Givenchy’s tricky debut in the Courts of Justice

In a season of debuts, this was the most awaited debut of all. We’re talking about Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy, the inauguration of a major designer at one of France’s most storied houses.
 

Givenchy - Spring-Summer 2018 - Womenswear - Paris - Photo: PixelFormula

In an ironic touch, she presented her first show before the world’s toughest jury – an army of fashion critics – in the Palais de Justice. The verdict? Well, frankly, one has to say that the jury is still out. 
 
There were plenty of commercial clothes in this show, from the charming billowing sleeveless shirts to a couple of ravishing black silk cocktail dresses, to a couple of sensational lace and ruffled chiffon prairie gowns in black and white. And, one had to admire Waight Keller’s re-interpretation of Givenchy classics – most notably the Bettina blouse, done in various forms. Plus she cut some delightful kilts with panels of plissé fabrics that were suitably seductive. Waight Keller also presented some cool little boots, which will sell, as the French say comme des petits pains, or like hot cakes.
 
The stage was set for a massive win: the week’s best looking invitation; a beautiful location in the giant central atrium of the courts of justice; a coiffed audience of 1,000; and a glittering front row of Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, Rooney Mara and rock star Fergie. But in the end, the show never really took off. Just when Waight Keller began to build momentum she introduced a dozen men’s wear looks, making a second debut for the designer. These featured some brilliantly cut men’s suits and blazers, but the rocker looks were a tad too twee.
 
“In the world of physics, transformation describes the sublime process when one element becomes another,” Waight Keller wrote in her program note.
 
However, overall this was a muffled show, where many editors from the French jury left the hallowed halls muttering about the similarities to Saint Laurent, and even to Waight Keller’s own Chloé.
 
Waight Keller joined Givenchy this spring after six years at Chloé in 2011 following stints at Pringle of Scotland and Gucci. Her stay at Chloé was an unquestioned success, building the house into a highly watched label. One could fault her for not revolutionizing fashion but she did raise that brand to a new level of sophistication. Her signature – of lightweight, feminine clothes anchored by heavy boots, frequently with a dash of the cowgirl about them, was somehow quintessentially French and very flirty.
 
So, most everyone expects her to succeed at Givenchy. However, this show was a classic sign of a designer grappling with the codes of a new house. One should not forget that many designers have struggled before her at this brand. We count among them such fashion legends as John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, both of whom served as creative directors of Givenchy for brief periods. Waight Keller has plenty of time to get things right at Givenchy. Today, however, was a steep learning curve.
 

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