There's only one way to sum up what went on at Givenchy: It was painful. First, the drag of crossing traffic-clogged Paris at rush hour, followed by an interminable wait for the show to begin. Then the pretentious presentation: android-faced women circling endlessly in a white space, trussed up in skirts and dresses so constricting it looked like a special form of cruelty to models.

This was Riccardo Tisci's first stab at Givenchy ready-to-wear, and it was a perplexing move both for the designer and the brand, which has been troubled by several swerves in direction over the past few years. From what was possible to ascertain about Tisci's style, when glimpsed at Givenchy's couture show in July, a kind of gothic romanticism might have been expected. That was nowhere to be seen in this collection, which, with its bandaged, below-the-knee hobble skirts and relentlessly seamed, formfitting jersey dresses, was more an homage to the eighties heyday of Azzedine Alaïa and Thierry Mugler, treading on heavily ugly block-heel shoes.

The confusion here is as much to do with what Givenchy means to the world at large as it is about the difficult contrivances of Tisci's designs. Since Hubert de Givenchy launched his first collection as a few simple staples to get a woman through her everyday life (a trench, a pair of pants, a black turtleneck, an LBD, and so on), the brand has, in recent times, swung from Alexander McQueen's dominatrix severity to Julien Macdonald's unbridled bling. With Tisci in the hot seat, there's yet another change of gear going on—one that seems diametrically opposed to the approachable, commercial image presented by Liv Tyler in the company's fragrance advertising. Essentially, that leaves Givenchy facing the same question as it was when McQueen arrived: At exactly what kind of woman is it aimed? This nerve-grating collection didn't provide any kind of answer.