riccardo tisci's inspiration generation
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.
It's hard to believe that Riccardo Tisci showed his debut menswear collection for Givenchy as recently as 2009. In that first show of 29 looks (he now shows in the region of 60), Riccardo established a DNA that has remained consistently strong, but has always come with seasonal surprises. With Riccardo at the helm, the brand has had an enormous influence on the menswear market: he has created a different man, a different silhouette, a different way of dressing.
Riccardo's bold use of prints — from Rottweilers and birds of paradise to a reworking of the American flag — has raised his and Givenchy's profile around the world. In his spring/summer 15 collection, as well as the white laced bovver boots and military references, there were delicate, black-and-white floral prints and exquisitely embroidered pearls (recalling his couture Oscars dress for Cate Blanchett). "I love pearls. It's an obsession. Like diamonds for women, I think pearls could be for men," he says, explaining that where he's from, pearls are the preserve of Mafia men, religious men and "the dodgy ones".
With such a strong vision and a proven track record in womenswear, it's surprising that it took Riccardo so long to take on menswear at the luxury house. "I was very scared, because I wanted to make the womenswear stronger, and I was really busy. Menswear is very difficult to do too. There's not so much to develop, because the men's wardrobe is stable." Tisci himself can be seen exiting shows in Ralph Lauren shirts (or the simplest top from his own collection), jeans and white Nikes. "I'm obsessed with Nike. I've got 200 pairs of the same colors, the same shoes," he says.
Another reason he wasn't ready to mess with menswear was that it was around the time of Hedi Slimane's reign at Dior Homme, "a time when fashion was still very much skinny boys — beautiful, but quite ethereal". Riccardo is almost 6'3" tall ("you know I'm a big boy," he cutely reminds us throughout the interview), so he felt the need to do something entirely different from the dominant aesthetic of the time. "I wanted to do something that was a little bit shocking back then. It was about a boy with a bigger body, a gymnasium boy who really does sport, but at the same time, a boy who has confidence in his sexuality."
Givenchy boys are more than just hot brawn, and while Riccardo was heavily inspired by his hero Gianni Versace's 90s beefcakes, he has always brought a different edge and ambiguity to his models, often street casting them from around the world. As well as being one of the earliest champions of supermodels, and former i-D cover stars Lara Stone, Joan Smalls and Saskia de Brauw in the womenswear world, Riccardo can also be credited with launching the careers of Rob Evans, O'Shea Robertson, Dominique Hollington, Willy Cartier and many more diverse menswear faces.
"When I started casting, the year before my first show, the agencies were full of these beautiful, amazing boys, but they weren't my type," he explains. "I don't like to exclude people, so I started to do a lot of street casting in America, Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Morocco — any place I was going for holiday or for work. I found these beautiful boys with strong personalities, who were less like the canon of classic shapes and measurements, but more like what I thought was the reality of the street." Through them, he says, he changed the proportions of men's wardrobes.
He would send beautiful, tough looking guys down the catwalk in lace, leggings, kilts and fur jumpers. "I tried to make all of this very masculine and street, without any affectation, because sometimes when designers explore things, we exaggerate!" he laughs.
Riccardo's catwalk shows and campaigns became political statements of a sort. Not only was he one of the first menswear designers to repeatedly and instinctively promote better racial diversity through his models, but he was also keen to experiment with sexuality and gender. Perhaps because there's a sportswear element to his menswear, or perhaps because it's strong, cool and confident, people haven't given Riccardo enough credit for challenging our preconceptions of how men should look and act. He has experimented with ambiguity and merged street style and queer culture. Because Riccardo's man is a muscular, give-a-fuck, hot street jock, many don't realise he's pushing as many buttons as his androgynous counterparts.
"When you do street casting, you fall in love with the personality of the person. The person comes out with his guts, his heart and his shy side in his hands, because he's not used to doing this," he explains. "I never ask for a book. I prefer talking to people. You understand the character of a person in the way they say 'hi' or 'good morning.' I cast boys who are white, mixed-race, black, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, English, anything. It's just about this boy looking believable in these clothes."
Riccardo has also famously surrounded himself with a cast of celebrities that includes rapper Kanye West, transgender model Lea T, Madonna, and transgender singer Antony Hegarty, which, as well as showing his penchant for meeting his idols, displays the designer's instinctive open-mindedness. While it's sad and absurd that this still needs to be applauded, it's a fact that many other people still exist in monocultures. Riccardo is all about multiculture.
"What's important, especially when you're a designer or somebody public, is that you can really support people who are not accepted by society. At times, we're supporting people who society pushes, and sometimes society is such a bitch that it's pushing people for no reason. For me, beauty is much more than that. It's deeper. I took so much shit when I supported transgender people, or diversity, or anti-racism. For me, it doesn't matter what color skin you have or what sexuality you are, if you're a good person, you're a good person."
Riccardo sees it as his responsibility to use his platform as a world-recognized designer to encourage socio-political improvement. "When you do a job like mine, you have people who love you and follow you. To make only beautiful bags and clothes is great, I'm blessed to do this, but sometimes why not put this social message next to it?" he says. "If nobody stands up, the world is never going to change, and you'll think, 'My god, we live in a fucked up world.' We have to do something to change that. Thinking only about yourself and the money you can make and the happiness you have isn't enough. Some people out there need help."
Text Stuart Brumfitt
Photography Danko Steiner
Models Filip at M Managemen. Chris M, Solanne, Lucas D and Nathaniel at New Madison. Caian at Request NY. Kirill at Specimen. Bertold at Other. Paolo at Major. Jon H at New Madison. Tidiou at The Face Paris. Dominic B at City.
All clothing Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci spring/summer 15 Menswear.