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 in July last year about the brand’s new look under Waight Keller, who was appointed last March to head the house that Hubert de Givenchy built — and the message sat somewhere to the east of the Kardashians and west of Audrey Hepburn.
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.
What was notable for what it said about Waight Keller’s intentions was the intentionally equal treatment of the sexes.
Which, as it turned out, was a harbinger of things to come.
When Waight Keller’s full collection debuted October 2017 during Paris Fashion Week, it included both men’s and womenswear, making Givenchy the latest 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.”
Givenchy is one of the few brands, if not the only one, with sales split 50-50 between men’s and womenswear. This has also gone on to influence the very design and layout of the brand's stores, as seen last week at the unveiling of the new store in Hong Kong's IFC Mall.
Philippe Fortunato, CEO of the house, together with celebrities such as Lee Dong Wook, Krystal Jung, Yo Yang and Pakho Chau, introduced over 100 guests to Givenchy's new 172 sqm retail space that features an architectural configuration and interior layout that contrasts femininity and masculinity. Natural iron elements feature pleated panels, creating a soft, feminine feel were juxtaposed with masculine lines of the store's expansive display window frames. Fully stocked with the Spring/Sumer 2018 men's and womenswear collection, it seems Waight Keller's words are echoed throughout the brand.
What, then, does this mean for Givenchy's clothes?
What is significant about the Givenchy of late is that there’s nothing particularly perky or daytimey 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 new GV3 bag, for instance, uses the initials of the house’s historic address on the Avenue George V, number 3. 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.
Subscribe to our newsletter