Nicolas Ghesquière and Balenciaga were present in a Paris civil court in July 2014 for oral arguments in connection with the breach of contract case that Balenciaga filed against its former creative director of fifteen years. [The parties have since agreed to attempt to mediate the matter outside of court]. In its lawsuit, the Paris-based design house alleges that Ghesquière, who now serves as creative director for Louis Vuitton (was succeeded by Alexander Wang), breached his separation agreement with the house, which stated that he would “refrain from making declarations that could hurt the image of Balenciaga or its parent company, Kering.” The statements at issue stem from an interview Ghesquière gave to System, a bi-annual publication pioneered by Jonathan Wingfield, Alexia Niedzielski, Elizabeth von Guttman and Thomal Lenthal. One of the most highly contested excerpts is the following: “I was being sucked dry, like they wanted to steal my identity while trying to homogenize things.”
This case, which was filed in June 2013, with Balenciaga seeking $9.5 million in damages to remedy the reputational harm it claims to have experienced as a result of Ghesquière’s comments, certainly poses an array of legal-specific queries, including the permissible scope of such separation agreements (namely, whether they must be limited in a manner similar to non-compete agreements and the role that opinion plays in the grand scheme of the agreement). Perhaps, though, the most pressing issue here is not actually derived from legal principles at all.
Mr. Ghesquière’s counsel, Michel Laval of Michel Laval & Associés, raised a compelling argument before the court in July 2014. He informed the Tribunal de Grande Instance that his client did not intend to besmirch his former employer, but instead, was voicing a sentiment that many individuals in Ghesquière’s position certainly share. Specifically, Laval stated: ”This is the old and difficult question of the relationship between the creator and the fashion house. The creator regrets that business logic prevails […] it is a characteristic of the designer that gets lost in creation.”
Laval’s declaration, which centers on the notion that Ghesquière was merely reacting to the significant amount of strain placed on modern day designers and creative directors, is one we have become accustomed to hearing over the past several years. For instance, in 2013, Suzy Menkes, then the style editor of the International New York Times (formerly the International Herald Tribune), commented on the “new speed of fashion.” Positing that the cycle with which we are currently accustomed, one that has big-name creative directors (a la Karl Lagerfeld) turning out roughly eight collections a year, with as many as ten runway shows, and smaller labels creating at least four, many of which are not limited to garments but also include accessories and which encompass not one but both genders, is simply mad. Moreover, Menkes suggested that “the pace of fashion today [may have been] part of the problem behind the decline of John Galliano, the demise of Alexander McQueen and the cause of other well-known rehab cleanups.” (And let us not forget Christophe Decarnin, who was ousted from Balmain in 2011, reportedly due to a weakened mental state; or Marc Jacobs who did two stints in rehab during his tenure at Louis Vuitton).
Not terribly long before Menkes spoke out, legendry French designer, Pierre Cardin, commented on the influx of designers and the unsustainable pace at which fashion moves, suggesting that it is virtually impossible to create lasting fashion, or “fashion for tomorrow”, as he put it, every six months or so. In short: Creatives are under pressure, and the ramifications are negative for the both the individuals, themselves, and the resulting output, and this does not even take the role of fast fashion into account, although its affect is very much implicit.
It seems obvious that the problem here is somewhat glaring. The speed of fashion and the resulting demand is mad, as Ms. Menkes rather appropriately stated. The solution, however, is quite a bit more difficult to ascertain and even more difficult to implement. Because fashion, as distinct from, say, art, is driven primarily by commercialization and numbers (revenue, profit, media impressions, etc.), fashion’s key occupation is to continually reintroduce the notion of seasonality; the “out with the old, in with the new” mentality that keeps consumers shopping and shopping and shopping; a mentality that runs the gamut of fashion, from luxury houses to fast fashion retailers, alike. Thus, the pressure that designers feel is shared by consumers alike. The pressure to keep up. The result is a complex problem and an arguably more complex solution, which will require a shift in perspective, an increased appreciation for garments and their ability to withstand the seasons, a heightened ability to select and withstand the temptation to compulsively shop and shop and shop. It is a solution that we simply have not put into practice on a large scale yet.
* This article was initially post in July 2014.