained value. I wondered why, and it’s because the intention was truly pure: the intention to create something exceptional, even if it wasn’t initially very commercial, even if there were things that weren’t easy to understand. In the end, the perspective changed. I want to say that over time, people have joined us. And some of my pieces — not all, of course — have gained value and endure over time.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you don’t compromise on your desire for fashion. It must remain intact.

NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE — Yes! And I think it shows at Vuitton. But it takes time in the studio. It doesn’t happen overnight; it’s about doubting, revisiting, questioning ideas.
We don’t always succeed. But I maintain that pure desire.


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The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

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