Fred raced into the drawing room looking very, very pleased with himself. Something dark and woolly was dangling from his mouth, and he ducked beneath a 1964 Gae Aulenti marble coffee table to play with it. “Oh, no!” wailed Nicolas Ghesquière. “What has he got now?” He crawled under the table to inspect the damage, only to see Fred escape. Tail wagging gleefully, the puppy treated himself to a couple of victory laps before leaping onto a 1971 Pierre Paulin Pumpkin chair and shredding his by now very soggy prey.
“He’s eating my sweater,” groaned Ghesquière, trying to look stern but failing hopelessly as he gazed, besotted, at the adorable chestnut-colored Labrador. “That’s his favorite game—taking something to play with and eating it. I took him to work at the studio, and he ate a pushpin. Drama! I had to take him to the veterinary hospital in the fabric truck.”
Unsurprisingly, Fred (full name: Frédéric) no longer accompanies Ghesquière to work at the studio where he reigns as creative director of Balenciaga. Instead he has run of the designer’s sumptuous apartment on the second floor (always the best one in Paris) of a resplendent 18th-century mansion on Quai Voltaire, across the Seine from the Louvre. Ghesquière found it last year after a five-year search, when one of Bernie Madoff’s victims was forced to sell. “It’s my big extravagance of the year,” he said happily. “It’s taking time to bring it back to life again, but it is absolutely fantastic. The walls. The floors. The fireplaces. The Louvre. The whole thing. It’s pure 18th century.”
So 18th century that much of the interior is protected by the French equivalent of landmarking, and Ghesquière has had to leave it intact. “I can’t touch the boiserie in the bedroom and drawing room,” he explained. “But some of the paneling in the office was removed, probably in the last century, and is now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.” He is toying with commissioning an artist or architect to reinvent the office, and has filled the other rooms with treasures including more Paulin Pumpkins, some of Angelo Mangiarotti’s Seventies marble console tables, Eighties postmodernist pieces by Shiro Kuramata and Ettore Sottsass, and a gleaming white plastic Star Wars helmet above the bedroom fireplace. “When my grandmother came to stay, she asked what the vacuum cleaner was doing there,” he said, giggling.
Ghesquière, who turns 40 in May, is unquestionably one of the most important fashion designers today. “There are probably only five designers at any one time who count in terms of changing fashion by pushing it in a new direction, and Nicolas is definitely one,” said Lisa Armstrong, fashion editor of The Times of London. “He’s very, very influential and one of the most original voices in fashion.”