Luxury & Fashion Biz News: Alexander Wang moves to Balenciaga, and what that might mean for the future of PPR

Asian-American designer Alexander Wang, known for his urban sportswear designs, is now rumoured to be the name to take over PPR’s Balenciaga label after designer Nicolas Ghesquiere abruptly left the house (Ghesquiere is apparently being courted by fashion and luxury conglomerate LVMH, PPR’s biggest competition — see: Nicolas Ghesquière Hangs With the LVMH Crowd at Dior Dinner).

Installing Alexander Wang as head of Balenciaga would make some very pointed commercial statements: #1) That the Balenciaga label will abandon its reputation for highly expensive, couture-like stylings and focus more on wearable, street-friendly clothing and accessories; and #2) By getting rid of both Ghesquière at Balenciaga and Stefano Pilati at YSL, conglomerate PPR might very well be signalling a move toward more retail-friendly and work/street accessible design across the board, working to capture the sportswear luxury market while leaving the more refined, couture-level designing to its main rival LVMH.

Alexander Wang Spring 2013 — the new sportswear Balenciaga?

*NOTE: PPR doesn’t own a single haute couture producing brand, whereas LVMH owns Givenchy and Dior, both highly respected in the world of haute couture.

Of course, the Alexander Wang deal isn’t officially announced (though WWD is reporting that it will happen next week), and there’s still the possibility that UK designer Christopher Kane is still on the menu for taking over the head position at Balenciaga, with WWD also stating that PPR is interested in investing in Kane’s namesake brand, a move that could signal a desire to bring him aboard the PPR wagon in some capacity, if not as head of Balenciaga.

Kane is also highly street and sportswear friendly, creating somewhat of a minor stir in November of 2011 when he sent his models walking down the London runway in embellished brocades and shimmering knits paired with shoes that looked like upgraded poolside sandals:

The comfort shoes heard ’round the world

So it’s not too surprising to see both Kane and Wang’s names pop up in competition for the Balenciaga job. If PPR is serious about its “Sport & Lifestyle” direction (and there’s every indication that it is — see: PPR Group Plans to Expand Sport & Lifestyle), then either designer would be a good fit for the conglomerate, taking the luxury fashion brand of Balenciaga in a direction that hews more closely to PPR’s target sportswear demographic.

*UPDATE: Some fashion-press reactions to the expected appointment of Wang as head designer for Balenciaga are starting to surface: Reactions to Alexander Wang at Balenciaga: Surprise, Concern

*Relevant Aside: PPR owns Puma (the third biggest sportswear brand after Nike and Adidas), Cobra (a golfing brand) and skater brand Volcom.

Perhaps bringing sportswear designers like Kane and Wang into the fold is one way for PPR to expand the product and pricing range of its Puma brand and hopefully push it back into profitability (see: Puma profit slumps as it tackles weak Europe sales). I could easily see Alexander Wang and Christopher Kane designing collaborative footwear lines for Puma.

*Speaking of collaborations: Trendy, celebrity & hip-hop star favoured label Givenchy is said to be the next high-end designer brand in line for an H&M collaboration. The whispers are being denied, however, but that doesn’t mean they’re not true. The fashion industry has a reputation for denying the truth.

*More Talk of Even More Collaborations: Rei Kawakubo, head designer of experimental Japanese brand Comme des Garçons, is collaborating with Hermes on two limited-edition scarf projects: “The first part of the collaboration, “Noir et Blanc,” features five abstract designs in black and white, and will be sold in Comme des Garçons stores in Tokyo, New York, and Paris. The second, “Coleur,” comprised of six colorful scarves, will be available at Dover Street Market stores in London and Tokyo.”

Hermes seems to have an affinity with Japanese designers. They collaborated a number of years ago with designer Yohji Yamamoto on an extremely limited edition shoulder bag.

Not to be outdone in the collaboration department, Louis Vuitton teamed up with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama for a limited-edition collection of accessories, though Barney’s Creative Ambassador-at-Large Simon Doonan wrote an editorial for Slate Magazine wondering whether the marriage of fine art and fashion doesn’t somehow diminish the stature of fine art.

From the article, Eight Theories Why the Art World Is So Loathsome: “The growing mania for melanging fashion with art is great for the former, but it has been a gravitas-eroding catastrophe for the latter. The world of style is ephemeral and superficial by nature. Art, real art, fabulous art, high art, must soar and endure and remain unencumbered by the need to sell handbags and blouses.”

If you watch the video advertisement below for the Louis Vuitton + Yayoi Kusama collection, you’ll see that Doonan makes a piercingly valid point.

The illustrated lesson of how commerce can successfully debase art

I don’t know about you, but after watching that ad, I don’t want to buy the Kusama + Vuitton collection, I want to dig a very deep hole and bury it all — especially after looking at the video clip below of how amazingly innovative Kusama’s real art pieces and installations truly are:

The power of the polka dot

Bad Fashion News: another devastating fire broke out at a Bangladesh garment factory, resulting in 110 workers burning to death. There are now riots and protests in Bangladesh over the lack of protection and regulation in the garment industry there, while huge low-cost US and European retailers like H&M, Wal-Mart and Target continue to import from Bangladesh: “According to the China National Textile and Apparel Council, the salary of a garment factory worker in China ranges from $298 to $476 per month, much higher than Bangladesh’s average of $126.”

For what it’s worth, I find it completely disingenuous for a retailer like H&M to be making PR noises about raising the minimum wage for garment workers in Bangladesh when the entire reason that H&M sources its clothing from Bangladesh is because it’s cheaper than getting their product lines manufactured in China, where minimum wages have been rising in response to workers’ demands.

