May 30, 2023

Givenchy is a given—one of the big five—in the canon of French fashion. But unlike Chanel’s societally trailblazing menswear appropriation, Dior’s epoch shifting New Look, Yves Saint Laurent’s counterculturally adjacent runway revolt, or Balenciaga’s abstract invention, the founder’s patrician aspect and perceived conservatism (despite his close association with Balenciaga) means the house’s DNA is harder to glibly categorize.

Until January’s menswear show, Matthew M. Williams’s efforts to mesh his design identity with that opaque house profile were mostly thwarted, first by the Covid-caused impossibility of connecting the audience with the collections, then by over-elaborate collections that were too bombastically presented, and then by a rainstorm. Now, however, he seems to have struck upon an effective recipe through which to appetizingly blend himself with the house that Hubert built.

Today’s show again took place in the École Militaire’s pleasingly clothes-focused Givenchy white box. It repeated elements of January’s menswear formula, while adding fresh womenswear-specific elements. Again we opened with a baseline of waisted black tailoring, of which some (looks 1 and 5) was crafted in the couture atelier. The defining elements were generous box pleats at the back and two inward facing buttoned-down pleats running down each side of the jackets or coats. These sartorially creative details faded in favor of soft-shouldered double breasted mini-dress-jackets edged with organza trains. Then came two leather bouncer Jackets, one black one purple, that are the paradigm pieces of this Williams 2.0 phase at Givenchy. Big shouldered outerwear, a jean pocketed split black leather skirt under a split black mousseline blouse, and a strong shirred black leather dress followed before, at look 18, we hit the first of the adapted Givenchy archive pieces that would punctuate the rest of the collection.

The next few looks in double faced cashmere, variations of what had come before, arguably stretched this opening act out a little too long. Then we suddenly pivoted from deconstructed oversized monochromatic tailoring and separates—sophisticatedly conservative contemporary dressing for sure—into a second act that was all of Williams’s own invention. These were much more radical, layer cake looks in which distressed leathers were placed over knits, zippered leather skirts or kilts, and then houndstooth bonded frayed Japanese denim or kicky pants from menswear fabrics. Although the ingredients were various, these looks were built in similarly aggregate layers and finely reflected a similar instinct expressed back in January.

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Act three was all about dresses. Its beginning was signaled by a trio of emerald green looks that climaxed with a reproduction of a ’70s green silk dress with a floral pattern that inspired the Williams-designed jewelry. Other archival nods included the Hubert-sketched fish print later used in a diagonally running wrap dress that was born out of Williams’s consideration of a McQueen-designed couture dress, originally in snake print. Look 48’s all black floral embroidery in technical fabric was adapted from a Hubert multi colored piece in more traditional fabrics. Inversely reflecting those fulsome box pleats from act one, here the dresses were often cut open at the back. A printed, fabric-overlaid metal mesh dress with a gathered neckline was, Williams conceded, possibly an inadvertent echo of Gianni Versace’s design language: “All respect to the greats, for sure!” Some molded pearlescent corsetry led to a corset-fronted all-tulle closer that, again, came from the couture atelier.

Sitting front row alongside Jared Leto, now several stops into his post-Gucci tour, was Carine Roitfeld, who has been consulting with Williams and Givenchy on womenswear. Said Williams of their interaction: “We have a dialogue about making desirable clothes. I am so inspired by the women around me. And you know, spending so much time with Carine, she understands the house so well. We literally just talk about clothes.” With Roitfeld, Williams is shaping a Givenchy womenswear identity that contains multigenerational, continent-striding multitudes.

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