PARIS - Balenciaga has tapped New York star Alexander Wang as its new designer, a report said Friday, marking a shift for the French fashion house from its couture roots towards a younger, edgier look.
Quoting market sources, trade magazine Women's Wear Daily said Balenciaga would next week announce the appointment of the 28-year-old Wang, one of the hottest names on the New York fashion scene.
The choice of Wang - who was born to Taiwanese-American parents and whose own-name brand has been pushing into Asia - could also signal a willingness by the house to open up to the vast Chinese market.
He would succeed the outgoing Nicolas Ghesquiere, whose surprise departure stunned the fashion galaxy this month and whose contract at the house ends on Friday.
Paris fashion sources confirmed the choice of Wang, although Balenciaga, which is part of the PPR luxury group, declined to comment officially on what it said was just a "rumour."
Raised in San Francisco, Wang landed in New York aged 18 to study fashion at Parsons School of Design, designing a first collection under his own name while still a student.
Launched in 2007, his first ready-to-wear women's line blended relaxed chic and a streetwise edge, securing distribution in 200 stores.
The following year he won the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America/ Vogue Fashion Fund Award, with a 200,000 dollar endowment to develop his business.
At New York Fashion Week this September he reaffirmed his flair for the theatrical, juggling monochrome silhouettes, in sexy graphic lines, with futuristic outfits that glowed in the dark.
A Mandarin speaker, Wang has travelled frequently over the years to Shanghai, where his mother lives, according to WWD. His father is based in Hong Kong.
With a flagship in New York's SoHo district, Wang earlier this year opened a major store in Beijing and has announced plans to open a dozen more stores in East Asia.
PPR, whose fashion labels include Gucci, Yves Saint-Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney has owned Balenciaga since 2001.
It took the fashion world by surprise by announcing the departure of its designer of 15 years, who had put the historic house of Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga back on the fashion map in his time there.
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.
Balenciaga's chief executive Isabelle Guichot told AFP this month that the house was not planning a change of strategy following Ghesquiere's departure.
But for Serge Carreira, fashion industry expert and teacher at Sciences Po university in Paris, Wang's appointment would mark a "clean break".
"At Balenciaga today there is a very couture spirit, a very Parisian elegance, whereas Wang plays on a modern and relaxed look," he told AFP.
Asking Wang to reinterpret its heritage could "help Balenciaga move away from a kind of technical virtuosity towards something just as modern, but suited to a wider market," Carreira argued.
The choice could also help Balenciaga "consolidate the historic, and fundamental US market, while positioning itself for the Chinese market, one of the biggest for the sector in the medium term."