Riccardo Tisci is a man of many muses. From model Joan Smalls to the Chola girl gangs of America, as we speculate his next move we share an interview taken from MOJEH Issue 30. We spoke with Givenchy’s former Creative Director to discover his take on unconventional beauty and the secret to his success.
By Susan Devaney
Each season, he lines up the most intriguing women and as something Tisci knows all too well, the casting of a collection can set a precedent for our current perception of beauty. From Natasha Poly to Joan Smalls, he’s launched the careers of many a household during his 10 year tenure at Givenchy but he’s not just looking for a clotheshorse or another pretty face; Tisci needs unique inspiration. He wants the women he chooses to grace his runway and their campaigns to breathe life into his work: “The Givenchy woman is strong and confident. She has a real personality. She knows what she wants,” he says. These women have to match that ideal. His latest project, a creative collaboration with photographer Danko Steiner (showcased across our pages), exudes individualism and taste – much like the man in question. Having styled it himself, Tisci captures his muses channelling a sombre hybrid of Victoriana-meets-Chola. It’s centred around face bijoux: from sleek kiss curls and braids to septum rings and a face full of glued-on gems, it pushes youthful subculture to the forefront. “Jewellery makes a collection accessible to every woman regardless of her shape, age or budget and can transform the simplest of outfits into a strong statement. For me, jewellery is the finishing touch to a look.” All praise ‘Chola Victorian – she’s the boss of the gang’. With the visionary expertise of world-renowned make- up artist Pat McGrath (she’s worked with a host of notable designers and famously collaborated with John Galliano during the height of his term at Christian Dior), the palette itself is a juxtaposition of a natural base with tribal-esque face jewellery. It’s very dark, very Tisci.
It didn’t just start here, though – Tisci has always waded into the dark side. When he arrived at the Givenchy doors in 2005, the LVMH-owned label was adrift. His predecessors, Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, had moved onto bigger and better things. Eradicating the Parisian elegance that had been synonymous with the brand since Hubert de Givenchy founded it in 1952, he pushed forth his goth-infused edge and added street credibility. Thanks to his vision, Givenchy’s parlous state is firmly behind them and now, they’re in profit. But this season the underground allure was more intense than ever. “I used to consider myself dark and gothic because everyone kept saying it, and I assumed it came from my collections being mostly black. Then I opened myself to colours, print, light fabrics and fluidity and I realised you can still be dark
afterwards, he was offered the job with Givenchy. These days his values are still set on creating a sense of family everywhere he goes. “For me, models mean a lot because they’re not just presenting my collection; they’re really giving it life. I’m deeply bound to that idea. I’m always doing castings and I’m constantly looking for new girls. It is not that I want to find a girl , have her become the girl of the season and then drop her. I’m building relationships for years and years. I have my family and gang, whom we carry on season after season,” he says. Models Magdalena Jasek (a flame-haired Russian beauty) and 19-year-old new girl Sophia Ahrens (tipped to be his freshly appointed muse) have entered his fold, being photographed for his collaboration with Steiner. They’re strikingly beautiful, but unconventional – just the way he likes it. Both adopt a play-off between hard versus soft as they grace our pages. Moving from the styling of soft textures in blushed pink fur to more masculine tailoring in its fitted form, gender role blurring is prominent. “I have many muses, but I’d say my Audrey, the one who defines what my style is and fits my universe in every way, is Mariacarla Boscono,” he says with admiralty. The 34-year-old Italian model has graced his runway time and time again and, as seen through the eyes of Tisci, is a modern day Madonna. That’s the thing about the designer; he sees beauty where others might only see difference. “It was during the moment when all the top models were very tall with athletic bodies. But Mariacarla, she’s quite different. As she’s gotten older, she’s become more and more beautiful, but when she was very young, she had a very specific look, very particular.”
It’s this idea of a gang that has acted as a catalyst for A/W 15. “I’m obsessed with America and Latin America; it’s all about the American dream,” he says. “When I was young, America represented for me a mix of different people. Multi-culture is very important for me. New York is my obsession. For a country like Italy, there are so many restrictions on society, religion, of everything. America was always my dream. America is very powerful and is everywhere.” Finding inspiration from the Chola girls makes perfect sense. In the USA, the Chola-style is very popular and traditionally relates to a specific subculture of first and second-generation Mexican American girls influenced by hip-hop, and sometimes associated with gangs. Their desired look is all about hair and beauty: from dark lip liner to skyscraper bangs, less is not more. For Tisci, beauty doesn’t have a religion or colour. Conventional modes of beauty just don’t entice him. “Fashion and society in general shouldn’t have barriers on sexuality, skin colour, ethnicity and age. One should be free to express ideas; one shouldn’t be scared to experiment. Lea T embodies all of this, and reflects completely my universe,” he says. Tisci has long championed the career of transgender model Lea T. Before Lea’s transition they were friends, and still are now. At first, some people were against a couture house using a transgender woman in a campaign but Tisci didn’t listen. When he changed the format from fashion show to a portrait at the Place Vendôme in Paris he used Lea T, along with nine other models – his 10 women, all exclusively contract-bound to him. Today, she’s a full-time model with campaigns and contracts. 40-year-old Tisci trusts his gut. Against others advice, he took a gamble and dressed Kim Kardashian’s curves for the Met Ball, opting for a full-length floral (maternity) gown. He was also her designer of choice for her gown for her highly anticipated wedding to Kanye West. For him, it’s simple: beauty is beauty, and friends are true friends. Gender-blurring and racial diversity are paramount to Tisci’s vision. More importantly, they’re prerequisites to be part of his pack. His first couture collection in 2005 set the benchmark of gothic girls – girls with a different edge. And it’s his modern day muses who evoke his vision. “Some people probably find the idea of a muse outdated, but I think it’s so beautiful. Being a man designing for a woman, I think it’s so great to get an opinion from a real woman. It’s my only dream and it’s beautiful to make a dream become reality,” he says. “But you know, it’s not only me. Looking at the past: Gianni Versace with Naomi Campbell, Alexander McQueen with Kate Moss, Audrey Hepburn with Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy, Monsieur Saint Laurent with Betty Catroux – everybody had their muse. I think a designer needs a woman who really inspires him, someone who really has a style and gives him an opinion about it.” Tisci has created a different silhouette and a different way of dressing by discovering beauty in those inspirational women who are different. It’s fair to say his constellation of muses always orbits his world.