By Astrid Wendlandt
PARIS (Reuters) - Star designer Karl Lagerfeld said the departure of Nicolas Ghesquiere from Balenciaga as artistic director to create his own brand with backing from LVMH's Bernard Arnault would "not be a bad idea" as the group owned many old labels.
"Perhaps Nicolas wants to have his own label, which is not a bad idea," Lagerfeld told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.
"And it would not be a bad idea if somebody such as Bernard Arnault would invest in a new label because there are so many old labels (within the LVMH group)," Lagerfeld said about the chief executive of the world's biggest luxury group.
PPR, the French group which owns Balenciaga, shocked the fashion world by announcing this week the departure of Ghesquiere, who had been with the brand since 1997 and was the main architect of its revival.
The International Herald Tribune reported this week that one option for Ghesquiere was to create his own brand with the backing of Arnault, who controls LVMH, the world's biggest luxury group, which owns many fashion brands including Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Celine.
Founded by Cristobal Balenciaga in 1919, his eponymous brand thrived until the late 1960s and then lay dormant until Ghesquiere took over as designer. The brand started to expand worldwide after PPR acquired it in 2001.
Balenciaga did not explain Ghesquiere's departure clearly when it made the announcement on Monday but it suggested the designer was longing for a new creative adventure.
Lagerfeld, who runs his own brand on top of working as artistic director for LVMH's Fendi and for privately owned Chanel, said he could not think about the succession.
"We (my team and I) only think in terms of one collection after the next collection," he said. "In fashion, I am very much against projection in the far away future."
Lagerfeld was speaking at the opening of an exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris of his photos of celebrities themed around Chanel's "little black jacket," who were styled by Carine Roitfeld, former editor of the French Vogue.
The celebrities include artist Yoko Ono, John Lennon's widow, film maker Sofia Coppola and actresses Kirsten Dunst and Milla Jojovich.
"I am happy I can do both fashion and photography because there is a link between the two but it is a link which I refuse to analyze," Lagerfeld said.
Also present at the exhibition's opening was Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel's fashion division, who like Lagerfeld would not be drawn too long on the subject of the designer's succession.
"Karl is in great shape, I work every day with him and I can assure you that he is doing very well," Pavlovsky said, adding that relations between Chanel and him had always been excellent.
"Of course one day there will be an after-Karl but Karl will have made Chanel so strong, with such strong codes that Chanel will find solutions," Pavlovsky said.
The executive said Chanel, owned by the Wertheimer family, was doing well overall and expected 2012 to be another "good year" in spite of the global downturn which has affected many of its rivals including LVMH, Burberry and Gucci owner PPR.
However, he said the Chinese market was becoming more mature with growth levels in big cities such as Shanghai or Beijing becoming similar to that of European capitals or New York where Chanel has been for decades.
"We are no longer in the 20-30 percent growth levels we had seen (in previous years in China)," he said. "It can be more than 10 percent," he said, referring to growth levels in big European cities.
Pavlovsky said Chanel planned to finish the year with 10 boutiques in China and 182 globally.
(Reporting by Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)