.Yet Ghesquiere, 30, has created his current position as the hippest, hottest most sought-after creator by fashion aficionados without even the archives of the great Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga, who died in 1972, at his disposal. On Friday, as Ghesquiere sat in his white studio on Avenue d'Iena in Paris, showing the intricate details of his dresses in a patchwork of brocade and pattern, a few blocks away a tribe of the Balenciaga faithful was gathering at the Spanish Embassy. Queen Fabiola of Belgium (who was wed in a Balenciaga dress), the Infanta Cristina of Spain, the former Balenciaga disciples Emanuel Ungaro, Paco Rabanne and Oscar de la Renta and the master of ceremonies, Hubert de Givenchy, discussed their project for a foundation in the designer's Basque region homeland.
.While they are revering Balenciaga, Ghesquiere has the more edgy role of reviving Balenciaga — especially now that his talent has been recognized by Gucci Group, which bought the house this year and is investing in its expansion and, therefore, Ghesquiere's future.
."My relationship with Cristobal Balenciaga is not as a heritage, but as a way of looking at his work, with priority given to research," says Ghesquiere. "He had such rigor in the construction, and he would never compromise. Clients had to enter into the spirit of Balenciaga — and I like that."
.Looking like a romantic hero from the d'Artagnan era, with his wavy black hair, clear eyes and fleshy lips, Ghesquiere is one of those rare fashion talents who seem to drop from the blue sky — although the reality of his story is 15 years' hard work both with the fashion maestro Jean Paul Gaultier and with the more prosaic Balenciaga licenses in Japan. Yet for all his common-sense experience with designing products, his attitude is of a creative artist.
."What interests me about a garment is the 'transformation,"' he says. "The process of turning an idea into something specific and concrete." For the autumn season, that meant focusing on the 19th-century Jules Verne as the first futurist — and morphing images of the Art Nouveau period into a modern woman's armor: suits sculpted with corsets into hour-glass shapes, and sinuous Belle Epoque swirls and peacock wings condensed to breastplates on little black dresses.
.Ghesquiere's contribution to modern fashion has been the abstract way he has treated embellishment, reducing Balenciaga's decorative wedding dresses to pieces of ragged tulle and pearl swags dangling from dresses that are snapped up by his fans, the model Kate Moss and actress Charlotte Gainsbourg. They find in the designer's work an image of strong women fused with delicate femininity.
.The shoulder decorations — from shreds of lace to Davy Crockett fur tails — have been relentlessly copied. Ghesquiere traces the focus on the shoulders, not so much to his fashion background as a child of the 1980s, but rather to his fascination with fencing.
."I did do one collection inspired by the shoulders of David Bowie's outfits," he says. "But those strong shoulders came from the 1940s, and the batwing sleeves of the 1980s first appeared in the 1920s. I was 9 years old in 1980 so I grew up in that period — but I also think of it as a time of an explosion of art and communication."
.Born in 1971 to a Belgian father and a French mother, Ghesquiere was brought up in the small central French town of Loudun. His father owns a golf course and his brother is a teacher, but Ghesquiere was focused on fashion from the moment he worked as a 15-year-old on school vacations for Agnes B. and Corinne Cobson. Finally, after battering for two years at a closed door, he secured a job with Gaultier. "It was my 19th birthday present," Ghesquiere says.
.When he left Gaultier in 1992 after two years, he worked on a free-lance basis for Thierry Mugler, the shoe company Stephane Kelian, Trussardi and a French knitwear group. The former owners of the Balenciaga label took him on in 1995 for licensed products, including golfing clothes and widows' dresses for the Japanese.
.After falling into the top job by default (the previous designer, Josephus Thimister, was fired for assaulting the eardrums of the audience with cacophonic music), Ghesquiere showed his first collection for Balenciaga's Le Dix ready-to-wear in 1997, at age 26, and swiftly became a cult figure.
.Why? It was his skill in cutting effortlessly the perfectly tailored, elongated-leg pants for his own generation; his eerie romanticism as he mixed austerity with the angelic, and also, maybe, having the right cultural and physical attributes for his times. In the fashion tide of American, British, Belgian, Brazilian and Italian designers, here was someone French with a Gallic culture and a cool attitude to fit the burgeoning Parisian music scene.
."What does being French mean?" asks Ghesquiere. "It is the idea of elegance and of having the arrogance to want to change a woman's silhouette. It is of being slightly contentious, a question of culture — an understanding of certain rules."
.The French have had a reputation for navel gazing, while his generation is more open. Open, indeed, to showing the navel, when an ultra-refined patchwork of Indian, Liberty floral and brocade fabrics was worked with couture skills on a dress in the new collection that is as light in weight and spirit as its construction is complicated. The same is true of washed-silk and corduroy pants, originally inspired by judo but raised to the ultimate level of luxury and refinement.
.Ghesquiere says that he "really, really wanted to stay at Balenciaga" and is extremely happy about his association with Tom Ford and Gucci Group. But he can perhaps expect a few fireworks, when he unveils his concept for Balenciaga stores that Gucci plans to open in capital cities. Ghesquiere is planning to take on the current concept of branding and do it his way.
."I want the opposite of a shop where each branch looks the same around the world — the opposite of the Group's idea," he says, explaining that a planned Paris store should be distinct from one on New York's Madison Avenue, and that should also be different from Chelsea in Manhattan.
.Ghesquiere is searching for a new workspace that will house his enthusiastic young team, the eclectic archive of flea market finds and the models of all his previous collections. What about Cristobal Balenciaga's own archive of 600 outfits stashed in a locked room?
."The most important thing," says Ghesquiere, "is to be able to look at them — and then to forget them as soon as possible."