When Givenchy management first asked its buzzy couturier Riccardo Tisci if he would also take over men’s wear back in 2008, the Italian designer initially hesitated.
“I started out small because I wanted to see if I was capable of doing it,” he recalls. “I had never done men’s wear, and I didn’t want to fail.”
This story first appeared in the March 17, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Setting a daring template informed by the energy of the street and tinged with sexual provocation, the Italian designer quickly became one of men’s wear’s most influential and original practitioners—and commercial success has followed. The designer says men’s wear now represents half of the Givenchy business, and this month the brand received a high-profile showcase: a new flagship in the Marais district of Paris conceived by Tisci and housing an array of men’s products spanning from sleek suits to the coolest T-shirts and sneakers.
Among its furnishings is a giant Persian rug, a key leitmotif in Tisci’s fall collection, hailed by retailers and editors alike as one of the strongest in Paris, rich in surface decoration—from allover carpet prints to dense, tar-like sequins—and deftly mixing muscular tailoring with edgy casual items, from gunshot sweatshirts to kilts worn over pants.
The designer—who marks his 10th anniversary at the house this year—notes that gender-bending items sell briskly, including the lace tops from his debut spring 2009 collection, which also sparked the athletic trend with his pairing of Bermuda shorts over leggings and his devotion to sweatshirts and the like.
Wearing a striped rugby shirt with a hacked-off collar, jeans and white sneakers by Nike, with which he is plotting another collaboration, Tisci here reflects on his men’s wear career, the androgyny juggernaut and his Instagram followers.
M COLLECTIONS: You described your fall men’s show as very personal. Can you elaborate on that?
RICCARDO TISCI: Usually, I go with my gut: I’m very emotional as a designer and follow my instincts. I’ve been a big collector for many years and I buy a lot of objects—rosaries, bones, books, images—a lot of spiritual things more than religious objects. This season was about all those things I collect—collecting emotions and being very free. I start each season differently. Most of the time, it’s about a silhouette more than anything else. But this time it started from a carpet I really liked. I fell in love with this Persian carpet I saw in this gallery in Milan. Of course, there was some voodoo in there, too. It was a very spontaneous collection—and with more tailoring than usual.
MC: Do you collect any fashion?
R.T.: I have a nice, small collection of Helmut Lang, things I used to buy when I was young for going to clubs and stuff. People know very well my big icons in fashion are Helmut, Azzedine Alaïa and Gianni Versace so I have a few pieces, even if I’m not really a clothing collector. I’m not working from vintage.
MC: Can you talk about the new men’s flagship in the Marais?
R.T.: I worked on the store with a team of architects within Givenchy, whereas in the past I had worked with architects Jamie Fobert and Joseph Dirand. Our new chief executive officer Philippe Fortunato proposed to me that I oversee the design myself as it’s a very special store in a very special area of Paris. I lived in the Marais for a long time.
MC: Does the store reflect your personal taste for interiors?
R.T.: I’m obsessed with Giò Ponti, Carlo Scarpa—all the great Italian designers from the Sixties and Seventies. I’m collecting Carlo Mollino, for example. Each room in the boutique is a different journey, but when you look at it in total, you feel like you’re in a Givenchy world. At the same time, the store says “couture.” You can come to Givenchy and buy a very well-made tailored jacket or suit—or you can buy sweaters, sweatshirts, trainers.
MC: So it’s for a broad clientele.
R.T.: It’s not only for a young generation. When people interview me they always say young generation, but it’s not true because I’m 40 and I still wear trainers. I know people who are in their 50s or 60s who wear trainers and carry backpacks. It’s just the mood, the personality you have—so it’s for a man who knows how to cross between an elegant and confident look to a very sporty look.
MC: Do you feel energized by men’s wear now, more sure of yourself?
R.T.: Men’s wear is very different from women’s wear. Men are more faithful. If he’s buying something and he believes in the label, he will be faithful forever. Women’s wear goes more with the trends.
I remember I really wanted to start very small. I wanted to first see if I was capable of doing it. I could have gone two ways and done what Hubert de Givenchy might—the elegant French route—or something more honest, simple and easy—more myself and what I really like. I don’t really buy designer clothes—apart from Givenchy now—I’m much more sportswear.
MC: How did you formulate your approach to the men’s market?
R.T.: My woman is a very strong and powerful woman and I wanted a confident man next to her. So I started street casting. I went to Brazil and Cuba. I also went to New York, London, Paris, Milan and I cast a lot of much more healthy-looking guys, rougher, guys that go to the gym—different from the skinny, beautiful boys Hedi Slimane popularized at the time. I went for personality more than beauty: a nice, but dodgy boy. My first show was all black and white clothes, and about having the confidence to wear lace because you’re secure in your sexuality.
