Givenchy’s New Creative Director Has a Wobbly Debut for Spring 2021

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At a Fashion Week presentation, the set, the music, and the commotion of the guests all contribute to the magic. Without them, a collection is devoid of emotional context. In a year filled with technical difficulties, Givenchy newcomer Mathew Williams’ first collection for the legendary French maison came during a pandemic. Eschewing the show format or a digital presentation, Williams instead chose to showcase his Spring/Summer 2021 collection as a preview of what’s to come, in lookbook format shot against a blank white background. Without the trappings of a set, or the staging of a digital experience, the images were all we had to contend with. Offering such close examination, Williams’ debut at Givenchy suffered.

The first issue was that the collection was overhyped online, starting with a somewhat austere black-and-white photo series of the designer entering his role at Givenchy, posing shirtless while covered in tattoos. Dozens of detail shots were released on social media prior to the collection, depicting logo-stamped rubberized leather, ‘Lover’s Locks’ as a nod to the famed lock-covered Le Pont des Arts, and shrink-wrapped bags. The industrial aesthetic was in keeping with Williams’ streetwise background, and many anticipated a return to the Riccardo Tisci era of the house. 

The collection itself turned out to be a mixed bag, referencing elements that recognizably derived influence from Helmut Lang, Hervé Léger, and Martin Margiela.

Photo: Courtesy of Givenchy

In the new frontier of fashion, remixes are an homage. Virgil Abloh built an entire career on such derivations. It’s not a bad thing, especially when it’s done really well and with inventive twists.

Who is this woman? Where is she going? We haven’t been granted a real sense of the new Givenchy woman yet.

Williams consciously borrowed elements from Givenchy’s past. Sparkling sheer fabrics were often used by Clare Waight Keller to lighten up dense suiting and couture ensembles, and she was a fan of the half-cape topper too, although Williams’ version was more rigid and geometrical with pointed shoulders. He took his own club-kid aesthetic from Alyx and blended it with Tisci’s streetwear in beaded sweatshirts, while slinky slim trousers and knot-front draped halters, at least in theory, hailed from the Julien Macdonald days. The Alexander McQueen years at Givenchy found their way into Williams’ work in the form of horn-heel shoes and devil-horn caps.

Do you know who else had wobbly debuts at Givenchy? Tisci and McQueen. Tisci’s first ready-to-wear collection for the house (Spring/Summer 2006) was panned by one very famous critic with the descriptors “painful” and “nerve-grating”. McQueen was widely criticized for completely upending the aesthetic of the house – which was originally founded by Hubert de Givenchy to provide women with sublimely made basics like LBDs and well-cut wool coats – with his autre debut couture collection ‘Search for the Golden Fleece’. [Let it be noted that the Givenchy Spring/Summer 2021 collection had strong menswear looks, as a saving grace.]

New designers are expected to embed their collections with archival elements, otherwise, we lose a sense of who the brand is, who they are marketing to. It’s not a crime to “Mixmaster General” a house’s heritage, and freshen it up for the modern day. In fact, if Williams hadn’t, he would have been accused of denying Givenchy its identity. In that vein, he kept tailoring at the center, the metier upon which the house has been built. He also put his own inflection on the collection. As a lover of hardware, Williams starts many of his collections there, which is an element that bodes well for bag and accessory lovers. The bags were especially intriguing, given that they were the literal forefront of many of the images; they caught the eye and paralleled the geometry of the clothes superbly. They will be hits, come next season. In the industry, that’s what we call a “bankable” product. 

However, the second issue lies not in the construction of the clothes or the references of the collection, but in the lack of ideas to back it. Who is this woman? Where is she going? We haven’t been granted a real sense of the new Givenchy woman yet. Witness the comment sections of social media buzzing with critiques when the images were released. Refining his ideas will take more than two months, which is all he had to put this collection together. Let’s see where this goes. After all, it was issued as a preview of what’s to come.

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