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Interview: Son of Anarchy



Riccardo Tisci is both an unlikely and a logical choice to host the opening gala for this year’s Costume Institute exhibition, Punk: Chaos to Couture. Unlikely because he was a mere infant when punk was born. In fact, Tisci himself initially thought the honor should go to an English designer. But in another way, the role fits him. He jokes that he is now “the good boy of LVMH,” and he has the commercial success and recently renewed contract to prove it, but he was for many years the luxury group’s dark prince, whose radical reinvention of the house of Givenchy brought cries of sacrilege from the critics. If punk is above all an attitude, Tisci has that to spare. Our interview took place in a room at The Mercer hotel in Soho. In person, he is at once shy, articulate, sweet, wickedly funny, and possessed of the charm that has drawn everyone from hip-hop superstars to transsexual supermodels into his gang. The only open sign of rebellion was the rapidly depleting pack of American Spirits that sat, along with an untouched electronic cigarette, on the table by the open window.

DS: You were, what, 3 years old in 1977? So when did you first become aware of punk?

RT: I got nearer punk when I was 17. I left Italy to go to England, which was very punk for me to do, coming from where I come from. I didn’t want to live under the situation in Italy at that moment, political and social. I wanted to express myself, and I went to England and made my life…. You could still feel the attitude of punk in England, you still feel it a lot today, and I think the English, they’re very punk in their DNA.

You say punk’s an attitude. Can you define it?

Oh, yes. It’s fighting for your rights. Not being scared of opinion. Freedom.

Do you think it still exists?

I think still in England it’s very like that. I lived there for eight years, and you do have a feeling of freedom…. I’m Italian. I’ve lived in France. I come to America a lot. In Italian, French, and American society—and for many reasons: societal, political reasons, cultural and different things—you think too much before you really say what you think. To not upset anybody. In England, you feel like you have the right to say it straight away, which is great. That’s what really changed my way. That’s why I had a lot of problems when I started as a designer, because it’s very difficult for Italians to be edgy or to be revolutionary. In my own little way, I did it when I did my own collection and when I arrived at Givenchy. That, I think, is all a testament to England, because even [when] I started at Saint Martins, the experience was very punk. The teachers were arriving late, sometimes the teachers weren’t even coming. They would give you a critique. You felt that you were lost in the middle of many ways to think, but then you learned a lot, because it was all about independence. This is why I think the English in general have a big power in the world.



Not aesthetically [but] my own way to be punk, yes…. I didn’t know why I was there. I didn’t know why people chose me, because I had been doing [my own collections] in Milan in the punk way—I had been doing shows in a garage, talking about a vision of sexuality, being criticized, being stopped by the Italian government. The police came during my first two shows. All that because I was doing it off calendar, because I was doing it in an illegal place. So I understand darkness, goth. Today, even in a housewife magazine, there is a trend of goth, but nine years ago, when I started, it was a little bit [less accepted]. I remember my first year at Givenchy some people wrote in a review that I was Antichrist, and I’m the most Catholic person in the world…. But what I did at the beginning, it was very punk because I didn’t really respect very much the DNA. In the same way punks: They weren’t respecting their own blood of England, going against the government, the politics. I respected what Hubert de Givenchy had done, but I did my own interpretation, and my own honest interpretation was very dark. To not do couture anymore as, like, big ballroom dresses and queens arriving with horses, but working on the construction and destroying and experimenting with fabrics and making languid shapes, not stiff in a very old couture way. Doing the womenswear not like a [traditional] runway show, but doing a very slow, emotional performance…. I’m very shocked myself today looking back nine years ago. I don’t know if it was very emotional or very honest or what it was, but I really didn’t care about anybody. I got criticized a lot at the beginning, and it didn’t scare me, because I would really believe that I was there for a reason.

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