The designers spoke recently by phone—and, somewhat paradoxically for two men who have done so much to define fashion, Ford conducted the interview entirely naked.
TOM FORD: I want to ask you about golf.
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE: Really?
FORD: Because I was reading somewhere about you playing golf. I don’t think people ever imagine fashion designers doing something like playing golf. You are probably going to hate this question, so we won’t print it if you do not like it—
GHESQUIÈRE: [laughs] Okay.
FORD: But you play golf?!
GHESQUIÈRE: I don’t. [laughs] No, I’m really bad. I grew up in a family that played golf, and my brother was much better than me, so I kind of put that aside. I had to be good at something other than golf. So, no, it wasn’t really my thing.
FORD: So golf clothes have never been a big inspiration?
GHESQUIÈRE: Actually, I love golf clothes! I think this is the most interesting part of golf! [laughs]
FORD: I love golf clothes too! Especially for women! There is this great movie, Ordinary People, with a scene with Mary Tyler Moore . . . . I don’t know if you know that movie. It probably came out before you were born, in ’80.
GHESQUIÈRE: I was born!
FORD: And she is wearing an incredible golf outfit. Okay, I will get off golf now. And we don’t have to talk about horseback riding either—even though we both ride. I want to talk about your work. First of all, I want to say that you are my favorite contemporary designer.
GHESQUIÈRE: Thank you. Coming from you, that’s really special. You are a reference, so it’s important for me to hear that.
FORD: I guess I am old enough now to be a reference.
GHESQUIÈRE: No, I think you defined a new way of working. You probably don’t know this, but people say there was a before and after Tom Ford in fashion. Designers are more like artistic directors now. Before, there wasn’t this idea of supervising the artistic direction of the entire house. The old way was to think you could be this couturier or designer or stylist. You transformed the job and the way people practice fashion today. That’s one thing I want to say, and the second is that the day you called me to propose that I be a part of Gucci Group was a huge surprise for me. I can’t thank you enough. I remember this meeting we had in your office. It was right after my sixth or seventh collection, and people were starting to talk, and suddenly every big group called and I was receiving a lot of attention. And then one day, I couldn’t believe you were calling me. Everyone else was saying, “Okay, do you want to design for this house or take over that brand, or do you want to design under your own name?” You were the only person to ask me, “What is your wish? What is your dream? Where do you see yourself in a few years?” I remember I answered that I wanted to keep going with what I was doing, and you said, “Okay, let’s try that. It might not work.” That was because Balenciaga was owned by another group, and we weren’t sure they would want to sell it. But you gave me a new way of thinking. And here we are today.
FORD: I hope you will not take this the wrong way, but it has been wonderful to watch you develop and grow up and to see your confidence increase. How old are you now?
GHESQUIÈRE: I’m 38.
FORD: How does it feel? You seem so confident. But how does that feel as a designer?
GHESQUIÈRE: We’ve developed the brand. I probably feel more solid because the brand is solid and I feel stronger than my years. But I put so much pressure on myself, which makes me very insecure. With my designs and my ideas, I want to please myself first. I’m always very stressed about making a new proposition every season. But in a way, it’s a kind of addiction. [laughs] In another way, it’s a crazy pressure. I try to stay quiet about the whole situation, because fashion itself can be crazy, and everyone wants a part of you.
FORD: This is something I realized after stepping away from women’s fashion for the last five years. When you are inside, it is such a tiny group of people who think that this is the most important thing in the world. But when you get a little bit of distance, someone will say to you something like, “Don’t you think that shoe is blah?” And I will be like, “What shoe? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” It is very, very inside. How do you keep your balance?
GHESQUIÈRE: It’s true that fashion is looking at fashion all the time, and this is quite boring.
FORD: What else do you look at besides fashion?
GHESQUIÈRE: I love art. I love music. It’s more about the lifestyle you yourself have—that’s the most inspiring thing. The way you share relationships with the people around you.
FORD: Do you work all the time or do you actually find time to do other things?
GHESQUIÈRE: No, I don’t, really. This job is full-time, and it’s true, sometimes it’s a little bit suffocating. But I’m inspired more by situations than materialistic things.
FORD: How do you feel being French? I am asking you that because I wonder if you consider your style to be French.
GHESQUIÈRE: I don’t feel French at all. That was never really a concern, and it’s limiting to think that way. When I first started, I wanted Balenciaga to be international. I thought the focus should be more on the United States, because that was where people were more welcoming of my work. I think Paris is more of a playground for international designers, so I don’t really feel French. And I don’t really want to feel French.
FORD: How much do you actually reference Balenciaga? He was very handsome, by the way.
GHESQUIÈRE: He was really elegant, Spanish, and handsome. But for designing, I have this retreat. I can say, let’s go to the DNA of the brand and find something that I can introduce into my work. It’s part of the patrimony of fashion. His work is so influential, that it’s everywhere. I think everyone references Cristóbal. I’m lucky to be in the house where I can use it without any problem.
FORD: I remember I asked you nine years ago where you would see yourself in 10 years, so what about now? Where are you going to be? Are you going to be playing golf?
GHESQUIÈRE: [laughs] Sure. I’ll have to start, so in 10 years maybe I can have a good handicap. Honestly, I think I will be here at Balenciaga. Maybe not only. I have no idea what I would do for my own collection if that does happen one day. I give so much of myself for Balenciaga that today if you put me in a room and said, “Okay, let’s try to do a Nicolas Ghesquière project,” I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Via Interview Magazine