Dresses on the catwalk from the Givenchy spring/summer 2016 collection at New York Fashion Week / EPA

New York is the first fashion week of the big four - the season starts here

Fashion is all about timing. So you wonder what the motivation was for Riccardo Tisci to leapfrog the international fashion calendar and show his spring/summer 2016 Givenchy collection as part of New York’s fashion week, rather than Paris. Bar the show of Jason Wu – best known for dressing Michelle Obama for her inauguration balls – who presented his line at 11am on 11 September, Givenchy became New York’s big opening act. It was staged in front of the usual fashion press, Givenchy-brand celebrities (Kim, Kanye, Julia Roberts, almost Naomi Campbell, except she showed up so tardily that the hour-late show was already halfway done), and Bernard Arnault, the owner of LVMH who underwrote the whole, undoubtedly expensive, shebang.

Riccardo Tisci has given Givenchy back a fashion relevance lost through stagnation under its founder (Reuters)

Maybe that was the motivation: a show of strength? Or maybe it was just about getting there first, about being the season’s opening gambit rather than part of its closing act? New York is the first fashion week of the big four. The season starts here.

There’s plenty of other timing stuff going on. Tisci staged his show on 11 September, the jagged outline of the New York skyline a backdrop. One World Trade Center, barely a year old, was centre stage. Tisci didn’t make a big deal of the loaded symbolism, which was clever. Some things are bigger than fashion, too big to be referenced directly.

This season also marked Tisci’s first decade at the house. If you’d overlooked that fact, a booklet placed on every seat mashed together Givenchy imagery past with inspirational stuff: a photo of a beetle-browed Frida Kahlo; an African tribeswoman; a scan of the passport of the conceptual artist Marina Abramovic, who created an Scrapheap Challenge-style installation of raw wooden palettes with performance pieces intended, according to copious notes, to evoke things like “the cycle of life and love”.

Some maybe saw a hidden depth: to me, it was bunkum. That said, fashion is all about inciting love – if you love a frock enough, you don’t look at the price tag. You just pray you can pay. Life, love, religion – all very Tisci, all pretty fashion. Especially the money bit. Luckily for Tisci, Abramovic’s conceptual clichés didn’t distract too much from his clothes.


For all the fuss at this presentation – the shift in schedule, the stacks of scrap, the 1,000 or so members of the public invited to view (as well as screens broadcasting the show in Times Square and on buses) – it was Tisci in a quiet, reflective mood. He was reflecting on his own work at Givenchy – that seating pamphlet felt a touch vainglorious, Tisci crowing his designs of a decade.

Well he might. Because what Tisci has done is impressive. During his tenure, he’s given Givenchy back a fashion relevance lost through stagnation under its founder, and the confusion of his turnstile of successors since 1995. The interesting thing with this show was how Tisci took it back to his first ready-to-wear, a mostly monochrome collection where minimalist tailoring and maximalist milles-feuille frills fought.

Ten years on, they still haven’t reconciled entirely – as witnessed Friday in vast ball gowns, hokey-goth Quinceañera dresses of honeycombs. The lace lingerie-alike looks, like antique dresses compressed into asymmetric slips sliding off the body, were better; most interesting in Aertex thickly hemmed in Chantilly. Naughty nighties don’t feel so naughty after you’ve seen them a few dozen times, though. Tisci slashed them up, layered them with menswear-inspired tailoring in pinstripes and wool voile, and a few male models with slicked-back hair interspersed in the flow. “A marriage of opposites” is standard fashion phrasing when this sort of man/woman stuff comes up – like a high fashion game of aesthetic Mr & Mrs.

That’s facetious. This was a good show – but not great, as the occasion perhaps demanded, especially given Tisci’s big build-up. The colour palette was tight, black and white. Reliable. There are plenty of allusions in monochrome clothing – christenings, funerals, First Communion – one dress was puffed with circles of tulle, tiny fabric wafers scaling the model’s body as if they were literally her flesh. Biblical. They’re also the colours of Frenchness, of chambermaids and Existentialists – and those 1950s photos of Bettina Graziana in the flouncy Givenchy blouses she leant her name to.

Tisci's was a good show – but not great, as the occasion perhaps demanded (EPA)

They’re the predominant colours of Givenchy’s brand  spanking new Madison Avenue boutique, too. I guess the motivation for this timing is clear. Basic, even. The rest of the city – Kate Spade, Polo, Lacoste – may thus far be playing preppy rather than pretentious for next spring, but fashion that addresses the bottom line first and foremost is quintessentially New York.