The Creative Director Swap: Wang to Balencaiga, Simons to Dior


The Creative Director Swap: Wang to Balencaiga, Simons to Dior

It was officially announced this week that Alexander Wang is the new creative director of Balenciaga. With the departure of Nicholas Ghesquière, who recently ended his fifteen-year reign, the Parisian couture house hopes Wang’s vision and signature designs – think Freja Beha edginess and Ruby Aldridge grunge – will inject a tough but modern vibe into the fashion house’s aesthetic. Plus, as the house’s first creative director of Asian descent, his newest creations will target a more global demographic, expanding Balenciaga’s reach to the Southeast.

The question is, can Wang deliver after Ghesquière set such a high bar? A quick sift through Wang’s career reveals that he’s best at catering “it-girls” that roam New York’s streets, molding leather into shorts or tailoring a motorcycle jacket to the perfect cut. But last year, he also designed model Natasha Poly’s golden dress for the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala which received the highest accolades. He’s honed his craft of designing minimalistic evening wear by diffusing various garments into pieces that every woman longs to wear.

Now, with Balenciaga’s archives of capes, bold colors, and graphic tops, Wang, who will simultaneously design for his own label Alexander Wang, will challenge himself to integrate his internationally-regarded “cool” factor into the Parisian atelier. Despite pessimism from critics, Isabelle Guichot, chief executive of Balenciaga, said it was proud to welcome Wang, and praised his “proven talent, modernity and individual and cosmopolitan vision of design.”
This trend of shifting from one house to the next is not unfamiliar: Raf Simons switched from Jil Sander to the eponymous Dior. And while the details behind the sudden Simons-Sander transition remain hazy – Simons was secretly coordinating talks with Dior months before his departure, while Sander’s CEO Alessandro Cremonesi had privately been in communication with designer Jil Sander herself – Simons delivered a successful debut collection for Dior.

His designs responded to the lingering question raised amongst fashion’s elite – how much will his Jil Sander aesthetic be merged with Dior’s glamour? Given his classic pantsuits with skinny trousers, there’s no denying Simons still maintain his simplicity. However, a majority of the collection contains bright and intricate patterns, or bold details like neon beading affixed with sheer-tulle overlays. (He did, however, keep the Parisian signature: a scarf tied around the neck). Yet despite the controversial switch, Simons’s first show was a riposte to the wary industry insiders who doubted his ability to match Dior’s caliber. With such a meticulated, albeit ambitious, pilot collection, he’s rallied excitement for his coming designs.

Others, however, have not witnessed such successful debuts. Hedi Slimane, who entered the fashion industry at Yves Saint Laurent in the nineties, returned to the French label. Since his appointment in March, the pressure has been on: he was tasked to maintain YSL’s androgynous sex appeal with a modern punch. This was his first experience at helming a women’s collection and unfortunately, critics responded accordingly. His homage to the seventies (note the wide-brimmed hats), coupled with bohemian accents like feathers, sequins and tribal pendants, received overwhelmingly negative feedback.

A scour through the internet immediately reveals complaints of “over-accessorizing”, “unnecessary fringing”, but the greatest slap came from fashion reporter Cathy Horyn, who publicly expressed her disdain for Slimane and YSL. In retaliation, Slimane wielded Twitter to air out his frustrations in an open letter, in which he refers to Horyn as “a publicist in disguise.” Yet despite the feuding and disappointing debut, YSL’s longtime partner Pierre Bergé, to which the first show was dedicated, commented that “[it was] sublime” and “he respected the codes of Saint Laurent.”

With recent changes amongst the fashion houses – designer swaps and name changes to list a few – it’s uncertain what to expect in the coming seasons. But one thing is certain: the fashion industry always keeps us on our toes for what’s next. To keep updated with the latest fashion news, check WWD or New York Times.


-Alicia Chon

Images courtesy of WWD, Caroline’s ModeStyle, NY Times, Business of Fashion, and The Daily Beast.

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