Scene setting: The Palais de Justice is an imposing 19th-century building in the heart of the Île de la Cité, the oldest arrondissement in Paris. For a long time, it has been famous for its trials, not its fashion shows; the couloir des pas perdus (the ‘corridor of lost steps’, as the seemingly endless gallery of lamp-lit stone arches is called) might be ominously named, but it’s far removed from the glossy setting of yesterday’s photocall. But Givenchy is about to change that, for the next three years at least: the maison has reached an agreement with the administration to use it exclusively as their venue for the whole duration of Clare Waight-Keller's contract. Entering the enormous salons, we were wooed. The setting was simply perfect for the British designer's first show for the brand.
Mood board: Most of us mainly know Waight-Keller for her boho, hyperfeminine, softly chic designs for Chloé, where she was creative director from 2011 until earlier this year. In a preview before the show, she aknowledged the challenges presented before her. After all, it’s a titanic task to take the helm of a legendary French house these days (one we’ve seen undertaken at both Lanvin and Chloé itself this week). Should one respect the archives or – as Riccardo Tisci did – not give them as much as a single thought? Is continuity preferable to a clean slate in the eyes of the consumer? How much of a designer’s personality should shine through? Clearly Waight-Keller has carefully weighed all those questions. She even took a season off to ponder them without succumbing to the usual hysterically rushed pace of the industry. Considering what was at stake – not to mention the fact that this was both a women’s and men’s show – the electricity in the room was palpable, as the lights lowered and murmurs waned.
Best in show: The very first look screamed spectacular ‘saleability’. It was a black dress with a mini bag cutely tied to the waist- the newly designed 'GV3' named after Hubert de Givenchy's original headquarters of at 3 Avenue George Cinq. Same for the next few looks: there were asymmetrical hems, pleated silk details, structured shoulders and a minimal use of colour, chiefly through the use of rich black, crimson red and white, which had a touch of Tisci. Waight-Keller also celebrated the canon of the houses’s founder, with a clover print dress that riffed on a haute couture style from 1961, and a bow detail little black dress, which nodded to the legacy of his costumes for Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, from the same year. Indeed, it was the evening looks that the brought the true spirit of Waight-Keller’s creativity to light. And they did so beautifully, through pleated chiffon dresses complete with ruffles and lace. The designer managed to make them look distinctly feminine, while presenting a delicate balance between softness and an alpha-female spirit. If her next few collections continue to develop in that direction, Givenchy will no doubt be in a sweet spot for the next few years.