13-Dec, 16:20

16:20, February 02 246 0

2017-02-02 16:20:10
On the Runway: Riccardo Tisci Leaves Givenchy: What It Means

Yet another seismic shift is taking place in French fashion. Riccardo Tisci, the creative director of Givenchy and the designer responsible for redefining the brand Audrey Hepburn built for the Kardashian era, said on Thursday that he was leaving the brand after 12 years. A successor has not been announced.

Bernard Arnault, chief executive of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the French conglomerate that owns Givenchy, said in a statement, “The chapter Riccardo Tisci has written with the House of Givenchy represents an incredible vision to sustain its continuous success, and I would like to warmly thank him for his core contribution.”

Designer moves have become so common of late they are starting to seem more yawn-inducing than critical. (A brief list of departures, since 2015, include Raf Simons from Dior, Hedi Slimane from Saint Laurent, Alber Elbaz from Lanvin, Alexander Wang from Balenciaga, Consuelo Castiglioni from Marni and, as of last Monday, Clare Waight Keller from Chloé.) But Mr. Tisci’s amicable divorce from Givenchy, rumors of which WWD reported on last month, could have deeper repercussions.

Mr. Tisci had, after all, not only transformed Givenchy into one of LVMH’s most successful brands, but was often held up as a model for the partnership between hot young designer and heritage house. That he was willing to end what appeared to be a happy marriage suggests that the old days of designers staying in place for decades (Karl Lagerfeld has been at Chanel since 1983) may be finally, officially, over.

Linda Fargo, senior vice president for fashion and store presentation at Bergdorf Goodman, said, “I guess destabilization is the new normal.”

When Mr. Tisci joined Givenchy in 2005 the brand was floundering after being led by a quick series of creative directors, including John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Julien Macdonald. In an interview with The Financial Times in 2011, Marco Gobbetti, the former chief executive of Givenchy, said the brand was “a mess, without an identity.” And Mr. Tisci was a 30-year-old upstart Italian with a gothic sensibility who had barely started his own line.

It seemed a surprising match, but Mr. Tisci managed to combine his own harder-edged sensibility with a certain French classicism and a dose of emotion to give Givenchy a newfound relevance: He made crosses, skulls and the perfect white shirt make sense.

Mr. Tisci was also an early adopter of social media, cognizant of the power that those platforms and influencers would have on fashion. He has 1.8 million followers on Instagram, and many of his famous friends appear in his posts as often as they do in the front row of his shows.

LVMH, which also has brands such as Louis Vuitton, Céline and Fendi in its portfolio, does not break down the performance of individual maisons in its financial results. But the number of employees at Givenchy has more than tripled since Mr. Tisci joined the house in 2005, and sales revenue is believed to have grown to around 500 million euros ($539 million) annually. There are now 72 free-standing stores worldwide (compared with seven in 2005), with a Rome flagship set to open this year, and plans for a London store are underway for next year. Last week, LVMH, the world’s biggest luxury group, posted record revenue and profits for 2016, beating expectations because of strong sales in the United States and Europe and a pickup in demand in Asia.

“Riccardo has accomplished everything a designer can do for a brand, clocking a very respectable tenure and creating a fully realized language for them,” Ms. Fargo said.

So, why leave?

Mr. Tisci said in his statement, “I now wish to focus on my personal interests and passions.” But rumors have suggested he may be headed to Versace. It would mean going home to Italy, and to a brand whose unabashed Italian sex and power-woman aesthetic mirrors his own. And Mr. Tisci is close to Donatella Versace (he shocked fashion in 2015 when he featured Ms. Versace, at least nominally a rival designer, in a Givenchy ad campaign).

Besides, the suggestion, briefly beloved of the industry, that a designer needs a timeout from the increasingly endless show seasons, which was posited when both Mr. Simons and Ms. Waight Keller left their posts, increasingly seems like smoke and mirrors. After Dior, Mr. Simons took an even bigger job at Calvin Klein, and Ms. Waight Keller is said to be moving to a different brand (Givenchy?).

Perhaps this is the answer. Once upon a time, a designer’s name was on the door, and his or her heart was in building a legacy. Now it is rare that any creatives start their own line. Rather, the biggest jobs involve putting their talents at the service of someone else’s already gilded name. That may be an interesting intellectual and creative challenge for a while, but once achieved, it no longer holds the same allure, and the search for the next test begins.

“This clearly shows that a lot of folks are about change and evolution, and both designers and brands want to be continually in motion,” said Marc Metrick, president of Saks Fifth Avenue.

We tend to romanticize “the designers” and to bestow upon them some sort of mystical, spiritual connection to the houses where they reign, maybe because what they make touches our bodies and can thus transform our lives, maybe because it involves the alchemy of invention or because designers these days have the golden glow of celebrity. But what Mr. Tisci’s move suggests — what all of this may reveal — is another, more parochial, truth: Being a designer is a job like any other. And people change jobs.

François-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of Kering, suggested when Frida Giannini was ousted from Gucci in 2014 that 10 years was probably long enough for any designer to stay at a brand, and after that it was good to mix things up (10 years also being the number most often chosen as an ideal tenure for a chief executive). At the time, it seemed like a radical idea. It does not any more.