One of the world's most top fashion houses opts for a young gun at the helm.
Alexander Wang takes up the baton at Balenciaga
When Balenciaga announced the departure of its most recent influential designer, Nicolas Ghesquière, the fashion industry was flummoxed. Who would take over? Who was exciting enough to take the hot seat at the fashion house?
Ghesquière had, since his appointment in 1997, promoted a highly experimental, fashion-forward look. His ready-to-wear designs often appeared more like couture than something sold off the peg. The French-born designer took an almost sculptural approach to his garments, bringing an often jarring mix of vivid colours into his collection in such a way that you were never sure what you were going to get next.
Essentially, he was the ultimate modernist. Neoprene became a fabric used in full-length eveningwear, and patterns that included sci-fi elements and shapes were nearly always against the grain. While the market was leaning towards 1940s silhouettes, Ghesquière was inventing a new one.
There were a few names floating around to replace him, including the Scottish, London-based designer Christopher Kane and the New York designers Proenza Schouler and Alexander Wang. The overriding theme was youth, and it was the 28-year-old Wang who recently sealed the deal.
"I am deeply honoured to embark on this new role for a brand and house that I have such great admiration and respect for," he said in said a joint statement issued this week by Balenciaga and its owner, the PPR luxury group.
Born in San Francisco to Taiwanese parents, Wang studied at Parsons The New School for Design before setting up his own company in 2007. Success came almost immediately, and he became best-known for his contemporary sportswear in jersey with an urban aesthetic - not exactly revolutionary but highly wearable and well cut season after season.
However, there have been a few raised eyebrows. Alexandra Shulman, editor of the British edition of Vogue, called the news "a big leap for Wang", while Susannah Frankel, the fashion director of Grazia, believes "Ghesquière's is a very, very tough act to follow", and blogger Susie Bubble hinted it had been chiefly a business decision.
And perhaps they are right. Yet if it is a business decision then it is a clever one; by the time Wang was 25 he had a turnover of $25 million (Dh91m) and now has 12 freestanding stores worldwide. There has also been speculation that PPR - the parent company of Balenciaga, Saint Laurent Paris, Gucci and Stella McCartney - wanted someone more commercial.
He is expected to start immediately but it is not yet known if Wang will show for the autumn/winter 2013 Paris Fashion Week, which takes place in February and March. Isabelle Guichot, the president and CEO of Balenciaga, said she doesn't want him to be placed under any unnecessary pressure. Francois Pinalt, who runs PPR, said: " The only thing people can look at is what has been done in the Alexander Wang brand. It has nothing do with what we are going to do with Balenciaga. You cannot judge from that. It's a new challenge. It's a new adventure for him. He has a great talent. I am pretty sure that we will demonstrate it. "
We are looking forward to the new era. While the fashion lot will undoubtedly miss the influential Nicolas Ghesquière, we consumers are hoping Wang can finally bring Balenciaga to the mass market. Now that would be something.