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MENAFN - AFP - 06/11/2012

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(MENAFN - AFP) Balenciaga is in advanced negotiations to name a successor to its star designer Nicolas Ghesquiere, whose surprise departure has rocked the fashion industry, the house's chief executive said Tuesday.

"We have a shortlist, and negotiations are well under way," Isabelle Guichot told AFP, a day after the house's owner, the PPR luxury group, announced its designer of 15 years would leave at the end of November.

"It won't be a drawn-out transition," she added, in a nod to the recent situation at Dior, which took a year to name Raf Simons as successor to its disgraced designer John Galliano.

PPR, whose fashion brands include Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, has owned Balenciaga since 2001.

According to the International Herald Tribune, Ghesquiere -- one of the most acclaimed designers of his generation -- could be poised to launch his own brand for PPR's archrival, the luxury giant LVMH.

Quoting an unnamed industry source, the IHT said Tuesday that Ghesquiere has been courted by LVMH chief executive Bernard Arnault.

The paper reported that Ghesquiere had been offered a house under his own name, to be overseen either by Arnault's daughter Delphine, who works for the company, or his son Antoine, who recently relaunched the shoe brand Berluti.

Fashion brands in the LVMH empire include Christian Dior, Celine, Kenzo and Givenchy and Louis Vuitton.

Since taking over at Balenciaga in 1997, Ghesquiere put the historic house of Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga back on the fashion map.

News of his departure went down like a bombshell on planet fashion, unleashing a swirl of speculation on social networks over the 41-year-old's next step and his successor at Balenciaga.

Guichot denied reports of friction between herself and the designer, in particular over the resources devoted to Balenciaga compared to PPR's other labels -- such as Yves Saint Laurent and its star new designer Hedi Slimane.

She said PPR had "built a portfolio of brands without there being any overlap, or confusion between the images of the different houses," stressing the "great creative freedom" enjoyed by Ghesquiere.

"Perhaps Nicolas wanted to express a different creativity, in a different environment," she added. "For a person as creative and talented as Nicolas, it drives his inspiration to be stimulated in new ways."

Guichot also said the group was used to handling changes of artistic direction, whether following the departure of Tom Ford or Stefano Pilati from Yves Saint Laurent, or the death in 2010 of Lee Alexander McQueen.

"We know that teams can also learn from looking at their brand through new eyes, from working differently, especially when for 15 years a brand has been shaped by a designer as present as Nicolas."

More broadly, she denied any planned change of strategy at Balenciaga, stressing that turnover had been multiplied by 11 since the house was acquired by PPR, with two-figure growth for the first nine months of this year.

"There are no plans to move towards something more commercial, since Balenciaga's strength and its DNA comes from the tension between its laboratory side, and the way it translates on the catwalk."


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