Maybe Clare Waight Keller, the first female artistic director of Givenchy, isn’t as much about sweetness and light as everyone was expecting.
The first big hints dropped Monday about the brand’s new look under Waight Keller, who was appointed in March to head the house that Hubert de Givenchy built — and the message sits somewhere to the east of the Kardashians and west of Audrey Hepburn. Or so a teaser campaign, fashion’s latest trend when it comes to introducing a new era at an old house, suggests.
Shot in black and white by Steven Meisel, the first images are one portrait of the male model Elias Bouremah lounging on a floral rug against a velvet couch in a pair of black tuxedo pants, dark rumpled curls and not much else; and another of his female counterpart, Saffron Vadher, curled up in a black lace long-sleeve T-shirt, dark straight hair and not much else. He’s topless, she’s all-but-bottomless, and both have cats on their laps and matching chunky gold rings on their fingers. (The cats have Givenchy collars.)
There’s little gamin about the pictures, and the old-world references have been given a debauched edge: a nod to the clichés of French fashion heritage, with smudged mascara.
That’s notable for what it says about Waight Keller’s intentions, though equally interesting is the intentionally equal treatment of the sexes.
Which is, it turns out, a harbinger of things to come.
When Waight Keller’s full collection debuts Oct. 1 during Paris Fashion Week, it will include both men’s and womenswear, making Givenchy the first brand owned by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton to join the trend of combining men’s and women’s shows, as embraced by Gucci and by Burberry, among others.
(Although Waight Keller’s predecessor, Riccardo Tisci, showed women’s couture with his men’s ready-to-wear, it was more of an accessory to the men’s collection.)
Not to mention reframing Givenchy itself as a pas de deux between genders. Or, as Waight Keller said during a conversation in Paris, as one collection with a single aesthetic expressed in complementary ways, so the result is “not about androgyny, but synergy.”
“To me, Givenchy is a world where women and men alike are strong, stoic and mysterious,” she said in an official statement about the campaign. “They own their power, and share it equally.”
Which means what, in terms of clothes, exactly?
It’s hard to tell from the campaign images, as there are only two garments involved, but at the French Vogue benefit for the Musée Galliera in Paris during the couture shows last week, Waight Keller seemed to model her own words, appearing in a black tuxedo with an AC/DC T-shirt underneath. With her was the Givenchy communications director Youssef Marquis, in almost the same suit with a black T-shirt.
Besides, mystery is the idea.
Beyond the man/woman thing, however, what is significant about the Givenchy images is that there’s nothing particularly perky or daytime-y about them — despite predictions when Waight Keller’s appointment was announced that her arrival would mean a sunnier, lighter Givenchy than that created by Tisci over the previous 12 years. Tisci tended to the goth, and mixed everything from Chola culture to graphic sweatshirts with his chic (making him such a favourite of said Kardashians; he made Kim’s gown for her wedding to Kanye).
Indeed, the looks are steamier and more louche than Waight Keller’s work over the past six years as creative director of Chloé, where the quintessential image was of a boho-deluxe blonde backlit by the sun. You have to go all the way back to her work as a senior designer at Gucci under Tom Ford, from 2000 to 2005, to remember that she has roots in a sultrier style.
Now she’s apparently tapping into that heritage — as well as the heritage of Givenchy: The cats are a reference to feline prints from a 1953 collection by Givenchy. That would make her direction less of an extreme about-face compared with Tisci than everyone might have assumed, and more of a refinement; steward of a subtler, more intimate kind of seduction.
Also, perhaps, more of a merchandiser. After all, embedded in the teaser is a new brand extension: The cat collars will be for sale.
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