Snarling hounds aren’t exactly life-affirming, but when Riccardo Tisci puts a Rottweiler on a sweatshirt, you may as well be wearing a cuddly teddy bear for the amount of warmth it fills you with. Tisci is a rare case. He represents angst and darkness but also love and strength — and once you join his ‘gang’, you’re in it for life. He dressed Kim Kardashian when nobody else would, launched countless, very diverse supermodels and gave us electrifying red-carpet moments (refer Cate Blanchett at the 2011 Oscars for his genius). But most importantly, he took Givenchy beyond just Breakfast At Tiffany’s (Hubert de Givenchy designed Audrey Hepburn’s iconic black dress), giving its sweetness a touch of edge, its romance a whiff of doom, and its sophistication a smack of street grit. Now, in his 10th year at the French maison, the America-lovin' designer lets us in on the anniversary celebrations, and like a good Italian boy, he’s making sure it’s a family affair.
ELLE: Ten years is huge. What’s on your mind as you celebrate this milestone?
Riccardo Tisci: I want to celebrate love, freedom of expression, a strong point of view and the unique style of those I love and respect.
ELLE: You were named creative director of Givenchy within just a year of starting your eponymous label. What was that like, especially considering your predecessors were fashion stars like Alexander McQueen and John Galliano?
RT: I am very lucky. [Founder] Hubert de Givenchy is a truly great designer. I remember he called me personally on the morning of the presentation of my first haute couture collection, and I couldn’t stop crying.
ELLE: What is the vision you brought to Givenchy?
RT: There were many similarities between the Hubert de Givenchy woman and my own vision, actually. Even today, when I design I keep in mind the codes of the house: the strictness, the play between masculine and feminine, between austere and romantic. Maybe today’s Givenchy woman is a little bit more ‘urban’, a working girl with more independence.
ELLE: But your reign at Givenchy has seen many firsts for the house. You brought an edge into high fashion, for instance, with the sweatshirts, the magnetic jewellery...
RT: What I think I’ve given Givenchy is that paradox, that lasting tension between haute couture and street style. That street edge is a big part of who I am as a person, it is part of my DNA. And ultimately, the street is where I’ve always found my biggest inspirations.
ELLE: You also gave the Givenchy romance an undercurrent of darkness, of unpredictability, which has now become its signature.
RT: My view of femininity and romance has always been very dark. For me, this not a seasonal trend, it’s always been my taste. And I discovered early on that there was a big market for my kind of darkness.
ELLE: Who, according to you, embodies that raw, dark femininity? Your campaigns have featured everyone from the sunny Julia Roberts to the fierce Erykah Badu.
RT: [Model] Mariacarla Boscono was my first muse and she will always be very special to me, she was one of the first people to believe in me. So I believe in her tirelessly. It’s the same with [transgender model and Tisci’s former assistant at Givenchy] Lea T, I was there during her most difficult and her best times. It is the way I have always collaborated with artists. The only thing you can always expect from me, in campaigns or collections, is to show a strong woman with a firm point of view, as I did with Donatella in the last campaign. I love that so much about all the women around me. And what all these names have in common is that I respect them, and they are not marketed choices, they are relationships that come from the heart. They are my friends, my family, and that is how they have become my muses.
ELLE: Is that how you pick your runway muses too? You’ve launched so many diverse beauties, like Joan Smalls, Lakshmi Menon, Lara Stone...
RT: For me, models mean a lot because they’re not just presenting my collection, they’re really giving it life. I’m deeply bound to that idea. It does not matter what her origin or skin colour is; it is only about being a true Givenchy girl, a girl with personality, strength and beauty.
ELLE: Is Kim Kardashian a true Givenchy girl? You dressed her when nobody else wanted to, and you designed that unforgettable wedding dress for her, too.
RT: Kim is a really good friend of mine. Whatever people think about her, the truth is that she is an amazing woman and a beautiful girl. And she is the wife of a very good friend of mine. I’m very close to Kim, Kanye and the baby. Their wedding was amazing and I was so proud to be a part of it.
ELLE: You’ve always maintained that your friends and family mean everything to you.
RT: You know, I grew up with my mother and surrounded by eight older sisters — sadly I didn’t know my father for too long before he passed away. I have acquired all my life values from them. I have learned about [the value of] respect and patience, and that life is only worth living if you fill it with love.
ELLE: Is that how the Givenchy gang came about?
RT: Yes, absolutely. I only work with people I love and respect. It makes everything easier, you know. It feels effortless… and the best results always happen when you feel like the creative process came from a place of love, not social obligation. At the end of the day, a show is not just made because of the clothes, after all, it’s made out of emotion.
ELLE: Casting Donatella Versace in your Fall/Winter 2015-16 campaign was an industry game-changer. Isn’t she one of the Givenchy gang, too?
RT: Donatella is my friend, and I approached her for the campaign because she represents my idea of a fashion icon and she embodies the Givenchy woman. Besides which, we share the same values and we thought it was time to break boundaries and send out a strong message about how we should be thinking in fashion. I see us all as a group of friends, or a big family.
ELLE: What prompted the move to New York fashion week instead of Paris, to show your Spring/Summer 2016 line?
RT: America was always my dream, and New York is my obsession. When I was young, America represented a mix of different people, which has always been very important to me. In a country like Italy, though it is all about craft and quality, there are so many restrictions — of society, of religion, of everything.
ELLE: Sounds just a little like India. Have you been here?
RT: Yes, I have! The defining moment in my career was when I returned from two months in India and did the first Riccardo Tisci collection in Milan. I remember, it felt like a miracle had happened, like the beginning of something that would change my life.
ELLE: Looking back on your time at Givenchy, what are the highlights? And where do you want to go next?
RT: In the last 10 years, we did so much: the couture collections, the concert costumes, the award show dresses, designing accessories, having so much fun with both womenswear and menswear. It’s all in my head and in my heart. The most exciting part was building the way to where we are now — and this is just the beginning. I strongly believe Givenchy has the capacity to become a lifestyle brand. And I am fully focused on making that happen next.
Photographs: Maciek Kobielski (Riccardo Tisci)