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What Went Wrong With Balenciaga and Alexander Wang?

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Photos: Getty
Photos: Getty

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After a quick six seasons, Alexander Wang is exiting Balenciaga. This morning, sources relayed to WWD that the French house won't be renewing Wang's contract, a rumor that originally surfaced earlier this month. The only hints at "why" are unconfirmed whispers that Wang was having trouble balancing his Balenciaga duties while also running his namesake collection, and that he was quietly looking for investors for his own line.

The young American designer was an attractive hire for Balenciaga. His name is often dropped alongside words like "cool" and "downtown," and he represents a modern approach to fashion that few else do: Wang gets name dropped in A$AP Rocky tracks as well as Vogue credits; designs $35 sports bras for H&M but also successfully pre-sells $4,795 dresses on Moda Operandi; gets big orders from fancy department stores while the Tumblr generation bids ferociously on past-season Wang eBay listings. He has an uncanny sense of knowing what a large range of people will covet — from attitude and presentation to the actual selling of bags and sweaters. From buzz to sales, it's not hard to see why Balenciaga was excited by the prospect of Wang at its helm. The 31-year-old replaced Nicolas Ghesquière, who spent 15 years with the house before leaving for a role at Louis Vuitton (where he replaced Marc Jacobs, another well-liked American designer who has since taken to focusing on his namesake line).

An elaborate runway for spring 2015

Based on the numbers, Alexander Wang for Balenciaga seemed to be working. The company reported double-digit growth in March, coming from "almost all categories," Balenciaga chief executive officer Isabelle Guichot said. The house is profitable, generating revenues of $387 million. Half of that sum comes from its own retail efforts, which Balenciaga has invested in significantly, jumping from three to 90 stores in the last seven years. Ten of those doors were added in 2014. Wholesale accounts have seen gains, too, totaling around 500 doors worldwide.

In addition to sales, Wang brought his particular taste for famous faces to Balenciaga, too. Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, and M.I.A. were worked into the front row at Paris Fashion Week shows. Advertising campaigns paired Kate Moss with Lara Stone for womenswear, and landed musician Sam Smith his first fashion campaign as the recent face of the brand's menswear. Red carpet placements included Kerry Washington (with child) at the 2014 Golden Globes and Lady Gaga at the 2015 Met Gala.

balenciaga-north-west-kim-kardashian-kanye-west_2015_07

North West, Kim Kardashian, and Kanye West front row at the spring 2015 show

It's not yet known who fill the creative director role at Balenciaga once Alexander Wang shows his final collection for the house, the spring 2016 line to be presented during Paris Fashion Week this autumn. Some muse that Balenciaga will promote from within, similar to Gucci's recent (and successful) move with former accessories designer Alessandro Michele. Others wonder if parent company Kering—which owns Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, and Saint Laurent, among others—will do some internal shuffling, or poach from a competitor. For now, all we can do is sit, gossip, and wait for official word. Stay tuned.

Update: Balenciaga and Alexander Wang released a statement on July 31st confirming Wang's departure as creative director.