When it comes to the legendary Parisian couture house of Givenchy, Clare Waight Keller is in and Riccardo Tisci is out after 12 years in charge of the brand. Though the change has added fuel to the rumors surrounding the possibility of Tisci taking over at Versace, Waight Keller’s ascension has been less discussed yet no less important. So what might we expect from this talent who is largely known only to those within fashion? It has the potential to be a more exciting shakeup than anyone has anticipated.
While Clare's time at Chloé was critically and commercially successful with her designs in-demand at the world’s most rarefied luxury retailers, she did not enjoy the kind of blockbuster success her predecessors like Karl Lagerfeld and Phoebe Philo experienced. Hers was a time of quiet consistency that drew heavily upon the French label’s heritage of hippie-tinged glamour in the form of louche fur coats, breathy peach chiffon and slouchy leather bags. One gets the sense that this new appointment may bring with it the opportunity for her to shine brighter than ever before.
The British designer worked as Chloé’s creative director for six years following her time with the famed knitwear label Pringle of Scotland, but her experience working with revered names predates even that. She, along with Christopher Bailey (of Burberry) and Francisco Costa (most recently of Calvin Klein Collection), was part of a talent triumvirate culled together by Tom Ford to work on womenswear in 2000 during his tenure at Gucci. That was after stints working for both Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren immediately after graduating with her master’s degree. All this is to say that Waight Keller is a designer with an exceptional resume and the sales figures to back it up.
Givenchy’s new head signals an important shift as the brand’s aesthetic growth seems to have faltered over the past few years. It remained a fixture on red carpets and received countless social media impressions thanks to Tisci’s signature blend of Catholic icons and Rottweiler-emblazoned sweaters, but the surprises had ceased with a stale formula taking their place. Clare knows how to design for a wide breadth of women well-heeled enough to afford her clothes and has ample working experiences at labels large enough to prepare her for the multifaceted challenges of bearing so much responsibility. But this position also makes her the first female creative director in the house’s history and one of only two women now leading legendary couture houses founded by men--a rare reversal of roles that has never before happened.
Waight Keller's success will be dependent on many factors--the level of control she’s given over store designs, her influence on branding/advertising and the support received from executives--but if she can revitalize the kind of femininity the great Hubert de Givenchy, who is still alive and well at 90 years of age, built his name upon for a contemporary world, there may be no stopping her.
Written by Martin Lerma