By  on July 6, 2005

PARIS — Riccardo Tisci, the new 30-year-old couturier at Givenchy, says he was "shocked" — in a good way — when he discovered the vast archive of house founder Hubert de Givenchy.

"He did so many amazing things," Tisci said in an interview, his first since joining the house last March and on the eve of his couture debut Thursday. "After I went to the archive, I was happier than before."

A frank and pensive young man partial to skateboard clothes, Tisci confessed his knowledge of Givenchy's fashion legacy was meager, limited to the one book he studied at Central Saint Martins fashion school in London. And, like most people, his mind immediately went to the late actress Audrey Hepburn, still the ultimate icon for the house.

But Tisci figures it's high time to move on. "Audrey, I love it, but Givenchy is not only that for me," he said. "It's much more."

To illustrate his point, Tisci produced photos of rarely seen Givenchy looks from the early Fifties that would have been radical then and still could be seen as edgy today. These include a white head scarf printed with trompe l'oeil hair braids, a cape with a dramatic hood and a strapless black cocktail dress with a train exploding out of the bustier.

"Very clean and severe, with a touch of romance" is how he described these Givenchy looks — and his own fashion sensibility.

Tisci's pre-spring collection for Givenchy, being shown to buyers here this week, certainly suggests an edgier, slightly darker and unapologetically modern mood. Mostly in black, with butter and sage tones for relief, the collection leans to minimal sportswear with unusual details. Key looks include jersey dresses with transformable necklines; lean pants, occasionally with built-in corsets, and soft jackets with zippered lapels revealing a ruff — a wink to Givenchy's famous "rose" jacket.

Givenchy chief executive Marco Gobbetti said initial trade reaction to the new direction has been positive, and he predicted an immediate uptick in wholesale distribution in the U.S. and Europe, which to date has been spotty. For example, Givenchy women's ready-to-wear only can be found in America in its New York flagship on Madison Avenue and in "a handful" of independent boutiques.

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