In my opinion, H&M is the problem, so I find it difficult to believe that they’re at all interested in being part of the solution.

If you’ve ever thought that mannequins in a store window are watching you, you may just be right.

How Luxury Retailers Are Spying On Shoppers With Surveillance Mannequins“The EyeSee is a mannequin with a camera and facial recognition software embedded in one eye. While security cameras could do the trick too, this system offers much better data, as it’s closer to the shoppers and resides at eye-level with them. EyeSee watches and culls data from patrons — logging things like age, gender and ethnicity — while giving store owners focused data that helps shape their marketing, merchandising, signage and other promotions.”

So, apparently, we’re about two to five years away from this:

“You could use a Guinness right about now”

Procter & Gamble will spend $30 million dollars in advertising costs alone to promote their newest Dolce & Gabbana perfume, hoping to making it a top-selling blockbuster that sells $150 million worth of bottles in its first year.

There’s no word on who will get fired if/when the perfume fails to catch the public’s attention.

And as long as we’re on the subject of all packaging and no substance, niche perfume developer Kilian Hennessey (of the Hennessey Cognac family) states that, “Today, the industry is in the hands of people who don’t know anything about perfume . . . Everything -– packaging, bottling, advertising, the name, the scent itself –- is the result of market studies and (all) created at the same time.”

Though I wouldn’t say that Hennessey is a stranger to the power of a good package.


  • Alexander Wang, interesting clothing, a real turn for
    Balenciaga. I view his clothing to
    be more like functional art than as something to be worn. This has to be a move to stay in
    business. But who will ever think
    of Balenciaga and not see long, feminine, flowing gowns? The world is and has been becoming much
    less formal in the last fifty years.
    Designers and their clothing are simply emulating that fact, not creating
    it. I liked the comfortable
    shoes. My feet require comfort
    today. Yeah! After walking to work and back 62
    blocks in “4 inch spikes” for a turn during the transit strike of “65” in NYC. The idiocy of the young!

    Apparently Louis Vuitton has gone bananas with the latest in
    pop art! I never even liked
    Warhol. Don’t get me wrong I love
    looking at the Japanese designers – they are so architectural. But polka dots everywhere? I chuckled at myself thinking back to
    merchandizing my own store. I
    bought either a book by Simone Doonan or a book about him.

    And from the Slate article:

    7. Dollars and shekels and rubles.

    father-in-law, Harry Adler, was a committed, ferocious, lifelong passionate
    artist who produced a massive body of work in all mediums. However, I never
    once remember him holding up a painting or a drawing and asking, “How much d’ya
    think I could get for this?”

    this is the answer to the decline of much that was once of value. And even on a small scale the art world
    really is loathsome. Once someone
    is established something awful happens once others are managing him or her. We take great pride in supporting young
    area artists.

    had an endearing moment this week that if I can articulate will give you a
    chuckle. It was brought to mind
    while opening one of your links and seeing Elsa Schiaparelli (another article). I use Nars products and was at the
    counter this week at Nordstrom’s.
    The make-up artist is a young man who I might add is an excellent
    ambassador for the brand – very flamboyant and fun to work with. He said to me: “Lets see you love pinks
    don’t you? Do you have this one
    and this and how about Sheee-ap?”
    I said to him: It is Schiap as in Elsa – it is her famous pink. Yes, I have it. You do know who Elsa Schiaparelli is
    don’t you?” “No, I do not,” he
    stated. So we had a teaching
    moment and I do not care how young you are – if you are selling a lipstick
    called Schiap – you better know the etiology of the lipstick name!

    • Liz — The behind-the-scenes whispers are that execs at PPR were pressuring Ghesquiere to take Balenciaga in a more commercially mainstream and affordable direction, and he was resisting. So if mainstream and affordable are what they want for Balenciaga, then Alexander Wang is a good choice. He knows what’s urban and cool, he has excellent retail and manufacturing connections in China, and he knows how to run his own brand, from high-end to diffusion.

      His position as head of Balenciaga hasn’t been officially announced yet, but everyone in the industry seems to believe it’s a done deal.

      And you’re right. The “How much d’yathink I could get for this?” syndrome has been at the core of the decline of art, craft and design. How beautiful, meaningful or well-crafted an object is used to be at the forefront of the manufacturing proposition. Now it seems to be an afterthought, if it’s a consideration at all.

      I’ve mentioned marketing consultant Tom Peters a million times before, but I agree with him when he said that with the advent of hi-tech computer design and mass production techniques, there’s no reason for anything to be ugly anymore, no matter how cheaply it’s made. So if something is ugly, then it’s been purposely designed that way in order to ensure that consumers still desire to spend more money to get something a little “nicer”.

      He considers ugly design a deliberate cruelty inflicted on the poor.

      I went to the Auckland art museum this past week and was confronted with a large range of styles over the centuries. The museum is small, but they attempt to showcase art from the 1500s to the present. There seemed to be a very definite cut-off point in the very recent past as to when art ceased to be beautiful and inspiring and started to become, instead, shallow and absurdly self-referential.

      I found myself quickly moving past all the crap and stopping in front of the works that required not just obvious talent and skill to produce, but also a sense of the sublime. And even as much as I’m not a fan of religion, the old religious art was captivating for how beautiful it tried to be.

      Your Schiaparelli story is fantastic, and yes, I absolutely agree — if you’re going to be peddling a product called Schiap, then you should know the why and what of it; otherwise, the point is lost.

      I think Nars also had a Warhol collection recently . . . ? At least they’re trying to connect artistically.