On the eve of Vetements’ founder Demna Gvasalia’s debut for Balenciaga, which is slated for this upcoming Sunday, we have to ask: What really happened with Alexander Wang? The 32-year old New York-based designer, who succeeded the house’s longtime creative director Nicolas Ghesquière in late 2012, was in one minute and out the next. Well, it was a bit longer than that; his tenure lasted just about three years. As for the reason for his departure: Wang either chose to leave the house to focus on his New York-based eponymous label or was fired in late July 2015 – depending on which version of the story you chose to believe.
Interestingly, Wang only spent three years at the Paris-based design house, receiving largely mixed reviews during that time – a relatively short time. His appointment was seen as a move to broaden Balenciaga’s appeal as growth slowed at Gucci, Kering’s largest label, and was aimed - to an extent - at expanding the brand's footprint in Asia. Although sales rose at a double-digit rate during some of Wang’s tenure, “He’s not made a huge mark on Balenciaga so far” and it wouldn’t be “a tragedy if he left,” Luca Solca, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, told BoF when the parties were reportedly in talks about whether to renew Wang's term with the house.
Writing about his brief time at Balenciaga, the New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman suggested that 3 years might just be the new norm. Many creative directors of late have spent roughly ten years in a position before deciding to split: Marc Jacobs spent 16 years as the creative director of Louis Vuitton before leaving to focus on his New York-based eponymous label and being succeed by Ghesquière, who came from a 15-year tenure at Balenciaga. Riccardo Tisci has been at Givenchy for 10 years. Phoebe Philo has been at Celine for 8 years. Frida Giannini spent 8 years as creative director of Gucci. Alber Elbaz was at Lanvin for 14 years before getting the boot. And Karl Lagerfeld has been at Chanel forever.
While many of the industry's big creative guns are still in place after roughly a decade of service to their respective houses, as fashion begins to increasingly move faster, maybe the succession of creative directors will, too. Raf Simons, for instance resigned from Christian Dior this past fall after spending roughly three years there.
Unfortunately, we will likely never know whether Alexander Wang chose to leave the house or was fired in late July 2015. Not surprisingly, he has not shed much light on his time at Balenciaga and certainly has not spoken to his departure. This is not surprising at all given what happened with Nicolas Ghesquière.
You may recall that when Ghesquière left Balenciaga in 2012, he, now rather notoriously, gave an interview to System magazine, recalling, in part, his not-so-lovely experience at Balenciaga towards the end. Some of his comments, namely, the ones about how he was “being sucked dry,” by the Paris-based design house, “like they wanted to steal my identity while trying to homogenize things,” led to a $10 million lawsuit. The house alleged in its complaint that Ghesquière breached his separation agreement, which stated that he would "refrain from making declarations that could hurt the image of Balenciaga or its parent company, Kering." That case is still under way, with the two parties attempting to settle their differences by way of mediation.
It seems Wang may have learned a thing or two about what not to do from Ghesquière because all he has really said about Balenciaga is the following, in an interview with i-D:
It definitely has its challenges when you're used to making all the decisions. You sign off—'Let's go!' Suddenly you want to do this, and we have to check this and get that approved and so on. It's just a different way of working, which I'm actually very grateful for, because now I'm like, okay, that's how that works. It was a learning curve: three years. All I know is that I was there for three years and we got double-digit growth each year. So you know what? I consider that an accomplishment for me and my team, and we did a great success.
However, despite Wang remaining relatively quiet about his departure from Balenciaga, at least one industry figure has spoken out about it. In fact, Robin Schulié, brand manager & buying director at Maria Luisa, addressed the matter quiet freely in a roundtable for Vestoj, a culture journal, saying:
The press release that was put out after Alexander Wang was fired from Balenciaga was pure propaganda. It was your typical statement where everyone praises each other to the sky. There was no reason given for the ‘separation’. And then Alexander Wang started giving interviews about his new store opening in London and none of them mentioned what had happened at Balenciaga – it was all airbrushed out of the success story that is Alexander Wang. Hilarious!
But as I said, as for what really happened, we may never know - thanks largely to ironclad non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses that were almost certainly present in Wang's contract with Balenciaga and his separation agreement. And whether things did not pan out so well between the two parties (and it seems they did not) or whether 3 years really is the new 10 years, with Gvasalia’s debut swiftly approaching, Balenciaga and Wang are likely very happy to sweep all of this under the rug anyway.