Couture is different. It just is. Once immersed in its history and craft, once the awareness of possibility seeps in, it changes the way you look at the fusion of fashion and clothes, and impacts your personal tipping point between intellectual consideration and raw emotion.
With the Givenchy collection she showed on Tuesday night, Clare Waight Keller indicated a shift from the more clearly clinical perspective from which she created her first three couture collections for Givenchy, creating some quite beautiful clothes along the way, to that of a storyteller who now also buys into the wonderment of couture. Backstage post-show, she didn’t lead with the importance of precision cuts or modernist restraint. Rather, she dubbed the collection Noblesse Radicale.
“I wanted to kind of step it up a notch for myself,” she said. “I wanted to push it into something that has a little more theater.” She conjured “an anarchic woman,” or various such characters, on a mission of sartorial discovery at some old chateau of the 17th or 18th century, the women pilfering bedding, window treatments and wall hangings from long-forgotten chambers to whip up something personal and distinctive. The results were less a whirl of fantastical mayhem than an impressive, deft integration of madcap elements into a precise, carefully considered aesthetic.
For starters, who thinks of a grand dusty chateau as done up in black and white? Yet Waight Keller worked mostly within the specificity of that palette, which served to impart structure on her more bohemian leanings. Still, she played to a range of characters. She opened with a series that introduced the black-and-white dominance, including a glam above-the-ankle mermaid befitting a screen siren of yore and a wrapped-and-draped number with a tribal sensibility, its checked pattern arranged every which way and a-flutter with fringe. Compared to either, a fabulous short bi-color coat looked almost clinical, despite its flurry of feathers. Waight Keller went back and forth between the smart elegant tailoring that she’s made a priority at Givenchy to beautifully crafted gowns, some constructed to nth degree, some more deliberately haphazard, their voluminous sleeves or skirts festoons of fabric taken from those imaginary curtains and secured by drawstrings.
In her most radicale moments, Waight Keller imagined “the sort of bird-like creatures, which always inhabit the roofs of these places.” Hence, the extravagance of feathers descending from beneath the hem of a black mourning gown, heightening the artistry of a dress cut away over a crinoline, and worked into audacious avian headdresses, looks that paid distinct homage to one of couture’s all-time great romantic masters, Alexander McQueen.
Which is not to say Waight Keller changed her feathers completely. With this collection she opened up to the rapture one can experience through couture without giving herself over to it in full. These clothes were more flamboyant and whimsical than her past haute outings, sometimes darkly so, but still highly considered and controlled. Even at their most fantastical and feathered, they projected grounded authority, thus continuing Waight Keller’s dialogue with strong, modern women. It’s a conversation couture needs.