Alexander Wang’s goal at Balenciaga is not to adapt but to “break the mold.” And for his third runway season at the storied house, the young designer did just that—adding knitwear with new hybrid treatments to the mix and experimenting with asymmetrical shapes that play on the brand’s classic codes. In the latest Fall 2014 campaign, shot by Steven Klein, Wang continues to push boundaries and rock the status quo by depicting Gisele Bündchen—a model made a legend thanks to her feminine curves and beachy waves—with a masculine cropped cut. The 360-degree view we’re given of her shorn and slicked-back strands in a series of cracked mirrors makes each image all the more intriguing. Similar to an audience questioning how a magician pulls a rabbit out of thin air, the viewer is left wondering how Wang stripped the super of her hallmark attributes to pull this one off. Here, the artistic director does the unthinkable and reveals his secrets exclusively to Style.com.— Amber Kallor
How does this campaign represent your vision for Balenciaga?
Compared to the first two campaigns that I did with the brand, we really wanted this one to break the mold a little bit. The first one was an homage and more austere, and we never really showed the face. And for the last one, with Daria [Werbowy], it became this idea of transformation. I like this idea of taking iconic supermodels and showing them in a new light and a different way. Specifically with Gisele, she’s known for her hair, so we said, “Let’s show Gisele like she’s never been shown before and this idea of mystery and vanity.” She’s in this black, mirrored room and she’s breaking out of it. In the first season, we had the marble veins [on the runway and in the collection], and then it became the ivy, and then this season the cracked glass—so it was a continuing thread that tied them together as well.
Does the cracked glass represent breaking the mold of what Balenciaga once was as a house?
I mean, in a sense. Yes, I guess vaguely. I think there’s something so beautiful when there’s an organic touch to it. I love this idea of veins in the marble or things that [are] graphic [but still] organic. That element is very interesting to me because there is a rawness to it.
Where did your inspiration stem from for these visuals?
We worked with Gisele on the show, she closed the show, and we really wanted her. Gisele has been around and shown in so many different ways. So we said, “OK, we want to show Gisele in a way that people have never seen her before.” That was the first goal for us to achieve, and that’s very hard for someone that has done almost everything and has worked with so many different brands and people! It really started with this idea of transforming Gisele and capturing what we felt was different about her being part of the Balenciaga brand. We love showing her really uncompromised and that ultimate extreme beauty breaking out of a mirror. It’s almost beauty so powerful [it can’t be contained]. And also to empower women to cut their hair and feel confident and feel beautiful and feel desired.
We’ve seen Gisele recently and her waves are still very much intact. Was there a bit of Photoshop magic at play within this campaign?
I mean, yes, of course. There was a whole team involved. We had a specialist [Jane Choi] come in who actually works on movie sets doing prosthetics. We spent two days making a prosthetic bald cap on a Gisele body double. And then we had to get another body double who we had to give the exact same haircut. So for every picture we took with Gisele, we had to take another picture with the body double. Then we fused those two together. It was the first time I’ve ever worked in that way, and [master retoucher] Pascal Dangin, he’s just incredible. He’s a true artist and a painter. When he was showing me the mock-ups, I was blown away by what he was able to achieve before we even got to the shoot.
How hard was it to achieve the finished result, as you see the hair from so many different angles?
The funny thing was that Gisele had to come in three hours before call time just to put the bald cap on. We had to wrap the hair very, very flat to her head, put the bald cap on, and then paint the bald cap to the exact same skin color as Gisele. It was basically like putting her into what you usually see on sets like X-Men. Every time we shot the picture it was kind of crazy because it was always just shooting her with the bald cap on and then having to visualize a bald Gisele. Then we’d go in and shoot the body double and that whole process. In the end, seeing it all come together was really magical.
Since we’re seeing Gisele in an entirely new way, who is the Balenciaga girl and how has she evolved since you arrived at the house?
I feel that for me right now the most important thing is to show this idea of empowerment, and people always talk about confidence and strength. It was a bit more understated, and this collection was [one] where I was really breaking through a lot of barriers and connotations, and I wanted the campaign and visuals to represent that. It’s kind of like a continuing dialogue. I never like to put exactly into words who the girl is because the collections speak for themselves. Also, there is something that is celebrated about individuality, and I like that any woman can come to Balenciaga and make it her own.
What do you think Cristóbal Balenciaga would say about seeing a woman with a shaved head in one of his campaigns?
I don’t know! He was always one to look at women in a different way. I think that’s something that I share in terms of an outlook. If he were living today in our world and our society, and wanting to do something that was different and open up some eyes…hopefully I did him proud.
In terms of Balenciaga, what’s next? What are your plans for expansion?
We have the fragrance [B. Balenciaga, pronounced Bee-dot] that’s coming out this fall. That’s going to be big for me because I’ve never done a fragrance before. And we have a couple of new launches, so it’s a little too early to say, but you’ll just have to stay tuned!