British designer Clare Waight Keller takes a masculine turn for her first collection at the Parisian house.
After the audience had walked the long and intimidating entrance to the Palais de Justice in Paris, meeting on the way Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara – and after her first Givenchy runway show for both men and women – the new designer, British-born Clare Waight Keller, talked about the one person who had been left, more or less, out of the story during the reigns of John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Julien Macdonald and, for the last 12 years, Riccardo Tisci.
“I wanted to explore the sense of Monsieur de Givenchy. I met him at the beginning of this week and we sat and talked,” the new designer said. “He is still extremely interested in fashion and what goes on. But I wanted to talk about him and what his starting points were – just colors, prints, things that he loved. It was a fascinating discussion because a lot of what I found and felt in his work was what he still loves.”
Clare’s desire is to show that she loves it too. In fact, she handed out a ‘love letter’ with each invitation.
“In the world of physics, transformation describes the sublime process when one element becomes another,” she wrote. “Fashion is a tool for self-metamorphosis, I can transform the spirit through a new attitude for a new beginning.”
The designer went on to admit that she felt more than comfortable in her new role.
“This feels more in my territory than Chloé [her previous job] was, even though I know everyone knows me for what I did there,” she said.
In what seems like a whirligig of change, big brands have taken on an attitude of: “Two years and you’re out. Next!” So, it was intriguing to hear Clare Waight Keller speak so openly about her new position and attitude. Although I found it hard to understand why there was so much focus on men’s clothes – even if she wants to see Givenchy as a lifestyle brand serving coordinated partners.
The biggest surprise was in the follow-up to previous designer Tisci, who had made the brand hyper cool when his bold and even daring sweatshirts became an ode to rockers.
The new version was so much more simple and homely. Here were clothes for a couple – even if the clothes were shown separately – who seemed to think that those who dress together would stay together.
In fact, some of the men’s clothes seemed rather desirable for women, like the silky shirts, slim tuxedo and bomber jackets, and even a sleeveless white leather biker jacket. Certainly, the way they came out in sturdy blocks of clothes for each sex suggested that this was serious couple wardrobe planning.
Did it work?
Julianne Moore thought so: “I like the men’s little black suit and the black and white dress and also the boots,” she said.
The idea of showing 17 female looks followed by 18 men’s, and then a further handful of each, was disruptive. Although the opening passage of a sleekly tailored coat followed by flowered dresses in black and white and then other combinations of the top and bottom halves did suggest that the designer was thinking seriously about a modern wardrobe. These were for women looking for clothes for the closet, rather than a big statement. An example was a dress with a kick of pleats inserted at one side for easy movement. That seemed like practicality, even when pants or a coat were in shiny modernist fabrics.
But why did the men get all the best lines: the perfect double-breasted blazer, followed by a zippered jacket and check trousers? The masculine clothes seemed English, which is Clare’s native country; in contrast, the women’s outfits seemed trying hard to be French. A revival of Yves Saint Laurent’s red scarlet lips on a chiffon top, anyone? Most of the evening clothes were in black chiffon or lace.
Sounding slightly defensive, the designer dressed in a black top and pleated skirt, said that after 10 years in New York with first Calvin Klein and later Ralph Lauren, before she joined Chloe in 2011, the new collection “comes back a little more to my roots and a sense of who I was”.
There were things to like. Nothing much to love. And no moment of emotion that makes even hard boiled members of the audience leap to their feet and drown out the music with clapping.