Last May, on the final day of the art event of the season, Riccardo Tisci, Givenchy’s 36-year-old artistic director, was pacing unrecognized among the throng that had gathered at the Museum of Modern Art to watch Marina Abramović conclude her marathon performance, “The Artist Is Present.” Without moving or speaking, Abramović had been sitting in the same straight-backed wooden chair almost daily for three months, clocking more than 700 hours and locking eyes with some 1,545 members of the public, who came to sit opposite her, one at a time, after enduring a long line. Tisci and Abramović, 63, are close friends, and while he wanted to summon the nerve to sit with her, he has always considered himself exceedingly shy. “I don’t know if I can do it,” he’d confided to me the day before, adding that it was the worst time of year for him to make the trip to New York. Tisci, the youngest major couturier in Paris, had men’s and haute couture shows to prepare and a resort collection to unveil. “But I want to give her the last kick of this really long performance. It’s a big goal for me.” The previous summer the two had gone to Santorini together on holiday, but since each had just broken up with someone, they had spent most of their time “crying and crying—we were like an island,” said Tisci, who is appealingly forthcoming, if given to drama. “I told her in Greece, ‘Forget it. I prefer to cut off my hands than sit in front of people.’”
Now, in the atrium, as Abramović’s performance approached its denouement, there were at least 2,500 people jostling for a view. Over the course of the three-month show, she had drawn as much press attention as the rock royalty Tisci dresses, a roster of muses that includes Björk, Courtney Love, and Madonna. Beads of sweat began to form on Tisci’s brow. Tall and solidly built, the result of daily kickboxing sessions, he wore a scruffy two-day beard, and was dressed in his by now familiar uniform of jeans, baggy black Givenchy Homme T-shirt, and superwhite Pumas, a rosary around his neck. His smile revealed a mouthful of metal braces.
With 20 minutes to go before the artist made her exit, Tisci sat down across from her. Surprised to see him, and looking into what she calls “those huge eyes like coffeepots,” she began to cry.
Like Abramović, Tisci goes in for extremes. “Everything he does is intense, and that’s why we connect,” Abramović told me afterward. When I asked Tisci about their bond, he acknowledged, “It’s like a mother and son, a very strong friendship. We can spend hours and hours really vomiting ideas and energy. If you wrote down all the things Marina and I want to do together, one life is not enough.” So far he has asked her to direct a fashion show for him, and they’re planning to sit together for a portrait. “I thought it would be funny if we did Riccardo drinking milk from my breasts,” she said, “because that’s really what it is—we feed each other. We’re family.” Seeing the trial she had put herself through convinced Tisci to push himself beyond his own comfort zone, something he has always strived to do in his work. “In the last three years,” he said, “I’ve gone through a real metamorphosis.”