PARIS (AFP) - For 15 years the collaboration appeared to be among the most harmonious in fashion as designer Nicholas Ghesquiere breathed new life into the fabled fashion house Balenciaga.
But next week, the prodigiously talented Ghesquiere and the company that chose him at the age of 26 to inherit the Balenciaga throne will face each other across a Paris courtroom. In a case that threatens to lift the lid on the relationship between two of the biggest names in fashion, Balenciaga is sueing Ghesquiere, now women's design director at Louis Vuitton, for US$9.5 million (S$11.8 million) for breach of contract.
The company accuses him of breaking the terms of his contract in a series of interviews he gave to London-based fashion magazine System in which he allegedly failed to express himself with "reserve and delicacy", according to court documents seen by AFP. The case has been given a fashion-friendly slot on Tuesday in the short window between the end of the current men's collections which run until Sunday and the start of the couture shows a week later.
Ghesquiere, appointed creative director at the historic fashion house of Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga in 1997, is credited with putting the Balenciaga name back on the fashion map.
But after "differences" between the designer and the fashion house came to a head in late 2012, the company agreed to pay him US$8.8 million in compensation for terminating his contract.
In return, he agreed not to say anything that could harm the reputation of his former employer or its parent company, French multinational Kering, according to the documents. "Balenciaga did not want the designer to justify his departure with criticism of the house that employed him," the fashion house stated. "More generally, the parties, aware of the hyper-sensitivity of the fashion industry... were forbidden from commenting on the rupture in order to avoid any interpretation harmful to their economic interests and image," it added.
In December 2012, however, two weeks after the end of his contract, Ghesquiere gave the first of a number of interviews to System magazine, according to Balenciaga. In the course of these interviews, Balenciaga claims Ghesquiere "systematically" broke the terms of his agreement with his ex-employer.
"From the very first interview, Nicolas Ghesquiere formulated an opinion which constituted a direct attack" on his former employer and its parent company, the court documents added.
Ghesquiere has made no public statement on the case and did not respond to requests from AFP this week. The case will be heard at a civil court in Paris.
A year after leaving Balenciaga, Ghesquiere was announced as the replacement for Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton in November 2013. His first Louis Vuitton show was the highlight of the ready-to-wear catwalk shows in February.
Announcing his appointment in November 2013, Vuitton said the Frenchman would take responsibility for catwalk shows, ready-to-wear collections and shoes and accessories.
Ghesquiere, known for his "exacting couture-like approach" is expected to help Vuitton build a more upmarket reputation after years of rapid global expansion. Among his many admirers is actress Kristen Stewart, who fronted his Florabotanica campaign during his time at Balenciaga. New York golden boy Alexander Wang, meanwhile, has taken over at Balenciaga.