It's really pointless to talk about inspiration at a Givenchy haute couture presentation, because Riccardo Tisci's inevitable inspiration is haute couture itself. Sometimes, that can lead him down the road to saccharine - after all, those ateliers have enviable skills in encrusting ball gowns with crystal, hand-cut lace sequins and layer upon millions of layers of ruffles, say. And that type of prettiness is an easy sell. But when Tisci combines couture with his baser, more savage instincts, it makes for far more compelling viewing.
For spring 2012, Tisci was feeling hard. Even his soft, ironically, was hard: he looked to the rigid geometry of Art Deco for his inspiration, encrusting his gowns with intricate repeat decoration, say, or smothering them entirely with beadwork. There was an air of Adrian and Travis Banton to some of those offerings, slit and draped at the shoulder and falling in glistening bias folds around the body. A touch retro, but a retro that still has relevance.
Tisci tempered that with savagery - for every sweet draped satin gown, there was a counterpart in crocodile. In fact, scratch that: the counterpart was actually crocodile scales, sliced from hide, reversed and then applied onto silk tulle for a mind-boggling devore suede effect, or elaborate tromp l'oeil alligator created from minute sequins and beads sewn in three-dimensions. Real crocodile got a work-out across a waist-cinching corset, and over a pair of couture leather jackets (imagine!), one in studded and intricately embellished reptile skin, the other buttery suede hand-cut to mirror said hide, both masterpieces of three-dimensional leatherwork. Or maybe that should be masterclasses - this was a lesson in how couture should be done. It's easy to fall into hyperbolic litanies of the techniques utilised in making these extraordinary clothes. Price is but an abstract concept.
The challenge was to make these truly priceless and utterly exceptional clothes feel contemporary - a gauntlet thrown down to many a couturier. Tisci traversed it with skill, adding a touch of the street to the salon. Those leather jackets are well-established methods of chafing at the couture bit - Yves Saint Laurent first pulled out a crocodile Blouson Noir in 1960, after all. The exaggerated chandelier earrings and 'nose sculptures' (a reflection of those Minotaur-inspired septum piercings shown in his menswear last week) that evoked African and Indian tribal jewellery felt edgier, more brutal.
Tisci referenced 'techno-music' in his press notes to explain those body piercings: and, on second glance, there was something punk about them, and about the zippers cutting through transparent silk t-shirts and mermaid-line skirts. They are the remnants of punk, after all - the sort of stereotype designers grasp at to make staid clothes appear edgy. But Tisci's spirit of rebellion is honest: check out that beaded croc-a-like skirt, suspended from a chain strap over a ribbed cotton vest. That felt like something truly revolutionary not just in couture, but in evening wear as a whole.