The Balenciaga Muses
by Alexander Patino
After PPR Group’s shocking announcement last week that Nicolas Ghesquiere, the wunderkind that would become the master, this generation’s high fashion pontiff, would be stepping down on November 30th from his position as creative director of Balenciaga, well … the fashion world kind of imploded on itself for a solid 48 hours. That cute trend story had to be put away for another day. No one cared about the cute stylist blogger and her adroit skills in matching prints on that Tuesday afternoon. It was a global fashion shutdown. #NicolasGhesquiere was the top trend of the day on Twitter and the rumor wheel began a-churning at a speed that was break-neck even for the fashion industry. Guy Fawkes had been usurped. “Remember, remember the 5th of November” just got real.
There are countless variables that make Balenciaga the lauded, obsessed-over luxury brand it is today. It’s vision is so singular, as is its showmanship. There’s really nothing quite like a Balenciaga runway show. Every season provides a perfectly calculated experience, down to the clothes, the always incredible Michel Gaubert mixed soundtrack and last but not least – the models. If you follow the Balenciaga runway, and the intermediary season look-books, you’ll see some of the same special girls consistently throughout, and Ghesquiere has stuck to his model loyalties for as far back as many of us can remember. At first, he had a thing for the Belgians, especially back in the way early aughts. As time progressed, he came across other leading ladies, girls that seemed to only want to model for him and him alone. His current celebrity muse, Kristen Stewart, has publicly declared having affiliations with Balenciaga solely because of Ghesquiere’s direction and vision. The man commands legions he doesn’t even know exist. Such is his power and influence.
So the question now is, well … now what? No one knows for sure. Whatever he does next, will he take his girls with him, or will he form a new school of girls altogether? How fresh will his new start be? If he loves his specific models like it seems he does, we’d love to see a major Balenciaga muse reunion at his first big show at his new job, wherever that ends up being.
Ann Catherine Lacroix
The Belgian model with the famous stare, Ann Catherine Lacroix is the living essence of Ghesquiere’s ideals of feminine beauty. She’s strange. Lacroix is not your typical model, not by any means, but she’s continuously fascinated the fashion world with her distinctive look for the past 13 years. Lacroix’s Balenciaga repertoire is unmatched by any living model. She landed a spot on the Balenciaga runway her first year modeling in 1999. She instantaneously became the face of the brand in the campaign that season and wound up walking in the Balenciaga runway show for a gobsmacking 13 consecutive seasons after that. Lacroix starred in both the Spring 2000 campaign and the Fall/Winter one following that. Lacroix reappeared on the Spring and Fall 2011 catwalks, as well as in the Pre-Fall 2011 look-book, sporting the now iconic Balenciaga sneakers.
Roos van Bosstraeten
Another Belgian queen of the early aughts, Roos van Bosstraeten was another prime example in Ghesquiere’s gravitation towards unique, distinctive models that didn’t fit the industry’s strict paradigm. She landed her first runway appearance in the late 90’s and became the face of the brand for three consecutive campaign runs, sharing two of them with Belgian buddy, Ann Catherine Lacroix. One of the luckiest models of all time as well. For the rest of her life, she’ll always be the model wearing the furiously influential German Shepard intarsia sweater in the Fall 2000 campaign ad shot by Inez and Vinoodh.
So he had a thing for Belgian girls a decade ago. Ghesquiere loved Delfine Bafort, and for good reason. She’s one of the greatest supermodels of all time, a beauty that matures and elevates with the passing of time, and remains a bonafide knockout to this day. Bafort appeared in Balenciaga’s breakout Spring 2001 collection’s campaign, but went dormant for a few years after that. She made her return to the Balenciaga runway in Spring 2011, almost a whole decade later, looking fresher and more high-fashion than ever. She made an encore appearance the following March at the Fall 2011 show.
One of the biggest supermodels in the world, Liya Kebede has been a Balenciaga darling longer than any other model, with a run at the house runways that spans over12 years. Kebede doesn’t hit the runways as much as she used to, but in the late 90s and early aughts she was a Balenciaga no-brainer. Now, she’s something of a delicacy that Ghesquiere treats his shows with every once in a while. She closed his now legendary Fall 2007 ready-to-wear and opened the classically French Fall 2009 show. Recently she appeared in the Fall 2011 runway and campaign and walked in Ghesquiere’s last runway presentation for Balenciaga this past September.
Freja Beha Erichsen
The biggest and greatest supermodel of her generation, Danish beauty Freja Beha Erichsen has walked every single Balenciaga show (barring Spring 2009) since her debut as a model back in 2005. Beha Erichsen has been one of the few constants of a Balenciaga show for all of her illustrious career and loves the brand so much, that after skipping New York, London and Milan Fashion Week Spring 2012, she came out of hiding at the Balenciaga show, wearing the outfit of the season. Sadly, she stuck to her runway dispatch after that and, as history has to tell it now, never walked for Ghesquiere’s Balenciaga again.
Since her Balenciaga runway debut for Fall 2007, Kasia Struss walked a whopping 11 shows and featured in the Resort and Pre-Fall 2011 look-books. She has the distinct honor of having opened what are possibly Ghesquiere’s two greatest collections for Balenciaga, the floral dress extravaganza that was Fall 2008 and the kinetic street-ready Spring 2010 shows. She walked Ghesquiere’s final show at the house wearing a ballerina inspired handkerchief skirt and glue-dipped white tank. Oddly enough, Struss was never featured in a single Balenciaga campaign, like most of his favorite leading ladies. Still, she was there in September for what would be his swan song.
Possibly the most enigmatic of all of Ghesquiere’s girls, Johanna Kneppers-Corbal, the little known Dutch model with a mean old stare, made her modeling debut at Balenciaga at the Fall 2009 ready-to-wear show. She was notably missing (to those who follow this kind of thing) this last September at Ghesquiere’s final presentation. It was kind of a shocker given his obvious love for this model who, besides a walk at Costume National, Givenchy, Sonia Rykiel and YSL, seems to have gotten into modeling for the sole purpose of modeling for Balenciaga – which, in truth, doesn’t sound like such a bad gig.
Milou van Groesen
Milou van Groesen’s fashion debut was one for the fashion history books. A complete unknown when she opened the immeasurably brilliant Spring 2011 runway show, her hair bleached and spiked by Guido Palau for the occasion, van Groesen came stomping down the runway as an exclusive and quickly became one of Ghesquiere’s irreplaceables. She was featured in the following season’s Steven Meisel-shot campaign and featured in almost every Pre-Fall and Resort collection for the brand in between. She finished her run as a Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquiere darling at the Spring 2013 show in Paris.
Kristen Stewart is the new celebrity ambassador for Balenciaga. She’s the face of the brand new ‘Florabotanica’ perfume and has become a front-row constant at Ghesquiere’s shows, but before the age of all the Twilight hoopla, there was Charlotte Gainsbourg. The friendship between Gainsbourg and Ghesquiere is no secret to anyone. He’s quite the bosom-buddy with her half-sister Lou Dillon as well, but it’s Charlotte who will forever be regarded as the ultimate actress of the Ghesquiere years (Jennifer Connolly puts up a good fight for that title with her memorable campaigns). Gainsbourg became the face of the brand when she appeared in the Fall 2008 campaign, followed by two perfume campaigns. She can be found front row wherever Ghesquiere decides to go from here.