The Chloé girl has left the Chloé building, and she hasn’t found her way to Avenue Georges V. She’s just disappeared.
In her debut collection for Givenchy, Chloé ex-pat Clare Waight Keller completely rejected the boho romance of her former fashion reality.
“People don’t realize, probably because [Chloé] was my biggest profile job,” she said backstage before her show at Paris’ majestic Palais de Justice. “How I’m perceived here in Paris is actually really different than who I am as a person and as a designer. I started out in the Nineties wearing black for about 10 years. The thing that’s been really exciting coming here, I feel like I’ve put a lot of me back into it.”
Waight Keller paid zero heed as well to the work of her immediate predecessor, Riccardo Tisci. But then, she did title her collection “Transformation Seduction.” “The transformation — obviously me coming here, transforming the brand,” she said.
While settling into her new employment situation, Waight Keller took a deep dive into Hubert de Givenchy’s archives and came out with an attitude more in line with his than that of any other of his successors — John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Julien Macdonald and Tisci. Not that she sent out a litany of Audrey [Hepburn] aspirants; the clothes themselves didn’t conjure de Givenchy’s most high-profile client one bit. Rather, they reflected his pragmatism and a shared technical approach.
“Everything felt to me like it came from the shoulder,” Waight Keller said of her research. She noted that she’d wanted to meet with the 90-year-old Givenchy, but that, for one reason or other, that didn’t happen until last week, after she’d completed work on the collection. She was happy to learn that her assessment of designing from the shoulder was spot-on. And to find Givenchy open to her outreach.
“He was very curious, I think because he hadn’t been part of the last era,” Waight Keller said. “He asked a lot of questions about me. He’s extremely fascinated by fashion and what’s happening now. And yes, he asked for a look book after the show.”
When it arrives, Monsieur de Givenchy will find a focus on sharp tailoring crossed with a sporty mood that plays to fashion’s obsession of the moment. The primary silhouette: volume on top and tapered inward in that Eighties way. The shoulder emphasis came via polished precision, as in a brass-buttoned military coat and shapely jacket over skirt, and more casually in sleeveless shirts padded on top of the shoulder to extend the horizontal line. Other looks were flanged and pleated for volume. A softer side appeared in a range of dresses. Here, Waight Keller reworked two house prints, a 1961 clover motif, and a 1981 animal pattern. She also saluted the house classic LBD with several lovely iterations.
As for the men, Waight Keller made it clear that they’re no afterthought. “Both parts of the business are super important and strong. It’s an equal business,” she said. For him, she showed lean a lean silhouette with a hipster vibe.
It all played as appealing, approachable but ultimately, a little flat. Debuts are typically statements of vision, if often imperfect. Waight Keller certainly upped the collection’s range and reality factor with some very good-looking clothes, but not without a significant causality — that fusion of lyricism and edge for which Givenchy became known under Tisci’s watch.
In fashion’s current environment, that level of editorial majesty takes a back seat to a more commercial point of view. Luxury can’t afford to force it off the road completely — there are too many less expensive and appealing options for women to explore. At Givenchy, it’s now up to Waight Keller to perfect that balance as she strengthens her ownership of the new brand aesthetic.