#SuzyPFW: Givenchy Takes Inspiration from East and West Germany

Why the fur coats? Correction: why the fake fur coats sent down the runway in all their fluffy, bourgeois glory as Clare Waight Keller offered her second ready-to-wear collection for Givenchy?

Her January offering for haute couture had been elegant, with a hint of mystery and seemed to reflect Hubert de Givenchy’s credo of client-pleasing and fine workmanship. Although this British-born designer did not catch the streetwise, coveted-by-rappers style of Riccardo Tisci, the house’s last incumbent.

The Autumn/Winter 2018 show was in the same grand Parisian Palace of Justice used for ready-to-wear last year. The word ‘Givenchy’ topped the building in vast letters, but this time the interior was swaddled by velvet curtains. An underground Berlin theatre perhaps? Or a plush hotel once used by a network of spies? The men were wearing tailored coats or sweaters with leather trousers, while the women swapped fur for ladylike dresses or fluid slithering midi skirts.

“So,” I asked, “Should we call this Givenchy collection ‘bourgeois with an edge’? Or ‘film noir reinvented with a 1980s and 1990s slant’?”

“Exactly,” said the designer. “It was really the idea of bringing that sense of luxury, but, then grittiness as well.”

“For me, East Berlin and West Berlin are very different people and places,” she continued, “So I wanted a mix of the two expressed in the clothes, for example, the fact that they look like bourgeois furs and then they’re very sharp underneath. That develops through the show – it becomes a bit sleazier with lace that is totally transparent, wearing underwear underneath so it opens up into a more clubby feel towards the end.”

The designer can talk the talk. But did the models in their slouchy leather boots walk the walk as ambassadors of a new Givenchy?

Clare’s plan was to use contrasts: an angular geometric black top with a wispy long fringed white skirt; or a shiny leather tabard worn over a tailored trouser suit. The original Hubert de Givenchy, who has by now had a string of successors, used tailoring but also liked traditionally feminine clothes, so Clare’s swirling print on white could be put in that category. Since the founder loved flowers so much – why not add them too?

Another question: why Berlin? When Karl Lagerfeld chooses places for a show, he likes to link them to Coco Chanel’s history. Is there any evidence that ‘Le Grand Hubert’ had any connection with Berlin?

This new collection seemed like it was designed from the head – not the heart. Once again in this Autumn/Winter 2018 season, menswear was shown alongside the women’s collection. Although perfectly acceptable, it brought no emotion or urgency to the show.

Clare herself felt tension and vibration behind the streamlined clothes.

“There was that sort of brutal darkness that I wanted – to delay the suspense,” she said. “The way I have been building this collection, starting from the tailoring, is something I really liked – the idea of gritty urban-ness.”

To me, it merely looked like a bunch of smart clothes, but maybe what LVMH – Givenchy’s owner – wants is just the stability of well-made outfits, from warm coats to little black dresses tinged with lace. Let the customers decide!