But many of Ghesquière’s innovations emerge as works in progress during the design process, which can be intense and laborious. He worked round-the-clock for days to build last season’s color-blocked shoes from resin, plywood, and Formica, and once waited for 18 months to find exactly the right shade of green dye to reproduce a vintage lace dress for the Edition collection. “Nicolas is so tenacious and so persistent that he never, ever gives up,” said Sauvé. “If he has difficulty making, say, part of a jacket, he will try and try and try until he succeeds, no matter how long it takes.”
Take the checked coatdress with which he opened the spring-summer 2011 show. “The first idea was, Let’s try to do an organza dress in the leaf shape that Cristóbal often did,” he explained. “I’m like, ‘Mmm, mmm. Non! It’s not a dress; it’s a coat.’ The second step was to build a coatdress. The third step was: ‘Organza is awful. It’s so couture. Let’s find another fabric, some synthetic rubber or plastic thing.’ The next step was to try a print, but that wasn’t working, so we used this flat technique of Swiss mechanical embroidery instead. Then we develop the check. Then we start to build the shape. Then we use magnets to flatten the closure.
“After all that work, which isn’t cheap, I felt the whole plastic thing looked a bit Seventies tacky,” he continued. “So I thought, We need a beautiful plain black leather for the sleeves and collar. Then we did a whole session to choose a contrasting color for the stitching. Then we worked on the collar, which was inspired by one in a Diane Arbus photograph. It all took about three months, and maybe 20 or 25 fittings.”
The coat now retails for $1,835, although Ghesquière reckons that, with another three weeks of work, he could have reduced the price significantly. Critically, he doesn’t expect to sell the extreme pieces from the runway collection or the wilder shoes. “Development is very expensive, and can be very challenging and very painful,” he said. “That’s my job, to push and push. Even if 98 percent of people don’t understand what you’ve done this season, maybe they will next season. Sometimes the complex pieces disappear, but you can extract an idea that becomes generic, like the Lariat bag or the Perfecto leather jacket. No one noticed it the first season; then we did it again in exactly the same shape and details but softer leather, and it became a best-seller.”
All of the designers he admires share his commitment to research. “Issey Miyake’s fabric development was incredible,” he said. “I love Azzedine’s quality of execution and Versace’s too. I have huge respect for Jean Paul, and Helmut Lang for his quiet revolution. Rei Kawakubo is brilliant. Miuccia Prada also for building a huge brand with a soul. And Raf Simons is always challenging.” Ever the sci-fi geek, he is fascinated by the chapter of Sixties fashion history when André Courrèges, Pierre Cardin, and Emanuel Ungaro were inspired by the space race. But above all, he is devoted to Balenciaga.