How Do You Solve A Problem Like: Legacy?

It’s the age-old question in fashion and one that keeps doing the rounds as old houses find themselves with vacancies, new names appointed and the equation of balance, heritage and forward-thinking comes to the fore. It can be a bit of a mind-boggler for even the most elite of mathematicians working in the fashion field; in fact, this could just be the season of bad debuts. Because that equation fell flat, so flat, at Lanvin earlier this week; it worked out to a degree at the new Chloé (though it felt more like this was Natacha Ramsay-Levi’s eponymous label than anything else), but finally the result was successfully concluded at Givenchy. The answer: hire Clare Waight Keller. 

She has a proven track record, her time at Chloé and Pringle of Scotland as creative director, not to mention her background at Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Gucci, and she’s smart, in tune with real life, her customer. Because that all came into fruition today. From the expertly merchandised surroundings – Givenchy note paper on the seats and Givenchy cakes and coffee on the way out; the Givenchy wallet to put your stationery in when leaving (all of which by the time of reading will be on your social media feed) – to a collection that managed to merge old-world Hubert with what women can wear today while incorporating a note of streetwear strategy. It was understated  where Riccardo Tisci was dramatic; it was serene where Tisci was gothic; it was real, uncluttered, and clean where Tisci was unreal, crafted, and layered. And in this sense, it could perhaps be deemed too quiet a debut, nice. But, let the lady herself explain. 

“Seduction is key. The most seductive things are not seen, but merely imagined,” she wrote by way of Transformation Seduction’s introduction. “In a voyeuristic world, seduction manifests intrigue and desire for the unknown.” In a nut shell, she’s talking about a definition of elegance, not shouting and screaming. And elegance is surely what underpinned Hubert de Givenchy back in the day, those visions of that wardrobe so belonging to Audrey Hepburn. 

 


Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION

They were here for moments today in pleated dresses that had that Chloé bounce, pleated collars splaying around the neck; this ticked the box that had notably been missing in the dark-romantic days of Tisci who had coined a very different aesthetic while at the house for the past 12 years (there was also no sign of the Kardashians et al today). Bows and lace, they were decorated as they should be, pieces that appealed to that blend of elegance – but it didn’t feel too old-world, tempered as it was by little natty skirts and striped Ts with a beautifully subtle “Givenchy” slogan running down them (very cool), square-cut breezy loose dresses and shirts, which didn’t scream Givenchy but would certainly be nice to wear, and you know they were. And there were the coolest of boots and pointed cut-out shoes. It felt like a wardrobe and it felt new, fresh, and exciting – though it was all done in measure, some of the best looks, those seemingly simple separates. 

Other houses have managed to do the same, their creative directors still sitting tight during a recent wave of exits following a wave of new appointments three years ago. The waters of fashion can be treacherous, to say the least. But step forward David Koma at Mugler and Julien Dossena at Paco Rabanne, who fall into the former category of survivors.  

It’s the uncanny resonance of Koma’s own aesthetic to that of Mugler’s that has made him so right for the job, at times both collections really only separated by their location: Koma is a London Fashion Week talent, Mugler a Paris Fashion Week stalwart. This season though, he did depart from what has become a strong succession of collections, moving into new shapes and territory with denim and billowing gypsy blouses. It was an interesting addition, perhaps a little out of place, but the suede dresses fastened together with rivets were gorgeous – sexy with cut-outs, but they had more than just going-out-allure to them. 

 


Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION

Meanwhile Dossena did have going out on his mind, this a night-club destination of a collection, disco-ready, disco-shiny, for swingy little metallic and chainmail dresses, paisley in there too. It was certainly easier to wear than previous outings that had fused more concept dressing with a streetwear sensibility. It was fun. 

 


Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION

 

But it’s tricky. With both the aforementioned houses so ingrained in what they are, the way they look, that moving within, around, and past that has to be very cleverly navigated. There’s a little bit more wiggle room when it comes to other houses.

Ungaro is another house that has fallen foul of too many chops and changes – like, sadly, Lanvin has now, this was a designer debut that was easy to overlook. Fausto Puglisi left in March and Marco Colagrossi stepped in. Once, Ungaro stood for glamour akin to DVF sass way back when, and everyone who was anyone would be seen wearing it. It was the epitome of glamour. That’s not what this collection called to mind at all. They haven’t in years. It was rough around the edges for brocade unfinished hems and trousers with random sequin flowers on; there was a billowing yellow floral dress that splayed from the neck too. It was lost, much like the brand has become, and this didn’t seem to shed any hopeful light.  

 


Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION

 

Which is why Waight Keller was clever. Because she also tapped into the current way we consume. We like branding. We like people to know what brands we like. It’s the way we shop now. And so that’s the younger generation taken care of, the cool factor. And for the more likely Givenchy shopper, it’s those not-scary pieces that wandered down the catwalk they’ll like. Because it’s very easy to be scared by fashion. Beautiful things, overly crafted things, too colourful things, too much of everything; it can be scary to people who just want to wear clothes – which, ironically, at fashion shows, we don’t always see so much of. 

 


Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION

For those that don’t, there’s Vivienne Westwood and Yohji Yamamoto and Junya Watanabe who offer a new take on that idea. Something progressive or directional or cult. They’re loyal customers and they’ve signed up to that aesthetic, that vision, that legacy. One gets the impression that Waight Keller’s will last, as this was undoubtedly the best debut of the week.