First Day Syndrome. Every employed person experiences it at least once. Yet few can imagine what it’s like for the new boss to show up at the workplace knowing — not fearing or wondering but knowing — that all of your reports know more about the job than you do. Such is the plight of the first-time couturier charged with the leadership of long-tenured, highly skilled, highly specialized craftspeople, many artists in their own right.
If Clare Waight Keller harbored any apprehensions as she took charge of Givenchy’s haute ateliers, she worked through them efficiently, in time to deliver a confident, bold debut couture collection on Tuesday evening. Backstage after the show, she said of her approach, “I like to think of it as old soul in a new reincarnation.”
That meant a sharply rendered men’s wear derivation cross-referenced with the traditional, feminine trappings of couture. While the show notes cited the lunar cycle (and one gown bore its black-and-white spheres as decoration), that thematic musing in fact took a back seat to Waight Keller’s modernist mission, which, despite the importance of tailoring, focused on eveningwear that rejected more likely romance in favor of a darker take often suggestive of prettied-up, sophisticated Goth. Waight Keller pulled it off quite well (at least after a curious start that looked, for lack of a tighter description, Yohji-does-Dior-after-hanging-out-with-Donna Karan.) Once she got those big, stiffened fichu collars and cutaway tricks out of her system, the clothes pulsed with elegant guts: a pair of otherwise no-nonsense coats (one black, one white) bedecked with feather facings tossed with panache over elaborate gowns; a multicolored skirt paired to what might have been a simple turtleneck but for its power shoulders and open back. And those who worried about seeing the word Latex on the program notes flinched needlessly; a long pink rubber skirt looked just fine with a boxy top dripping with crystal fringe.
As for Waight Keller’s interest in men’s wear, it’s not just about the mood board. Before her ready-to-wear debut for Givenchy in October, she stressed that she’s as interested in the men’s side of the business as the women’s, and here drove home the point with a handful of men’s looks of the ubercool rocker variety. Though hardly equal time, it broke ground in couture, where sightings of guys on the runway are virtually unheard of, at least this side of Hudson Kroenig’s strolls in the Grand Palais.
Still, haute homme will likely remain a novelty. Waight Keller’s primary mission here was to establish her template for dressing women at the highest level of luxury by developing an aesthetic that projects strength and obvious visual currency. She’s off to an impressive start.