Image: Zebrasquare

Nicolas Ghesquière, we're speaking after your Cruise show, which was staged at the Miho museum, near Kyoto, Japan. Until quite recently, Cruise was little known outside the industry. It's now become a key event in the fashion calendar. Why has it become so important? For me, Cruise is interesting because it is the collection which sits the longest in the stores, from November until May, and it mixes summer and winter.

It was created originally for travelling but today it's as much about reaching people in cities as it is the people buying clothes for when they go on holiday. Cruise is quite new for Louis Vuitton, but the idea of travelling is so strong with the brand that it seemed absolutely necessary to create this appointment in the season. It's an approach that is more free than the collection we present during fashion week.

The Paris shows are more about a trend, a statement, something where your voice will be very strong on one proposition because you know it's going to last less time - it's a collection for the fashionistas. Cruise is more about the real wardrobe: with a lot of different clothes, and different items.

Japan has played a huge influence in your work. How "Japanese" was this collection? I've been coming to Japan for more than 20 years - I started my career designing licences for the Japanese market - and so I have discovered Japan with excitement and curiosity. It's a country rich in its contrasts, in its conservation of patrimony and the way it preserves its history but, at the same time, it's a country that's looking forward.

There's a great modernity and youthfulness in Japan, and so I was inspired to fuse those things. One of the good things about Cruise is that the references can be more literal than in the Paris collection: I made very strong references to the landscape, which was very particular and fascinating to me when I first came here. And I worked also with the Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto, who was the first Japanese designer to show in Paris during the 1970s and who is known for designing David Bowie's costumes for his performances in that same period. He's someone who shows a very joyful side of Japanese fashion. And it was great to have his drawings and prints in the show.

A few looks from Louis Vuitton's Cruise Collection by Nicolas Ghesquière:


Do you foresee a time when there will be more of these huge travelling collections on the fashion calendar? The more you multiply an event, the less exceptional it is. It takes time to develop a proper collection, with commercial pieces and interesting pieces, it's not something you can do in a week. We've made so many jumps in the last decade already.

I used to do a collection every six months, and today we have only two or three months. I was working simultaneously on this one and the AW17 collection for Paris that we presented in March; I had about six weeks in between to finish Cruise. Can people really absorb that many clothes and that much information in three months? For certain markets maybe, probably a more casual market or a market that is more immediate in its consumption, but luxury needs time to develop, and it needs time to produce. I think waiting is something of a luxury now.

You mention that one of your earliest jobs in fashion was doing licences for the Japanese market. How do you think the role of the designer has changed since those early days? There have been a lot of changes, a lot. When I was doing those licences, it was to serve a certain market. I was doing golfwear, and a wedding-dress line, and, strange though it seems now, a widows' dress collection... Today, I am building a wardrobe. But I would say the creative impulsion never changes. Whether you are designing something very commercial or something exceptional, the intention is still very strong. Every designer seeks to hit the great fashion moment, to offer the proposition that will have people think, "This is what I want right now."

Every designer dreams of creating something so fashionable it will last for ever. Just as Yves Saint Laurent said he wished he had invented the jean... Absolutely. We all do prototypes, that's why we are here. We are designers. We don't want to do things that exist already. Today, at Louis Vuitton, the resources, the possibilities, the perspectives are so large, it has given me complete freedom to express what I want at one of the ultimate luxury brands in the world, if not the one. But, at the same time, the brand needs innovation, it needs new, it needs fresh ideas. And while it's very comfortable to have this patrimony and this history, at the same time there is a big risk because everything you do is multiplied by 1,000 compared with what you might do at other brands.

What have been the biggest changes in womenswear in recent years? The most defining feature of the female silhouette in the 21st century so far has been in the way a woman wears sports clothes and mixes them with much more elaborate designer pieces. And fashion will be remembered in our time for that collage. But this shift in the way women dress was driven by women themselves. Not by designers. And I think what's most interesting is how we [as designers] react to that.

It's about movement also. I'm not saying people didn't move before, but today the contours of the body have changed, there's a new body consciousness about the way women dress.

Another one of the great evolutions is how technology has been incorporated into fabric development. I'm fascinated by the way artificial fibres have become ennobled. A few years ago if you were a Japanese designer, you could do polyester in your collection and people would love that. If you were a European or an American designer, it would be seen as cheap - it was impossible to use. Today, textile development has become so strong and inventive that the integration of those fibres mixed with natural materials makes intelligent fabrics.

And lastly, I think today women dress for themselves. That's changed a lot. They dress for men, but they dress for themselves first. This is why I think there is a greater desire for high fashion now, and a willingness to take more risks. It's a proud moment for fashion.

Speaking of risk, to what extent do you see your role as needing to provoke? I think it's the role of the designer to wow, to be different, to be unique, to have a point of view and to shake things up. I have to be brave, and I have to be courageous, and I have to try to imagine what is going to be cool in six months. It's a role I embrace. There is a lot of insecurity when you design, but I try not to forget that if I have been asked to do something, it's because the people who asked me want my point of view. When I started at Balenciaga, when I was 25, I was terrified by those responsibilities. But I tried to be comfortable with the idea that they want your point of view, they want your aesthetic, so keep strong and you will do a good job.

It's now 20 years since you were made creative director of Balenciaga. How do look back on that 25-year-old now? I did make mistakes, of course, mistakes I grew from, mistakes I laugh about today. But it was a situation that was exceptional, it was a rebirth of a house that was hidden, mysterious, forgotten, extraordinary. I was there, and they gave me the job because no one else was there. And here we are today, more than 20 years later, and I'm at Louis Vuitton and I'm still very happy. So I look back at myself with no nostalgia, but with happiness.

Has the role of the designer become more public since you started? It's true, especially in the case of Balenciaga, that the house was so mysterious and so small at the time that we had to hide, in a way, in order to shine. That was the idea, to be very secret, to create a desire and curiosity about it. But Louis Vuitton is not at all like that, so it was good timing that I was ready to embrace the digital age.

How do you regard the digitisation of fashion? Is it always a force for good? I love that the digital world and digital tools such as Instagram are inclusive. Digital communication allows us to show an aspect of what we do. And it's enriching. I believe that people know what they want and know what they like, and the digital world is exciting curiosity in people. But it's also confused them.

People see things on Instagram they can't have right away - the digital platform is so immediate. And now [as an industry] we have to make people understand that they have to wait for things they see on a screen. The see-now-buy-now model has had questionable results and that, again, is related to digital. Has it raised a new interpretation of luxury? Maybe. In future maybe the people who consume extreme luxury will be the people who understand that it needs time, while some of the collection will be more accessible and quicker. But it's very, very complicated.

How far do you let the "like" percolate your creative process? It's real. I see it. But I can park it. I look at the comments and I'm like, "Hmm, interesting, this is not really what people want to see, but this is what I wanted to say so I'm not going to change." That's the good thing about Instagram. If people don't want to follow you, they don't. I know all the statistics today are done by the number of ranks and followers, but I still think people are more than just likes and followers.

Nicolas Ghesquière was speaking to Jo Ellison at the FT Business of Luxury
Summit 2017, in Lisbon


This article was originally published by the Financial Times.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017.

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