Balenciaga v. Ghesquière


8158147185_e38d190812_n Designers leaving their fashion houses is not uncommon. However, it is unusual if that parting of ways leads to a lawsuit, which is exactly the case between Balenciaga and its former head of design, Nicolas Ghesquière. Ghesquière was Balenciaga’s designer for 15 years until November of 2012 when they released a statement announcing a “joint decision to end their working relationship.”

Last fall, Balenciaga sued Ghesquière and stylist, Marie-Amélie  Sauvé for defamation and is seeking damages in the amount of $9.2 million. At the time of Ghesquière’s departure, the designed and the fashion house signed a separation agreement that stated that Ghesquière must avoid making remarks that could disparage Balenciaga, PPR (now known as Kering), and its shareholders  and collaborators.

The suit states that the reason for the gag clause was so that Ghesquière did not “justify his departure by criticizing the house that employed him.” The suit goes on to state that, “in general, the parties, knowing the hypersensitivity of the fashion industry to changes in creative direction, were forbidden from commenting on the break in order to avoid any detrimental effect on their economic interests or their image.”

Balenciaga is claiming that Ghesqiuère violated this clause by making disparaging remarks about Balenciaga in an interview with British fashion magazine, System.  In that interview, the designer made several statements concerning his departure, at one point comparing the house of Balenciaga to those of Chanel and Prada and claiming that while the designers of those brands had business partners who helped to build the brands to the massive fashion houses that they are, he “never had a partner” and “was doing everything by myself.”

Ghesquière continued to say that the brand “started becoming a bureaucracy and gradually became more corporate, until it was no longer even linked to fashion,” and that he felt “as though [he were] being sucked dry, like they wanted to steal [his] identity while trying to homogenise things.”

The article closes with Ghesqière commenting that people at Balenciaga “didn’t understand” fashion and didn’t “understand the process at all and so now they’re transforming it into something much more reproducible and flat.”

These comments among others made in the article are the basis of Balenciaga’s suit against Ghesquière. It can easily be seen how these statements could be seen as disparaging to the image of the brand. These comments somewhat paint a picture of Balenciaga as a brand that is focused on the bottom line of profit and sales and ignored creativity and art, which is the heart of any fashion brand. He seems to say that Balenciaga didn’t value what he had to offer because they didn’t listen to him and as a result the brand is not as powerful as Prada or Chanel. This can be seen as very harmful to the image of Balenciaga, especially within the fashion industry where creativity is of the utmost importance, and therefore could be seen as defamation.

However, because this case is being brought in Paris the laws of defamation in France may not be the same those in the United States. Lawyers on each side have thus far submitted written arguments, but, this past Tuesday, the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris, which is hearing the case, has set July 1 as the date when each side will present their oral arguments.

It will be interesting to see how this case plays out in terms of how it effects both Balenciaga and Nicolas Ghesquière and how the industry will view both in the future. Alexander Wang is now the head designer at Balenciaga, while Ghesquière is set to debut his first collection for Louis Vuitton on March 5 at Paris Fashion Week.



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image source: Cheuk Wan Chi

Beeta J.

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