In a shock announcement, LVMH has revealed that Riccardo Tisci has left the House of Givenchy after 12 years at the helm. Whereas other designers have been known to be restless, Tisci, trained at London's Central Saint Martins, had given no sign that he was about to depart.
Last month's menswear and haute couture showings will be his last for the house. The best guess, before an official announcement is made, is that he might go back to his native Italy, with the rumour mill suggesting Versace could be his next destination. That would fit in with the designer's admiration for the late Gianni Versace and friendship with Donatella, whom he featured in a Givenchy ad campaign in June 2015.
My first sign of this dramatic departure came in two comments from Riccardo on my Instagram account about his collection.
The news comes in a turbulent period for high fashion, with the departure of Maria Grazia Chiuri from Valentino to be the first female Creative Director at Dior; and Clare Waight Keller leaving Chloé at the New Year. The firing last year of Alber Elbaz, who had re-built the house of Lanvin, was another sign of upheaval in the industry.
Bernard Arnault, Chairman and Chief Executive of LVMH, signed off on the changes at his company in a statement which said: "The chapter Riccardo Tisci has written with the House of Givenchy over the last 12 years represents an incredible vision to sustain its continuous success, and I would like to warmly thank him for the core contribution to the house's development."
Previous designers who made a mark at Givenchy include John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. But no-one has taken the house back to the era of its founder Hubert de Givenchy, when a supreme elegance was the key to his years as Creative Director from 1952 to 1995.
Tisci, by contrast, added an edgy, street-wise style, courting rappers in the music industry with high-end sweatshirts and revealingly sexual outfits. Kanye West and Madonna were two of his famous clients. Yet Tisci also had an exceptional skill and understanding of high fashion, which he showed when he staged in 2015 a graceful collection on a pier overlooking Ground Zero, on the anniversary of 9/11.
This is the review that I wrote about Givenchy Haute Couture for Spring/Summer 2017 - which is the more poignant in that it will be Tisci's final show for the house.
When Riccardo Tisci, the Creative Director at Givenchy known for giving a modern, sometimes even Gothic, edge to classic style, told me that a slim, straight dress, almost Victorian in its high-necked elegance, was made with 87 different laces, I thought simply that I had misheard him. But it was fact.
“We order the laces in advance and we mix them. It’s quite a lot of work to put it together,” the designer explained of what seemed at first glance like an elegant but simple evening outfit.
We were standing in the showroom in the grand Givenchy building on Avenue Montaigne in Paris, looking out towards the River Seine. The room was flanked by two lines of mannequins, giving the opportunity to see both sides of the outfits - and, indeed, every possible detail from birds of paradise, rooster and ostrich feathers to the lightest organza shimmering with crystals.
“I’m presenting it like this to show people how it really works on the body; sometimes with the lights you don’t see the details, and couture for me is about details,” the designer explained. As in previous seasons, he had shown some of the women’s outfits on the runway at the Givenchy menswear show.
The overall theme surprised me: America’s Far West, with its prissy, high-collared, slender dresses, but with even down-home checks re-created as haute couture.
“This is the more romantic, delicate side of my way of working,” Riccardo explained. “The first dress is fishnet in the slim shapes that we worked on. But most of the dresses can be worn in different ways. You can pull down the sleeves, which is typical in Victorian costumes, or you can wear it more like a shirt – more relaxed. Then you have an apron dress with a caped sleeve.”
These “country music” dresses were accompanied by a more masculine outfit in boned velvet, designed with leather fringes and interlacing, with stirrup pants in stretch lambswool. It could pass as daywear with a horsey elegance.
And what feathers! One dress was pale pink, with plumes like wings curling over the shoulders and a fluff of ostrich below a slender bodice of floral lace. Another was in transparent tulle embellished with rooster feathers, ostrich plumes, and pink birds of paradise - all these bird wings worked into a collage of a lace-encrusted jumpsuit.
I asked Riccardo who his clients were, knowing that he had dressed many on the red carpet.
I still felt frustrated that the Givenchy Haute Couture was shown on static mannequins, however strategically placed and fascinating it was to see the exemplary workmanship and the extraordinary details. What is couture if it cannot speak in body language?
“At Saint Martins, I was obsessed with making romantic material,” he said. “For this collection, I started with chiffon, then denim, and then the symmetry was replicated. Each one here is embroidered with organza and silver metal thread. I am really proud of this dress, because I found the way to make it.”
Such ingenuity and artistry shows that haute couture is alive and well for the 21st century, but it is frustrating that Givenchy does not dedicate a show, however small and discreet, for Riccardo’s collection – rather than a tag-on to his menswear.