Even though the news that Alexander Wang is the next creative director at Balenciaga has had the weekend to sink in, it doesn’t feel quite like reality. Wang rose to fame mostly on the wearability and relatively accessible price point of his downtown-cool sportswear and handbags, while Balenciaga’s departed designer/genius Nicolas Ghesquiere earned a reputation for industry-leading innovation, exceptional technical skill and an embrace of fashion’s intellectual side. (Oh, and a decade-plus of Motorcycle Bag success didn’t hurt, either.) The two have seemingly little to do with each other.

To me, Wang seemed (and to a certain extent, still seems) like an inappropriate choice to fill Ghesquiere’s shoes; the two men are completely different brand leaders in both aesthetic and approach. It seems like giving Wang the nod indicates that PPR wishes to take the French house in a more consumer-friendly direction; after all, Wang has proved himself an expert at figuring out exactly what luxury customers want to buy, which can be a weakness of designers who are more focused on abstract ideas and exacting execution. Finding both those qualities in one designer is rare, to say the least.

The more I’ve thought about it, though, the more the two designers’ aesthetics seem to converge in an area that’s not only very important to those of us at this site, but to the overall financial health of almost any fashion brand: handbags. I’ve bought and carried multiple bags from both brands, and although I hadn’t really thought about it before this news emerged, the two are not all that different.

Both Wang and Balenciaga do most of their accessories business by selling slouchy leather bags with tough, industrial-inspired hardware. The bags from both lines are then reissued in new colors and hardwares every season; the most successful designs have their shapes tweaked a bit in later seasons to provide consumers multiple options. Most brands incorporate a few of those techniques into their accessories strategies, but the similarities are more numerous than you’d expect when you look at the bag lines side-by-side, particularly considering how divergent the rest of the two brands are.

On top of that, Balenciaga and Wang’s seasonal bags have begun to share aesthetic similarities in recent seasons. Wang’s Pelican line from Fall 2012, for example, has the taut leather and clean edges that characterize many of Balenciaga’s recent non-Motorcyle bags. Both of those moves may be attributable to larger accessories trends, but they’re notable because, improbably, both brands now have their accessories collections structured the same way – a foundation of casual, easy shoulder bags and satchels with edgy hardware, combined with seasonal lines of tight, modern totes and satchels.

Ultimately, that should help Balenciaga bag lovers breathe a small sigh of relief. The Motorcycle bags, with their seemingly endless popularity, are likely going nowhere, at least in the immediate future. Not only would it be a bad business move to end the line right now, but it the bags likely won’t be contrary to Wang’s aesthetic vision at Balenciaga; after all, they’re pretty much in sync with it already.

What are your feelings on Alexander Wang’s move to Balenciaga? What do you think the link will be like?

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Share Your Thoughts With Us

  • If we’re only talking about bags, sure I agree that both Wang’s and Balenciaga’s share similar feel.

    However, if we talk about the brand as a whole, as mentioned on my blog and on my comment on WWD article about Wang as Ghesquière’s replacement, I don’t feel that Wang is the right person for the brand. I don’t deny his talent, but I feel that he would be the perfect person if he were to replace Ricardo Tisci at Givenchy, but not at Balenciaga. I feel that Alexander Wang brand share a closer DNA to Givenchy than to Balenciaga. I see Goth, street (downtown) style, and androgyny from Alexander Wang – attributes that I often find in Givenchy as well. But I don’t see those attributes in Balenciaga. What I see from Balenciaga is architectural, futuristic and bold cuts, yet feminine. I can only hope that Wang can successfully translate Balenciaga’s soul into the whole collection, from RTW to accessories.

    • As I tried to make clear in the post, I also feel that the similarities begin and end with the two designers’ successful handbag lines.

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    • sandy

      Clearly you’re only talking about Ricardo Tisci’s more recent RTW collections. Don’t forget that he also does couture. Alexander Wang (although I love his work) could never replace him at Givenchy.

      • I was talking about both RTW and couture actually – but mainly the similarities of both brand’s identity. Just because Alexander Wang collection is street look and he doesn’t have a couture collection, doesn’t mean that he can’t design couture. Maybe he just chose not too due to profitability reasons (couture collection is hardly, if ever, profitable).

  • daphnetaggart

    Considering that Balenciaga has made cost-cutting changes such as no spare tassels and cheaper leathers, I fear the company is being taken down a more mass-market path.

  • Oh the wrath of commercialism.. it really breaks my heart, literally.

  • Roxy

    Sorry i don’t like this at all. I am a fan of Alexander Wang but a lot of his most popular bag designs have been “inspired” by the innovations of other designer. The shape of the Emile bag, despite my increasing fondness for it, is too close to the YSL down town bag; and i have a distinct memory of the Diego bag popping up around the same time that the Balenciaga Pompon bag was really at its height. We are talking about the head of a mid range fashion label taking over at a high end fashion house; and to be honest there is a big difference between the two. Up until now Wang has shown a knack for picking up on what is at the heart of a bag trend, and making it into something simple, affordable and beautiful. That is why so many people buy his stuff, his bags fill the void left by other trend setting luxury designer bags that might be out of our reach. But as of yet he has not shown any innovation of his own that has swept us of our feet. High fashion requires trend setters. Lets hope he proves himself before ruining the label. (Hope i didn’t offend anyone)

  • PhotoGirl

    My feelings? Sad. The bags? Will probably be over-priced and made in China. But what else is new?

  • OMG! I love Alexander Wang.

  • JC

    bad choice for PPR group, i have never liked AW’s accessories…

  • dianahuang

    I love both awang and balenciaga as well…and i am super excited waiting for their collaboration…so what’s wanglenciaga will be?