Riccardo Tisci’s shows for Givenchy are some of the best cast in the industry. Here he reveals his casting decisions and ongoing quest to bring identity, beauty and integrity to modern-day menswear.
Givenchy’s Creative Director Riccardo Tisci likes to mix things up. Not only in terms of the eclectic inspirations behind the highly successful menswear collections he has created for the famed house since 2008, but also in relation to the models he chooses to send down the runway. Tisci avoids a bog-standard army of identikit beefcake clones, or a wan pack of whippet-thin twinks, all sourced easy peasy style from a commercial model agency. Instead, the designer approaches the art of casting with a keen eye, an attention to detail and a willingness to be surprised: scouring the streets while travelling the world, to find real characters in real situations, whose unique presence can authentically showcase his designs for men to their best possible advantage.
How important is it to you to be involved in the casting process?
Casting is something that is very important to me, something I’ve been doing for so many years. It is a part of the creative process. In general I am looking for new things and I think in general what I like is the identity of people. I have always loved to find new people - women or men and I have been working with transsexuals and albinos. Just because, for me, I fall in love with people in general. I fall in love sometimes with peoples’ beauty. Like, when I used to live in London, I would take the Underground and see people I liked, or when I am walking the streets in New York, or Milan, or Cuba - or anywhere I’m going! - sometimes I will see people who are not classically beautiful, but I am studying them and I can fall in love with them. With my boys, when I am casting, it is mostly street casting and I have been doing that in places like Spain or Italy and travelling to Rio de Janeiro. I have found some boys who are English, as well. What I am looking for is strength, purity, love and confidence in the self.
Have you always enjoyed observing people in this way?
When I was a kid I loved to be seated outside my Grandmother’s house in South Italy and watch people walking by. It was a game I loved - I loved to observe people. I think, in general, casting and fashion sometimes falls down by being focused on celebrity and celebrity models. I love all the top models because I grew up with them, but today fashion often only uses the big names. Sometimes we forget that each designer has an identity and it is not only about clothes and the way you cut clothes and style clothes, it is also about whom you put inside the clothes. That is very important.
How do you know who the ‘right’ kind of man is to represent Givenchy menswear?
When Givenchy asked me to do the menswear, I thought, ‘Okay, so who is my man?’ In the beginning, I was like a virgin in menswear, because I don’t buy many magazines, and I had attended only a few menswear shows. So, for me, it was new to be looking for boys in this way. Being friends with Hedi Slimane and knowing really well the work of Raf Simons, who I respect super much, I think they are the two people who have changed menswear in the past two decades. One of the reasons is the casting done by both of them. So I thought, ‘I don’t want to go into that territory, I want to try to discover my own territory.’ The men that they were using were super-beautiful, skinny, tall and androgynous, which I love and I am attracted to. But the men that I wanted to dress are a bit more – how can I say it in English? – a bit more ‘meat’, a bit more masculine, a bit more gymnastic. He is who I would love to be, and in a way, what I am - I am tall, and I am quite a big man. Often, when you design clothes - you design what you desire. For a designer, sometimes that can be difficult. We all wear black T-shirts and jeans, because we are so fed up of clothes after six months! But now, day-by-day, I am wearing a lot of the clothes that I design because I like them.
When you were growing up, which designer inspired you the most - not just for the clothing they created, but for the models they used too?
I am Italian and grew up in a country where Versace is our flag! In England, you have Vivienne Westwood, in France they have Yves Saint Laurent or Givenchy or Balenciaga. And I remember, with Versace it was all these big men - bigger than those I am using now. It was muscles! Big! Sexy! Gianni was about beauty and big bodies - the dream men of America. My models have good bodies and they are masculine - but twenty years has passed since then and I don’t want to be Versace. So I am looking for something else...
How do you define beauty, Riccardo?
What to me is beauty? For me, beauty could be perfection or it could be imperfection. It sometimes has to have a twist. Sometimes you can catch the little twist in someone’s eyes. Then you can look behind that - what is the personality? I am not into empty beauty. Somebody could be amazing and beautiful or not so amazing and not so beautiful - but if they are natural, or shy, or tough, or moody... I love all these things! But when somebody’s beauty becomes stupidity, because they are too full of themselves, I don’t like that! I love it when people are nice, friendly and charming but I don’t like it when people try to play with me. I don’t like the abuse of beauty and power at all. I don’t like that in the street, I don’t like that in the work.
Is it problematic to work with boys cast from the street, who don’t have prior experience of modelling?
It is more risky, more tough, using some of these boys. Sometimes they concentrate too much on trying to walk like a ‘cool man’, because they have seen so much in the mass media, so they are doing what they think they should be doing. I tell them to just walk the way they would walk in the street - be easy, be normal, because it is so beautiful and they don’t have to make an effort. Some of them might even make a mistake in the show but, at the end of the day, that is reality. And I think for menswear it should be reality, because for women you change the beauty of her, putting on a lot of make-up to make her even more beautiful and like a Goddess. But with the men, you want it natural, you want him to be himself - what you see is what you get.
How do the boys respond to you - this important designer from Givenchy! - and to the opportunities you have given them?
Each season I use them, it is beautiful because it is almost like a family or a celebration. It is very nice. It is very sweet, you know, some of them will bring little presents or they bring me music to listen to. Some of them aren’t even with an agency, even though they’ve done my show. They are still doing their own regular jobs at the same time as modelling in my show. They can get very emotional that you have given them this chance. I remember forever, after the show finished and all the boys were waiting for me outside and they started screaming and jumping - they were so happy and hugging me. So, for them, it is such a ‘moment’. They don’t care what is going to happen afterwards - they just want to give it their best.
They might look great out and about on the street, but how do you know their look will ‘translate’ well to the runway?
When the boys first come in, the first thing I do is talk to them - which for me can be a bit difficult, as I can be a bit shy. I try to make them feel confident, so they don’t feel scared. I will ask them to take off their T-shirt. I think that should happen straight away because, for me, the structure of the shoulder is very important. Everything starts with the shoulder when I am designing. With the street boys, they are usually charming. They know they are sexy. They know they have been picked and this is a good chance for them in their life. Straight away they feel confident, they know they have something powerful but in a pure way and that I love. I am very happy for them when they become successful. So, yes, I like to do casting!