Though that’s where he excels. The heart of the new Balenciaga is what he calls “our crazy laboratory,” the studio where he and his designers experiment with new fabrics, processes, finishes, and shapes. Ghesquière’s innovations are often rooted in his obsessions. He loves movies, especially science fiction and those directed by Brian De Palma, Dario Argento, Stanley Kubrick, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Audiard. A particular fascination is the parallel between the monastic robes worn by characters in sci-fi films like Star Wars and Cristóbal Balenciaga’s reinterpretations of the monks’ cloaks in the paintings of 17th-century Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán.
Another passion is design, especially the work of such postmodernists as Sottsass, Kuramata, and Alessandro Mendini. “I love the insane collage of Mendini’s work and Sottsass’s for Memphis,” he said. “It was Pierre [Hardy] who introduced me to Kuramata. When I was living with him, he had some amazing pieces. The funny thing is that I didn’t get it when I was younger. I thought it was the ugliest furniture I’d ever seen, and said: ‘Pierre, I think we should put this in storage.’ He didn’t, and I changed. Now I think it’s beautiful.” Ghesquière trawls the Web for work by favorite designers and always pops upstairs to the Demisch Danant design gallery when visiting Balenciaga’s New York store. He bought the first of his Paulin Pumpkins there. Another favorite source is the Nilufar design gallery in Milan, where he discovered a collection of furniture made by Italian designer Martino Gamper from remnants of the dismantled interior of a 1962 hotel designed by architect Gio Ponti—it became the inspiration for last fall’s color-blocked shoes.
As Balenciaga has grown, Ghesquière’s work schedule has become ever more onerous. Most weeks are spent in Paris, with occasional weekends at his country house in the medieval town of Montfort l’Amaury. For eight years he dated James Kaliardos, a makeup artist and cofounder of Visionaire, a New York–based fashion and art publication, and the two remain close. Left to his own devices, Ghesquière admits he’d work nonstop. “I have one friend who kidnaps me sometimes,” he said. “She shows up and says: ‘So-and-so is performing at Théâtre du Châtelet. I’ve got the tickets and you’re coming with me. No excuses.’ I love that. Otherwise, yes, I’d be working.”
Often his collaborators bring things to inspire him. He and Hardy based one style of shoe on an unusual snowboard binding the latter had spotted in New York and another on the jewel-like colors of a Rachel Whiteread sculpture. Gonzalez-Foerster often shows him such intriguing things as swatches of weird fabrics to help with the fashion collections as well as the stores.