Balenciaga and Alexander Wang’s breakup: They’ll both be better off

He’ll be fine.
He’ll be fine.
Image: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Designer Alexander Wang and Kering, the luxury company that owns the fashion label Balenciaga, announced Friday (July 31) that Wang is leaving his post as the Paris-based label’s creative director. Wang held the position while also designing his eponymous line in New York, and spent less than three years with Balenciaga. It was a very short tenure for such an esteemed role, but as anyone who has spent that length of time in a faulty (and long-distance!) relationship can attest, that’s plenty of time to know it’s not a match.

“Mr. Wang was effectively a design version of the bridge boyfriend,” Vanessa Friedman wrote in The New York Times. “Now Balenciaga, and its parent company, Kering, are free to find someone else without the same expectations attached.”

Friedman’s bridge boyfriend metaphor is apt. Both parties grew in this relationship; now it’s run its course and it’s time to move on. While Wang’s collections for Balenciaga weren’t blockbusters, they were by no means disastrous. They likely brought the luxury label some street cred with the younger generation who buy the sports and street-inspired tee shirts, jackets, and metal-studded bags Wang makes for his own brand.

Kering Chairman and Chief Executive Officer François-Henri Pinault acknowledged as much in his statement, “heartfully thanking Alexander for his dedication and unique artistic contribution to the building of Balenciaga in a more globally recognized house.”

Now, Wang will be free to focus his energy on his own label in New York, where his products are blockbusters and his heart seems to be. Some speculate a prospective investor would like to see him concentrate on his own brand—and it can’t hurt to know that Wang’s name is desired by luxury conglomerates across the pond.

Meanwhile, Balenciaga can search for its rightful designer. Cristóbal Balenciaga, the Spanish-born dressmaker who established the label, was beloved (and sometimes feared) for his precision, severity, discipline, wit, and romance. The clothes he designed in his Paris atelier between 1937 and 1968 carried a spirit of both history and modernity in equal parts, and were unquestionably the product of a Spanish upbringing: mantillas, bullfighters, flamenco, fishermen, madonnas, and a restrained color palette that reflected the Spanish countryside and the paintings of Francisco de Goya.

It would be wonderful for the label find a designer energized and inspired to bring that legacy back to life. That seems too big a charge for someone like Wang, who has one foot in another creative endeavor. It will be interesting to see who Balenciaga appoints in Wang’s absence—and to watch both labels flourish, independently of one another.