Last night saw a big, beautiful move forward for Riccardo Tisci. the designer who, in less than a decade, has reversed the fortunes of the house of Givenchy.
In place of the blockbuster mise en scene in the round his audience has come to know him for – last season’s car crash scenario, for example, Antony Hegarty’s live soundtrack the time before - was a long, narrow runway clad in pale gold carpet. Instead of sharp edged modern benches it was lined with the rows of tiny chairs that are the preserve of the traditional haute couture presentation. So far, so bourgeois: this after all represents the foundations this revered French name were built upon. Said chairs were painted glossy black, however – for his affinity with that shade and all that is Gothic in intent the designer has been labeled fashion’s Prince of Darkness. The fact that the catwalk was overhung with strips of fluorescent light was, equally, far from conservative.
Then there was the front row to consider. Those in attendance were anything but demure. While Givenchy was once famously endorsed by Audrey Hepburn, its namesake’s muse, Tisci attracted a less obviously polite crowd: Kanye West, Rihanna, Beth Ditto, Carine Roitfeld and her daughter Julia Restoin Roitfeld all took pride of place. They are as interesting for their strength as their diversity.
Just as the production values might suggest, the collection itself demonstrated a fusion of the traditional and the modern, the classic and the dark that this designer understands well. Knee-length chiffon dresses replete with ruffles and pussy bows were appliqued with red, white or black Bauhaus inspired oblongs of leather and cotton hearts at the solar plexus. Up close – and given the set it was almost possible to reach out and touch them - they revealed (also sheer) underwear worn beneath. Perfectly cut mannish trouser suits in nothing more outré than black, grey and blush pink wool – a boxy, cropped jacket with broad shoulders and high-waisted, wide-legged pants - were finished with more geometric panels of skin, edging pockets or at the backs of jackets.
Animal print was more sauvage than jolie madame. Butterflies were scaled up to the point of abstraction. A final sequence of gowns – one boasted a crystal paillette encrusted top half with a butterfly neckline, another a moulded lilac snakeskin bodice – with long, languid, knife-pleat skirts demonstrated a level of workmanship more readily associated with haute couture than ready-to-wear. Again, that is very much part of the history of this French fashion institution and Riccardo Tisci has long maintained those values all while overthrowing any anachronistic tendencies.
While belle laide footwear has been seen all over the runways this season, here were strappy sandals and sheer black silk stockings. The over-riding sense, then, was of the elegance of vintage Yves Saint Laurent – and, of course, Hubert de Givenchy – but with this younger designer’s fascination with contemporary culture, from fine art to hip-hop, woven into the mix it looked all new.
‘I was trying to turn a page, to do something different,’ he said. ‘I looked a lot at Hubert de Givenchy and what Givenchy was when he was designing it in the Fifties and Sixties. I thought about good cuts, good colours… I looked at [the photographer and architect] Carlo Mollino. I love his mix of elegance and eroticism.’
And Tisci loves women too, of all ages, shapes and sizes. That rang out loud and clear. Stella Tennant, Frankie Rayder and Karen Elson all took a rare turn on the runway for their friend. Also walking for Givenchy, however, was the new generation, Edie Campbell and Kendall Jenner among them – Givenchy is among the label’s of choice for the latter’s half-sister, Kim Kardashian. All looked both empowered and empowering. The designer’s mother, also front row, and who has attended every one of her son’s shows, must surely have been proud.