Clare Waight Keller’s couture collection for Givenchy fascinated on multiple levels. For one, she addressed the question of house legacy. What is legacy? Do house codes matter? Should they matter?
After the death of Hubert de Givenchy in March at the age of 91, Waight Keller thought it appropriate to make her fall 2108 collection an homage to the founder. It wasn’t her first such statement. In what may be the most famous dress she will ever design, Meghan Markle’s wedding dress, the designer drew inspiration from a 1964 dress photographed in Vogue on Givenchy’s lifelong muse, Audrey Hepburn.
Today, it’s Hepburn most people think of when they think of Givenchy. Otherwise, despite a rich, inventive career, Givenchy himself outlasted broad-stroke knowledge of his professional signatures, and Waight Keller’s predecessor Riccardo Tisci so shaped the house in his own likeness that she now needn’t take on the burden of the archives.
Instead, Waight Keller chooses to. Her program notes quoted Roger Caillois, from “The Writing of Stones”: “A multitude of new inscriptions is added to the writing in the stones,“ and offered that for fall, she “glimpses beyond the tangible toward a profound and sparking fantasia.” And so she did, the profundity delivered in a multifaceted vision of women. Waight Keller refuses to let a woman’s strength fall prey to romance, yet she delights in allowing the two to coexist. Her fantasy siren projects a near-superhero aura in gowns that combined structure, flou, and sometimes, elements of armor.
At the core: the play of feminine and masculine the designer has identified from her deep dive into the Givenchy archives and which, despite her take on a more ethereal bohemian romance at Chloé, she has always loved. (While the focus of the collection was obviously on women, Waight Keller also applied the yin-yang opposition to chic, often daring men’s wear.)
The collection started with a strong shoulder that immediately took the fragility out of even the most fluid dresses. Waight Keller worked with bold combinations — white body-con silk with overlays of regal purple velvet and feathers; a diaphanous coral cutaway overlay on a belted silver embroidered gown; a belted, tri-color gown — white, beige, black with the look of a modern-day warrior princess.
A gown with a bold shoulder isn’t for everyone, and some looks crossed over to too-obvious retro. But overall, Waight Keller achieved something impressive: She used evening gowns to make a statement about women’s innate power. Of the house founder, Waight Keller said, “He believed in elegance. He believed in chic.” She believes in the beauty of inner power, and wearing it on the outside.