White hot: Why Givenchy is more desirable than ever

By Susannah Frankel

Givenchy struggled to reinvent itself for over a decade, but today - with Riccardo Tisci at the helm - the designer label is experiencing its finest moment in years.

This confection of loveliness is white, it's pleated (sunray pleats, in particular, are de rigueur), its edges are fashionably frayed (as seen everywhere from Prada to Lanvin), it's layered (layering is the way to see and be seen achieving volume just now) and, finally, it's lacy (tapping neatly into the newly invigorated respect for craftsmanship that is also very much du jour).

As if that weren't enough, the label in the back of it reads "Givenchy". Obviously, we're not supposed to care about such things, but anyone even half-interested in designer fashion is, no doubt, aware of the buzz currently surrounding that name. After all, over the past few seasons Givenchy has been busily establishing itself as one of the French designer powerhouses to look out for, and this current offering is cementing that message.

It is, without question, the once-tired fashion house's finest moment for years.

For the uninitiated, here's how that came about. An almost entirely unknown Riccardo Tisci was appointed creative director at Givenchy five years ago, which was viewed by the fashion world with unsurprising scepticism. It was no secret that this LVMH-owned brand, which was relatively minor compared to the likes of Dior and Louis Vuitton, had struggled to reinvent itself for a decade and more.

In 1995, and surrounded by the petites mains who had been with him since couture's glory days, Hubert James Taffin de Givenchy (yes, it's one hell of a name) took his final bows, leaving behind him a heritage that, though significant, was no longer being utilised to its best advantage. Givenchy looked unremarkably bourgeois without either the youthful irony or vigour required to ensure that the "ladylike" is also, to the modern eye, desirable.

Only months later, and in a blaze of publicity, much of it derogatory, John Galliano was appointed De Givenchy's successor. When Galliano moved to Dior just one year later, Alexander McQueen stepped into his shoes and was famously - and vocally - unhappy at Givenchy, duly departing in December 2000 to establish his own label in partnership with the Gucci Group. Most bizarrely, it then fell to Julien Macdonald to preside over the house that, fashion legend had long decreed, boasted Audrey Hepburn as its muse. It's small wonder that the French, always fiercely protective of their position as purveyors of quite the finest fashion in the world, were unamused. Neither were Mr Macdonald's designs for Givenchy terribly amusing. Instead, after four lacklustre years, he too was let go. Enter Tisci, of southern Italian heritage but raised in northern Italy, specifically Como, near Milan.

"To me, Galliano and McQueen are genius," Tisci told The Independent in 2007. "But there are many things that make a label work. The past 10 years at Givenchy have been very confused, but it has such an incredible history and that was in danger of being lost."

Crucially, and unlike any of the other names involved up until this point, Tisci agreed to suspend production of his own label when he moved to Givenchy - making it his sole concern. It is credit to the designer that Givenchy is today known as Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci.

Tisci has in common with his predecessors the fact that he comes not from the upper echelons of society but from more humble stock - this is a rags to riches tale if ever there was one. "We were very poor," he has said of his family background. Tisci's father died when he was 3 years old, leaving him to be brought up by his mother and eight older sisters.

What he lacked in social credentials, however, Tisci more than made up for with an understanding of fashion's potential power. Having grown up in the heyday of the great Italian designers, he spent his teenage years in the thrall of names like Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace in particular, and was duly inspired to embark on a career as a designer in his own right.

"It was the era of the supermodel and Gianni Versace was like a rock star. I remember seeing his private jet landing at the airport with Naomi and Kate and everyone on board. They showed it on the news."

Tisci worked for his uncle, a plasterer, for a florist and for local fashion boutiques to support himself through art school, and then went to work in a textiles studio which supplied Missoni among others. He then moved to London ("people in Italy don't care about young people - in London everyone was talking about music, about art, about fashion") where various casual jobs saw him through his studies at Central Saint Martin's - famously both Galliano's and McQueen's alma mater. After graduating with honours he returned to Italy, where he worked for Antonio Berardi, Coccapani, Puma and Ruffo Research before, in 2004, launching his own label. And that label - deeply rooted in the distinctively Italianate aesthetic beloved of the aforementioned Versace, fused with a hefty dose of Gothicism and more contemporary music-inspired imagery, was lovely. Tisci was helped by his sisters, who worked with him to ensure that his designs reached the-then cult London boutique Kokon To Zai as well as fashion-knowledgeable celebrities including Kylie Minogue and Bjork.

At Givenchy, Tisci just took that mindset and added another layer: a quintessentially Gallic, ultra-chic overview that meant less conceptual posturing and more emphasis on tailoring that was as cool as it was sharp, juxtaposed with a highly complex "flou" element that showed off the intricate workmanship that the Parisian ateliers are known for.

Tailoring studded with signature, square hardware, softer more overtly feminine designs as favoured by rock royalty, Madonna and Courtney Love included, heavy metal jewellery and, more recently, some of fashion's finest designer footwear and the requisite oversized, super-luxe bags have all led to a profile for Givenchy that attracts both a monied client of a certain age and a younger fashion follower more likely to take risks with her wardrobe.

With this in mind: "Indisputably, Riccardo Tisci has moved up to the elite group of designers who matter most in Paris," argued the influential US Vogue website, style.com, after his current collection was aired. "His work has editors pining to buy and rock stars' stylists competing for first dibs - and for spring, that heat's only going to intensify." Praise indeed - and it's deserved. From geometrically striped tailoring to the type of goddess dress a budding, well, goddess might only dream of; finally, at Givenchy, Tisci appears to have things nailed.


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