When Riccardo Tisci took over a rudderless Givenchy in 2005, he did so as a relative unknown: an Italian-born, English-trained bat out of hell who’d been showing his own small collection off the schedule and outside the law in Milan. (Critics called him the Antichrist, and the police, he remembers, came to the first two shows.) Early observers weren’t sure what to make of his gothic, Catholic-haunted collections, but time—and the devoted fandom of stars and shoppers alike—brought skeptics around. Tisci has more than merely righted the ship. He’s turned the label into one of the standouts of Paris fashion week, a red-carpet favorite and so beloved by entertainers that dropping the name in rap lyrics has become practically a cliché. This year, Tisci co-chaired the Met’s Costume Institute Gala, and tonight, the CFDA will present him with its International Award.
Even as he’s dressed (and partied with) the likes of Madonna, Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Kanye, Tisci has kept a tight-knit circle of longtime muses, collaborators, and friends close. In speaking with those who have been with him from his rise from obscurity to international fame, the word family comes up again and again. These are the women (mostly) who have supported him since his earliest days at Central Saint Martins through journeyman years in Milan to a stumbling start at Givenchy in Paris to eventual success. In honor of his award, Style.com spoke with twelve of them to sketch a kind of group portrait of a designer not overly given to discussing himself, and an oral history of his career.
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Tisci was born in Cermenate in 1974. At the age of 17, he left Italy for London, to study at Central Saint Martins. While living there, he met the woman who would be his muse and a major force in his career: Mariacarla Boscono.
Mariacarla Boscono, model, muse, regular face of Givenchy: I was starting to model, but I wasn’t very sure about it. He was the one to make me believe in myself. We shot a picture for his invitation for his Central Saint Martins final-exam fashion show.
After graduating, Tisci returned to his native Italy, settling in Milan. Boscono, already becoming known as a model, helped to introduce him to those in the industry.
Mariacarla Boscono: I believe strongly in his talent. And also he couldn’t stop creating clothes. He was doing clothes from T-shirts and garments he bought to convert into beautiful stuff, at least in our eyes back then. And he would have me wear all of them, even to just go to the pub. I thought he was born to do that. I look up to him a bit like a strange genius, like van Gogh, and I thought I had to do something about it. I put all my small power into this. I thought such passion deserves to be known.
Luigi Murenu, hairstylist for Givenchy runway shows and campaigns: I met Riccardo probably fifteen years ago, before everything. I remember he was a very shy guy. My friend, Mariacarla, she told me, “You should meet a friend of mine, Riccardo Tisci. You will love him. He’s very talented.” And so I met him and I start to collaborate with him in Italy. I think I’m one of the first people to work with him, actually.
In Italy, Tisci would also meet two women who would become friends and collaborators for years to come: Lucia Medeghini, who would work with him on all of his collections, and Lea T—then known, before his transition into a woman, as Leo—who would be a friend, assistant, and fit model.
Lucia Medeghini, Givenchy consultant: I met Riccardo in Milan, right after he graduated from Saint Martins, and immediately sensed his talent. The chance to have a conversation with him opened my world of senses and [it] was a pleasure to get carried away on his trip—there was magic, speed, classicism, darkness, chaos, and creative madness…I recognized myself, and from that moment I fell in love with his vision. [Since then] we work together.
Lea T, model, former Givenchy employee: I was at my friend’s house—he used to live with a really good friend of mine. He did a lookbook at Saint Martins. He had a really small collection. It was made by his mother, his sisters, and his family. He had his book on the table…When I saw these pictures, I was like, Wow, who is this? Who is doing these clothes? Because I want to buy these. I was crazy for the clothes.
After consulting for various lines, including Coccapani and Puma, Tisci began to show a collection under his own name.
Carine Roitfeld, Givenchy womenswear stylist, editor in chief of CR Fashion Book, former editor in chief of Paris Vogue: Mariacarla Boscono, who is his muse, sent me an invitation, and because I am a curious person, I went. I met Riccardo at one of his first shows in Milan—more an installation than a show. It was very refreshing after watching several shows in Milan fashion week. He is very gifted, and he has a personal world which is quite gothic. It immediately seduced me.
Lucia Medeghini: All of [the collections] are very special to me, but if I have to choose one, for sure the first Riccardo Tisci. Went to India, make a collection in one month, come back to Italy, do fittings on Lea, organize a show off of the official calendar…The goose bumps at that time! Indescribable.
Mariacarla Boscono: It was more designing from the gut. He didn’t need to worry about much, because he had nothing to lose. There is that beautiful feeling of irresponsibility and carelessness when you are young and you have everything to build, and you are not sure where life will bring you. I miss that careless stage.
Carine Roitfeld: I went to meet him after the show. It was the first time I met him, his mom and his eight sisters. Marco Gobbetti, the president of Givenchy [at the time], was looking for a new designer. Immediately, I thought about Riccardo. I strongly recommended him for the position.
He was named creative director in February 2005, and only a few years out of Saint Martins, Tisci found himself, at 30, at the helm of one of the most storied French labels in fashion—and one that had cycled through several designers in recent years, including John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, and, most recently, Julien Macdonald.
Lucia Medeghini: We moved to Paris and we didn’t speak French.