riccardo tisci: the ultimate givenchy boy talks fame and fortune

As we celebrate our 35th anniversary, Riccardo Tisci marks his 10th at the helm of Givenchy. We talk to the king of goth about his GGirls, his latest Victorian chola collection and his cover wrap for The 35th Birthday Issue.

by i-D Staff
10 June 2015, 11:40am

Riccardo Tisci's muses famously include some of the most beautiful and photographed humans on the planet: Madonna, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Marina Abramovic, Jay Z, and the star of his current campaign, Julia Roberts. Yet when we speak on the first day of May in New York, the 40-year-old Givenchy designer seems almost more inspired by the little boy in The Sword in the Stone, one of his favorite movies as a child. "It's about power, strength and masculinity," he says from a couch at the Mercer Hotel, where he's deep in preparation for the Met Ball (in a few days' time Beyoncé will shut down the Met red carpet in a naked-ish bejeweled Givenchy couture gown). 

In case you've forgotten, the 1963 Disney cartoon tells the tale of 12-year-old orphan Arthur, who through ingenuity and pure goodness manages to pull a deeply lodged sword from a stone, bringing England out of the Dark Ages and becoming king. One can't help but draw a parallel to the mythology of Tisci's own life. Born poor and fatherless in northern Italy, the youngest of nine with eight sisters, he worked odd jobs to pay his way through Central Saint Martins (playing Santa Claus at a store, giving away club flyers) to reign over one of Paris' most storied houses, responsible for womenswear, menswear and haute couture - the plummest of the plum gigs.

Tisci is a modern icon, yet a bit misunderstood. "Everybody says I'm the king of darkness, the king of goth," he says. "But at the end of the day I'm quite a sweet dreamer. I'm obsessed with cartoons and romance." It's exactly this interplay between the gentle, talented escapist and the subversive former club kid that has made his work so compelling - and consistent - over the past ten years. From his first spring/summer 06 collection for Givenchy, with its body-skimming, 80s-indebted white forms, to the most recent autumn/winter 15 Victorian chola collection, Tisci has specialized in the polarity of light and dark.

That singularity of vision has kept him with one brand as other designers play musical chairs. Ever-humble, he does admit that "a good designer has a strong identity and the ability to keep up with the times as they change". He seems troubled by the current generation of designers yearning for quick success. "I see so much reproduction and copying of other people," he says. "Which is sad because you have the opportunity to really express yourself. You should let go and just look inside you and look in front of you. Don't look at what other people have done. Just find your imagination, your way of doing it. Be confident and let go."

Tisci's own path towards confidence was deliberate. As a young man in heady 90s London, he rushed headlong into the kind of inspired life he'd craved as a kid: "I was in love with London and discovering this new world. I had just arrived from Italy and I had no money. I was working, studying and partying. That music and club scene of London really opened my mind and my vision of the future." Trade, Torch, The Fridge, Disco Bambina - he was out every night, getting down with legends like Leigh Bowery. "It was incredible, coming from this little village near Milano, to be thrown into this eccentric British world."

After the eye-opening ultra-creativity of London, he needed balance, which he found during an extended stay in India to work on his own line in 2004. There, he meditated on an ashram. "It gave me confidence, freedom, and happiness," he says. "And then I brought it to my work. That was very important."

In the ten years Tisci has been designing Givenchy, his vision of his ultimate muse, the "GGirl" has crystallized: "Of course I'm attracted by beauty like everyone else. but I'm more attracted by intelligence. I'm very feminist." Physically, there's a type, quite inspired by his longtime best friend Mariacarla Boscono (and personified by current consort, Kim K). "The 'GGirl' is intense, big eyes, and deep," he says. "You have to give a sensuality and intelligence and a sense of confidence." In a way, he's still that cartoon-fixated child, creating Disney princesses for the red carpet. Let's not forget his blockbuster Bambi collection of autumn/winter 13, so successful its designs are still in production.

For this 35th Birthday cover of i-D, Tisci created a collage of his ideal 'GGirl'. "I discover a lot of girls and I discover a lot of boys, and make them very big stars," he explains. "And of course these girls are perfect, they're all my girls, the famous GGirls. So I thought, 'Why not make it even more dreamy?' The Eve of Riccardo Tisci. I took the best parts of all these women I'm surrounded with, and I collaged them to make the perfect woman." A supermuse built on ten years of Givenchy magic, and a lifetime of inspiration.

Celebration is certainly in the air. Tisci marked his fortieth birthday with a huge party in Ibiza last summer. It's that fairy tale vibe again, this time a bit Cinderella: "When I was a child I was always crying for my birthday because everyone was leaving for holiday at the end of July. All the kids in the street couldn't attend my birthday, and my mom and my sisters couldn't buy me any presents. So it was always a little melancholic. I was with my mum and she was telling me about how when I was a kid I didn't like celebrating my birthday. I said, 'You know what? I'm blessed [by] God. God gave me success, and my mum is still alive. I want to do a celebration with all of my friends from around the world.' And it was one of the most incredible nights of my life." The press flipped over the guest list (those Ks again, plus Justin Bieber, Naomi Campbell, and... just google it!), but behind those starry selfies were plenty of friends who have been around since Tisci's childhood.

Tisci says he is less attracted to fame, and more to a larger-than-life quality. "Famous people or normal people, we're all living the same life," he says. "I'm not friends with people because they're famous, I'm friends with people because they have something strong to say. And I have something strong to say myself." So, no gadabout socialites need apply.

Tisci recounts his typical schedule: "Wake up 6.30am, coffee, cigarette, gym, office 8.30am, work, lunch 1pm, then night: see friends for dinner or watch movies." An intense work ethic? Check. Boundless imagination? Check. And, crucially, a connection with the times. "The brand and the Givenchy woman have changed because I've changed," he says. "Today women have a big position in society. With that it changes the way you dress, the way you live." A toast: to the next ten years of this fashion fairy tale.



Text Rory Satran
Photography Alasdair McLellan
Styling Edward Enninful
Hair Shon at Julian Watson Agency
Make-up Frankie Boyd at Tim Howard Management using Dior Skin Nude
Nail technician Megumi Yamamoto for Chanel le vernis
Photography assistance Lex Kembery, James Robjant, Nick Brinley
Styling assistance Dena N. Giannini
Hair assistance Ryuta Saiga
Retouching Output Ltd
Model Jourdan Dunn at Storm
Jourdan wears top and trousers Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci

Jourdan Dunn
Alasdair McLellan
fashion interviews
Edward Enninful
Riccardo Tisci
rory satran
the 35th birthday issue