MC: You’ve been very influential with your prints. Do you feel pressure to innovate there?
R.T.: One season I do, one season I don’t. It all started with the Rottweiler print. Again, I had never done prints in my life, but I discovered that it comes very naturally for me.
MC: You dress very casually. Is it easier for you to design the sportswear and streetwear portions of the collection?
R.T.: It’s very easy for me to do street, because I wear streetwear and I’m much more like that. But don’t forget I studied in England at Central Saint Martins, and tailoring is pretty central to British culture. Plus, I worked for Antonio Berardi. In couture, it’s all about tailoring, so for me it’s very easy to do tailoring for men. You know, sometimes people say that being a designer is difficult. It is, because of the pressure that comes along with it but—touch wood—so far it’s coming so natural for me. I just wish I had 12 hours more in a day. Because you have to do so much and you never have enough time. That is always the problem with fashion.
MC: You’ve pushed gender boundaries in men’s wear. Do you think it’s a sign of dynamism in men’s wear?
R.T.: I think it’s fantastic. Over the last few years, there’s more and more freedom and less of a gulf between women and men, which is great. Women, they have more power, which I love. I’m very feminist, and men as well have less paranoias. There are now fewer taboos in the men’s world. When you go into straight clubs or to the gym, you can find straight men putting together looks that are strong and bold, which I love. Also, men today are taking care of themselves more.
MC: Do you have any male muses, as Italian model Mariacarla Boscono seems to be for women’s? For example, you’ve been dressing Jared Leto, including for the Oscars.
R.T.: It’s hard to find a Mariacarla in the men’s world because she’s so strong and so unique. But I’ve got a lot of men around me and I really like the way they put clothes together, including people on my design team. I really like the way Matthew Barney dresses, and then, of course, Antony Hegarty is really inspiring for me.
Jared we’ve dressed many times. We are very close and I think he’s amazing. He’s the king of the moment of style. He decides what to wear and he’s got such a fashion sensibility. I’m inspired by him. I think he’s a great guy. And there’s Jay Z, who I really respect very much; I think he’s got a very good sense of style.
MC: What do you look for in models for your shows?
R.T.: I’ve got two casting directors, but I’m probably one of the few old-style designers who chooses all the models himself. I’m seeing about 500 to 600 girls and 500 to 600 boys every season, in Paris, New York and Milan. I’ve discovered a lot of models that went on to become very famous: Robert Evans, for example, but also Lara Stone, who was doing a lot of catalogues and money jobs. Or Joan Smalls: I fell in love with her intelligence, her personality. Her character was so Latin, so Puerto Rican and I even went to Puerto Rico to meet her family.
MC: You share a lot of your life and travels on Instagram. Is it all part of the creative process?
R.T.: It’s also to encourage people. I know what it’s like to be dreamer. I know what it’s like to have nothing in life. Maybe there’s a child in Yugoslavia dreaming to be a designer, or a guy from Australia or a girl from New York who could be inspired.
I post Givenchy-related and work stuff, but also my travels. For example, I was recently in Brazil and I was lucky to be there and I want to show it to the world. It’s not about me so much. Most of the time it’s about things I like and I’m not scared to share my inspirations and what is going on in my life. It’s about giving.
MC: Givenchy seems to be gearing up for retail expansion. How do you feel about it?
R.T.: I’m very happy because this means that the company’s doing well, and it’s not only doing well financially: The brand needs a showcase for people who love Givenchy, because it’s not only about clothes and fashion. It’s related to music, to art, to the street. Givenchy is related to so many things, and my work here will only be complete when I create a real lifestyle universe around the brand. We can make Givenchy home, Givenchy books, Givenchy accessories and things like that. I feel at home at Givenchy, and there is so much to do. We have a new ceo and he’s very strong, has a vision and is a very respectful person. There’s so much to do.
MC: And you’re still making sneakers?
R.T.: I love. Especially now that I’ve signed with Nike, of course, it’s even a lot more. There’s a really big new project coming up. I can’t talk about it too much, but I’ll probably do two big things with them: One is the worldwide and one is related to a specific country. I mean, this country’s going to be the next big thing, and I really believe in it and so does Nike.
MC: You haven’t ever changed your style after 10 years in Paris as a couturier. Is that how you feel comfortable?
R.T.: Yes, a polo and jeans. It’s always been very painful for me to wear suits because I never grew up like that. Growing up, when I was going to church on Sunday with my family, I would wear a sweater instead of a sweatshirt. Also, I never really had the money to buy a jacket to go to church. I feel comfortable, and stronger, in my street-casual clothes. Of course, sometimes I do have to wear a suit and I’ve learned after 10 years at Givenchy to wear a suit.