In this time of crisis, fashion seems to be polarising in two directions to try and ensure survival. One camp advocates cheapening fabrics, standardising cuts and truly industrialising the manufacturing process - mass-production, for the masses. The second approach offers the precise invert, rarefying and elaborating on an ostensible ready-to-wear product to culminate in a precious and largely handcrafted one-off. Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy has firmly pitched his tent in the second camp, and with an enviable Haute Couture atelier at his disposal, rightly so. But if sometimes his collections seem a little too rarefied to function in the real world (as the recent introduction of a more basic, capsule line of Givenchy blouses and trousers seems to prove), for S/S 2010 he struck a balance between fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fantasy, and financial pragmatism. Tisci began by showing us the commercial core, the neat jackets, taut leggings and those interesting trouser-shapes he's been helping to popularise: this season's was a dropped-crotch jodphur (it looked far better than it sounds). The majority of these were spun out in black-on-black, likewise the new Givenchy shoe - a teetering, slant-back wedge with 'cult' whispering from every grain of polished calfskin. There were hints of what was to come in some of that black-on-black texture-play, and a white wool-jersey jacket striped with black leather. What this indicated was a slant towards optical illusion, namely the monochrome prisms of H. R. Giger and M. C. Escher. Tisci has never before revealed his aptitude with print, bar tribal-patterned outings at Haute Couture. Here, he let his skill run riot, pleating, rucking, tailoring and twisting printed fabrics in intense patterns of black and white, or olive, khaki and navy. Print smothered outfits, blurring the line between stretched legging, floating babydoll layers and hefty tailored shoulders. Some of those shapes betrayed a Middle eastern flavour, and indeed the patterns resembled Moorish tiles, their graphic power further intensified by Tisci's artful manipulation of the fabric plane. Later, these same patterns were flattened into white, the difference in colour instead being marked out with shifting balances of sheer and opaque like fiendishly complex lacework. Was this ready-to-wear? Could this ever be ready-to-wear? I truly hope so, because in these outfits Tisci achieved something truly outstanding. It's a pity, really, that these leapt out so stunningly, as they somewhat overshadowed some of the other pieces, lovely as they were. Givenchy built his reputation on that Bettina blouse in the fifties - of all his successors, Tisci is the only one to finally pay fitting homage without pastiche, frothing it into a neat, pleat frock, part party dress part outsized Elizabethan ruff, with wicked flirtatious undulation at the hem. Occasionally, those froths were hacked off, slung over skinny trousers or wrapped around an expertly-tailored blazer. Twin those pleates in purest white or fierce black leather with a bell-sleeved blouse, and it all begins to look a little Grecian - by way of the Proedriki Froura - ditto the tightly-draped chiffon goddess frocks. These were accomplished, but nothing we hadn't seen before. It was Tisci's print play that left me gobsmacked - if they can ever conceivably make their way into a Givenchy boutique, I'm sure I won't be the only one reaching for my wallet. What better antidote to a recession could there be than pure, unadulterated imagination?
Was this ready-to-wear? Could this ever be ready-to-wear? I truly hope so, because in these outfits Tisci achieved something truly outstanding.