If Tisci has changed, so has the maison he’s headed since 2005. At the time he assumed the reins, 10 years after Hubert de Givenchy’s retirement, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, and Julien Macdonald had already come and gone. And yet Givenchy, founded in 1952 and best known for its storied association with Audrey Hepburn and her little black dress, remained a prisoner of its fusty, ladylike aura. When Tisci nabbed the job, seemingly out of nowhere, he was working in Milan on a shoestring budget, a Central Saint Martins graduate with just two collections to his name. Like Galliano at Dior, Stefano Pilati at Yves Saint Laurent, and a host of other young designers, Tisci had to find a way to riff on the codes of a legendary house without limiting his own self-expression. “For the first year and a half at Givenchy, I was always questioning myself, which had never happened to me before,” he said. “I’d ask, ‘Is it very Givenchy? Is it very Riccardo Tisci?’ Because I wanted to keep the elegance, the chicness, the DNA of the house but bring the darkness, the romanticism, and the sensuality—things that were missing.” His talent for making women feel not just powerful and sexy but practically totemic—plus his willingness to suspend his own independent label, something his predecessors had refused to do—revitalized the moribund house. By 2007 it was profitable, and a magnet for modern waifs and über fashionistas, like French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld, an influential early champion, who were drawn to his darkly romantic and feminine yet tough brand of chic.
While his visual bravado was at once apparent, critics initially considered his goth-gamine aesthetic and high-concept shows overwrought. But in the past year Tisci has become part of the firmament of designers who set the fashion agenda. Even Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent’s partner in life and business, remarked of Tisci in March, on leaving Givenchy’s fall 2010 ready-to-wear show, “Of all the designers in the world today, he is the most talented.”
“At first people wondered, Is he the right fit?” recalls Marco Gobbetti, former CEO of Givenchy Couture and the man who hired Tisci. “But already he had a 360-degree vision. It wasn’t just the clothes, or the woman. He could put her in a universe.” Now, he adds, “there is no longer a distinction between Givenchy and Riccardo Tisci.”
That singular vision was clearly at work at the closing dinner Tisci hosted at MoMA to celebrate Abramović’s feat, just 26 hours after she’d completed it. The dress code of black, white, and gold had been dictated by Abramović, but the fabulous parade of personalities, clothes, and statement footwear all bore Tisci’s distinctive stamp and monomaniacal eye for detail. Many of the guests he’d outfitted personally. There was plenty of sheer chiffon, lace, gold-spiked hardware, and goddess gowns with frayed edges or ostrich-feather fringe. Björk wore a gold lamé gladiator minidress, while singer Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons arrived in a custom-made floor-length zigzag-print chiffon cape, with the words oh no drawn in black on his forehead.