Riccardo Tisci was just 31 when he was appointed creative director of Givenchy, a label with a storied legacy that was no longer a serious player in the fashion conversation. A decade later, Tisci is at the helm of a very different couture house, one resuscitated by his romantic touch and his savvy cultivation of strong female celebrities like Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian, who regularly wear his designs. At 42, the child of a working-class southern Italian family dominated by strong women – he has eight older sisters – Tisci is one of the most acclaimed designers in the business and his collections, like the one he'll show Sunday in Paris, are among the most anticipated on the fashion calendar. For him, though, it all started as a child when he used to watch his sisters get ready to go out on a big night out on the town.
You started thinking about fashion when you were very young. What was the first thing you actually designed?
I customized some very old clothes on my best friend, a woman. I put together a man’s shirt with a lace, Victorian dress. I was 13. I used to work in the clubs and I used to dress my friends in the costumes to come to the club.
And did you used to dress up yourself too?
Yes. I used to dance in a club in Milan and I used to have a very strong look with long black hair. I was obsessed with The Cure, so I was making this very goth makeup. And I was making my clothes like out of very crazy stuff – with black capes, vinyls. It was always very Goth not so much fashion. And then, I was started discovering hip hop, like a more sexy music.
And you were the only boy with all girls, right?
Yes. I’m the last kid after eight sisters. But I have always been very independent. I started working when I was really a young kid, 9 or 10, and I worked with the brother of my mom because I didn't come from a very wealthy family.
And when they’d leave the house, would they say, Riccardo, what do you think?
I've always consulted on how my sisters dress, yeah. I actually got into beauty and into creativity because I used to watch my sisters getting ready to go out and they were always very over the top. And I was interested in all of their metamorphoses, like putting makeup on, doing their hair, putting their clothes together. And it was interesting for me, the transformation.
And did you ever edit, or did you just let them be?
[Laughs] You know, being a good Leo, I always give my opinion, and it wasn’t always like welcomed.
And now do they wear your clothes?
How old were you when you left the city you grew up in?
I left Italy when I was 17 and I never went back as a part of a holiday or to visit my family. I went to England, stayed in England, and I graduated in England. And then after England, I went back for nine months, one year in Italy. I did my own collection, Riccardo Tisci, and then I was by Givenchy and since then, I’ve been 11 years in France.
When you went there, did you speak English?
No. I went to England and didn’t speak English. And I went to England thinking just, I want to have a little bit of adventure in my life because I came from a poor family. And I never thought I would become a designer. I never thought I would become a successful designer. And it all happened in five years. Everything happened at once, and it's been an amazing journey and dream.
Was it hard to live in Paris?
It was hard because Paris is a beautiful city, and like an open air museum. But, at the same time, it is very different cultural lifestyle of my lifestyle. So I have to adapt a lot in the beginning, but now it’s all okay.
One of the things I love about you is that you always find a family.
I believe in family. And I missed my family since I was 17 and I left. So in any place or any city where I am, I'm always trying to rebuild my family and build proper, real relationships with people. I don’t like superficiality. I build relationships to be pure, and to be honest, in bad and good weather.
Do you have regular kind of muses? Or do you get more inspiration from things that are happening in the world?
I get influenced a lot by what happens around the world. I’m a very curious person. I pay attention to politics, to religion, to art, to fashion, and to music, to what’s happening in the clubs, in the streets with the younger generation. I’m always going to start with new things, and with new things there is emotion and how people transform themselves and why society transforms so fast. So that is my big inspiration. I’m really attracted to people who have strong opinions of things and have very strong self-confidence. That’s what inspires me the most.
Well, what I also love about you as a designer is you really like women. It’s not like you like only one kind of woman. You have really a love for women, and it’s very clear in the clothes. It’s very rare. You’d think it wouldn’t be rare, but it is rare.
I love women because I be grew up with women. And I never met my father because he died when I was a child. And so, my daily life, my energy, my everything – I’ve been educated only by women. I had women around me – my mommy and my eight sisters. So I’m inspired by that because because I know we all come from women. I’m very feminist in that way. I’m get very upset when all I see is the abuse of women or no respect of women.
So you’re in the Royals issue. Who, to you, in fashion is a royal?
Gianni Versace because he’s always been the flag of Italy, and he was such a creative and such a daring person, always taking risks, always exploring new worlds, always bringing everybody together, which is something that’s a part of my personality as well. As an Italian, he represented the real Italy, women who are very strong, who have strong opinions on art, and music, and politics. He was very creative and a real genius. So, I was a child when Versace was big and I always remembered it. That’s what make me dream to become a designer.