A 20-piece string orchestra sat in sets of two on chairs that were suspended in various heights off the floor on support columns in the Sorbonne’s “faculté de medicine” gallery where the Givenchy show was held. Upon entering guests knew they were in for a treat at Clare Waight Keller’s Haute Couture Spring Summer 2020 collection called “Une Lettre D’Amour”.
Boxed in pink, guests arrived at their seats for a scant explanation behind the collection which referenced “gardens as metaphors” and specifically calling out in the release “walled ‘rooms’ of Sissinghurst to the orchards of Monk’s House and Hubert de Givenchy’s Clos Fiorentina.” Setting the mood, a somewhat noxious floral smell was pumped into the room. But both the collection to follow and the set design veered away from a flower theme that could have easily gone saccharine.
Instead, this was a dramatic overture in which Waight Keller worked “a sapphic romance” between the woman and flower making her body the stem and the clothes the petals. But she toyed with another romance as well, one that she explores in her work one from ‘woman to woman” (a post-show release would amend it to include ‘man to mentor’.) But how that plays out in the designer world is a popular duality in design; the feminine and the masculine sides of the female psyche which translate to dress.
The show opened with tailored white suits as well as several black tuxedo-inspired looks that appeared throughout the show. Quite often these came with a floral touch such as a baby’s breath like spray that lined the sleeves of a black evening suit jacket. The effect was more graphic than soft.
Alluring as they were the real drama arrived in the gowns (and other riffs on gowns) that borrowed their shapes and colors from the iris, pansy, gypsophila, camelia, marigold, violet periwinkle and tuberose (maybe that was the scent being pumped in?) that among others were the inspiration she harvested thus creating her own garden-variety symphony of couture clothing.
Waight Keller worked her voluminous vocabulary derived from Hubert de Givenchy channeled to her via the archives into some of the most-breath taking works yet – flounced and dramatic shoulders; parachutes skirts with blossoming bellies and pockets; curly-cues of fabrics to become a mesmerizing pattern of yards of plissé Vichy checks; swaths of pleated and tiered organza bustled so high in the front of gown that it almost blocked the face. It was anchored by a smart red belt (in fact, the graphic belt showed up in more than one look) – which like the contrast color monochromatic tights and pumps that grounded each look – added a modern, fierce accent. An orange capelet paired with an extremely fitted pencil skirt or worn with capri pants and sweeping train furthered the designers’ love of the coral hue and sent the flower theme home.
The drama was heightened by the music which ebbed and flowed from dips to a crescendo and set the stage for a series of “millefeuille ombrelle hats” in massive proportion. The layered and oversized sun hats balanced the large proportions of the dress and shielded the model like a cocoon. It was, as they say in fashion, a moment. And a fresh element to the shapes and techniques that have guided the designers’ work at Givenchy. Like the musical notes that can be rearranged to create a new song, Waight-Keller rearranged her design notes to create a collection that was a hit with the critics. After this ‘sew’, the next garden to reap will be whether or not her Hollywood faithful will embrace these voluminous styles or stick to the more body-con style they seem to prefer on the Red Carpet.