After 12 years at the helm of Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci’s unfalteringly provocative, tough-as-nails designs still resonate. And let’s not forget, as a designer whose key focus has always been to democratise the fashion industry, Riccardo’s push for more entry-price point designs essentially reshaped the way luxury houses have functioned over the last decade.
“You can’t buy talent, love or ability”
Riccardo’s ability to seamlessly design €300,000 couture dresses and trainers at the same time—with the same amount of passion—comes from his early love of sports. “It was the only thing that gave us freedom – it didn’t have a price. When I was at school, the moment sports were involved we were all on the same level. You can’t buy talent, love or ability, so I got super into basketball from when I was 9-years-old,” says Riccardo, explaining that his love of sportswear was born out of necessity rather than fashion. “I come from a very simple working-class family and we didn’t have any money. I didn’t have money to study or do so many things. Especially in 80s and 90s Italy, there was a big divide between the rich and poor.”
“I dreamt of buying Helmut Lang trousers or a Versace shirt but I couldn’t afford it”
But Riccardo, who started working when he was 9-years-old, never let his financial constraints hold him back and stayed focused on a career in fashion despite lacking the means to achieve it. “I dreamt of fashion but I couldn’t afford to study and I couldn’t be a part of the gang because I didn’t have enough money to buy the clothes. I dreamt of buying Helmut Lang trousers or a Versace shirt but I couldn’t afford it,” he says of growing up in an era steeped in excessive maximalism, with labels like Moschino, Versace and Christian Lacroix dominating the runways.
When he was 13, Riccardo took his first foray into Italy’s underground club scene and watched closely as popular music took a sharp turn from rock to hip-hop and R&B (and as fashion revolted against early 90s maximalism in favour of sleeker minimalist silhouettes). “Helmut Lang, Jil Sander and all these new labels came out and that’s when sportswear became high fashion,” he says. “If you were cool, you were wearing minimalist clothing with trainers like Air Max,” he says, recollecting his earliest memory of the iconic silver Air Max 97 – a trainer that became synonymous with Italian club culture, gabber and graffiti kids everywhere from Rome to Naples.
“If you didn’t wear Air Max, you weren’t cool. It belonged to the bad boys and girls.”
“I was young and rebellious. I was always a very good boy but I loved music, I loved raves and I loved partying,” exclaims Riccardo proudly. “If you didn’t wear Air Max, you weren’t cool. It belonged to the bad boys and girls. Like in England, you’d call this kinda guy a ‘bloke’, you know what I mean? The bad boy, the drug dealer in the club – they were cool. I remember girls were wearing them with thigh-high turtleneck jersey dresses, very short, with bare legs and boys wore them with a baseball cap and tracksuit. If you weren’t wearing that, you weren’t getting in the club.”
Having saved up for months, he bought his first pair of Air Max 97s when he was 12-years-old, so being asked to redesign the shoe was nothing short of an “emotional experience” for Riccardo, who’s never considered sportswear a trend, even whilst at Givenchy. “At fittings, I’d be thinking, ‘Why don’t we put some leggings with this evening dress?’ Why don’t we put better leather or fabrics on trainers?’ My designs have always been inspired by my childhood.”
Whether it’s couture, prêt-à-porter or sneakers, inclusivity has always been imperative, especially when it comes to the price. So when Nike first approached Riccardo, he only agreed to design the collaboration if they agreed on fair, affordable, entry-point pricing.
“A naked woman is a beautiful thing, it’s nature. It’s something that—if you don’t do it in a vulgar way—is classic”
The campaign for his collaboration (shot by iconic Italian fashion photographer Paolo Roversi) sees a naked woman draped in an oversized sweatshirt with just the shoes on. “People kept asking me why, but you know how much of a feminist I am. I support women,” he says. He was raised by a single mother and even today, surrounds himself with his army of strong female muses that includes Mariacarla Boscono, Carine Roitfeld and Marina Abramovic. “A naked woman is a beautiful thing, it’s nature. It’s something that—if you don’t do it in a vulgar way—is classic. Paolo has never really worked with a sportswear brand, so we worked to make this beautiful, romantic, fragile image with this really strong shoe – which is what a woman is today: fragile, beautiful, romantic, who should be strong and speak out for themselves.”
One look at Riccardo’s latest visuals and it’s abundantly clear that the strength and romanticism he imbued in Givenchy is inherently his DNA. Whether it’s gauzy gothic lace couture gowns or a pair of sneakers, he designs garments that pulsate with sex appeal, and if you ask him about them, he’ll give you a real story behind each and every piece. “I think everything has been done and there’s been a lot of confusion on the fashion market, and I think the next thing will be about beautiful things that are iconic. In fashion, I think being honest and classic are going to be the next keyword.”