For his second collection five months later, Tisci pushed the theatrics further: in an incense-choked factory, complete with a Crucifixion-size wooden cross, the models moved solemnly in a procession wearing sinuous black dresses and beaded shearling coats. Tisci recalled being “shocked” at seeing the fashion establishment arrive en masse after word had leaked out that he was to be tapped for Givenchy. He himself suspected no such thing; though he had been asked to submit a proposal to Marco Gobbetti a few months earlier, he considered himself a long shot. “People were taken aback by the mood of that show,” remembers Gobbetti, who had “snuck in and out,” so as not to fuel the rumors. “Some didn’t understand it, but there was something there that clearly stood out. I thought, Here’s someone who can do something.” Tisci, he adds, “is like an incredible DJ. He has this capacity to analyze a huge amount of information from different sources—from art, the street, music—and synthesize all of it into a vision.” Says Madonna, who asked Tisci to design costumes for her 2008 Sticky & Sweet Tour, “He has a classical point of view with a punk-rock sensibility.”
Four days after his June men’s show, Tisci was immersed in preparations for his 2010 haute couture collection. It was eight days away, and he was back in the salon, sans ice pack, to oversee a fitting with Lea T. As he waited for her to change out of a gray mini T-shirt dress and black patent-leather ballerina flats, he showed me photos of models in his 10 new looks, all inspired by Kahlo and Mexico’s Day of the Dead. Forgoing black in favor of bone, blush, and gold, he pointed out the skeletal patterns and skulls intricately worked in lace, the silk tulle gown ending in a flurry of degradé ostrich feathers—and a beaded gold dress, which took a team of 29 people a total of 2,320 hours just to embroider. Unlike seasons past, the clothes would not be shown on models on a runway but by private appointment on hanging forms in a gilded hôtel particulier on the Place Vendôme, to provide his clients with both privacy and the opportunity to see his clothes up close. When he started at the house, he told me, he had just five clients, among them “Queen Rania of Jordania” (as he called her); now he guessed that number was closer to 50.
As he spoke Lea T emerged from behind a screen in a flesh-tone bodysuit and a fluffy fur jacket. “I wanted to use monkey,” Tisci said, examining the goat-hair plaiting with laserlike focus. “But it’s illegal, so we got the best goat’s fur and hand-dyed it. We’re calling the color ‘skin.’”