#SuzyCouture: Givenchy – Bold And Beautiful

Latex is my new couture leather,” announced Clare Waight Keller, the Givenchy designer who is famous for dressing American actress Meghan Markle for her marriage into the British royal family.

But latex! Really? That red-light district material to be used for haute couture? The Givenchy designer’s strength is in linear modernity and in taking the familiar and making it exceptional. She named as ‘Bleached Canvas’ the collection shown in the empty part of the Musée d’Art Moderne against a backdrop of blank walls – that had more recently been filled with pictures by modernist designers.

The show opened with a sharp intake of breath from the audience at the sight of a black sculpted jacket with one white collar, and shining, stretch Latex trousers – a streamlined silhouette worn to striking effect by model Adut Akech Bior from South Sudan.

“Latex is my couture leather – I chose it for its strength and sensuality,” said the designer backstage. “It is literally a bespoke fabric with that second-skin feeling and super modern, super shiny and with incredible colour.”

“I don’t think of latex as perverse,” she continued, “But there is something about it that is so opulent, so beautiful. The contrast brings something really dynamic and very modern, sleek and slick. It is very fresh.”

Those words applied to other shifts – subtle or dramatic – that the designer made. A vast bow at the back of an evening dress could have been designed by Hubert de Givenchy, the couture house founder who died last year. Except that as the model turned, a rucksack was revealed embedded in the bow.

“I love the idea of a bow but I find it very old and I wanted to do something very new – so I added a giant backpack because I love the scale of it,” she said.

Reworking the familiar tropes of haute couture is Waight Keller’s thing and she did it this season with bold confidence from an eye mask effect painted with make-up to the beaded cloche-style hairnet that is quite a fashion story this season.

She also took traditional things like colourful silken strings – and turned them into a graceful, yet commanding, skirt.

Other designers have worked with Givenchy’s heritage – Alexander McQueen embracing it entirely as his own oeuvre; and Riccardo Tisci bringing the sensuality of an Italian aesthetic.

Perhaps it is to the advantage of Waight Keller that her elegant Englishness fits with Mr de Givenchy’s northern French background.

But the current British designer, who never embraced couture in her earlier jobs at Pringle of Scotland and Chloé, has hit the sweet spot.

She is taking a genuine interest in high fashion and the house’s heritage.

“It just sums up for me the architecture of tailoring – that I’ve built on for the last few seasons – in its purest sense,” said Waight Keller, who richly deserved her ovation.