The history of haute couture is studded with magnificent obsessives like Cristobal Balenciaga and Charles James. Even if Riccardo Tisci's name never makes it onto that list, his latest Couture collection for Givenchy proved that he shares the grandmasters' fanatical devotion to realizing an intensely personal vision through cut, cloth, and, in Tisci's case, extraordinarily elaborate ornamentation. This season, he opted out of a proper show in favor of intimate presentations, where he could better highlight detailed pieces like the painstakingly patchworked leather coat or the dress in Chantilly lace where the pattern of the lace had been duplicated in appliquéd leather (the dress ended in a cascade of dégradé ostrich feathers—Tisci considers dégradé, lace, and fringe-work his signatures).
The darkest color in the collection was the chocolate brown on those feathers. Otherwise, everything was white, flesh-colored, or gold, with a salon dedicated to each shade. Even the baboon fur that was attached to a swallowtailed knit jacket was spookily bleached. Fact is, Tisci didn't need black to exercise his gothic inclinations. He claimed his inspiration was Frida Kahlo and her three obsessions: religion, sensuality, and, given the painter's lifelong battle with spinal pain, the human anatomy. The zipper pulls were little bones, a belt was a spinal column re-created in porcelain. The dominant motif of the collection was the skeleton, laid out flat in the lace appliquéd on a long tulle column, or rendered in three dimensions in obsessively dense clusters of crystals, pearls, and lace on the back of a jacket in double silk duchesse satin. Nestled in the middle? A tiny ceramic skull sprouting angel wings. At one point during his presentation, Tisci rather tellingly muttered, "A romantic way to see death."
That jacket was suspended in the all-white "ceramic" room. In the "skin" room, Tisci showcased lace catsuits, one decorated with a Swarovski crystal skeleton that took 1,600 hours to create. In the third, "gold" room was a lace dress that demanded six months of work. Dresses encrusted with gold paillettes, stones, and beads were almost too heavy to lift, despite being revealingly scissored away at the waist. If the detail was breathtaking, it was also quite numbing in its intensity. The last room featured a giant portrait by Willy Vanderperre of Tisci's muses wearing the dresses, seen from the back. "I love that view," Tisci explained, "the spine of people." Walk round the photo and there was the same view from the front, the women all posed reverentially like hand maidens. In obsession is born the cult of couture.