Imagine the Queen announcing that the palace corgis were being retired in favour of a pack of rottweilers, and you get an idea of the surprise at Paris fashion weekas news travelled down the front row that Riccardo Tisci would take over design duties from Christopher Bailey at Burberry.
Burberry is best known for its classic trenchcoats. Riccardo Tisci made shark teeth and nose ring motifs at Givenchy, the label which he designed for 12 years until January 2017. At Givenchy, Tisci took a Parisian house best known for its links with Audrey Hepburn and put smoking, burnt-out wrecks of cars on the catwalk, Kardashians in the front row, and emeralds dangling from the septums of models.
Burberry champions British traditions, and dressed a smiling Duchess of Cambridge for last year’s Vogue cover. Tisci is known for darkly subversive, unapologetically sexual, deeply urban, boundary-pushing fashion and talked Kanye West into wearing a black leather kilt during his 2011 Watch the Thrones tour.
The announcement indicates Gobbetti intends a root and branch overhaul of Burberry’s brand image. He has an impressive track record: after the re-energisation of Givenchy alongside Tisci, he moved to Celine, where he masterminded the transformation of that brand into a profitable and agenda-setting star of Paris fashion week.
Gobbetti has already jangled shareholder nerves at Burberry by indicating that he intends to reposition the brand to be more upmarket. “By reenergising our product and customer experience to establish our position firmly in luxury, we will play in the most rewarding, enduring section of the market,” he said in a statement. The appointment of Tisci to a role where many were expecting a British appointment is a bold move, but analysts cannot fail to be impressed by Tisci and Gobbetti’s joint history of commercial success at Givenchy, where stores did a brisk business in crisp modern tailoring and sleek black leather handbags during their tenure.
Tisci will bring a mass audience, and a youthful following, to Burberry. He was the designer of Kim Kardashian’s wedding dress for her marriage to Kanye West, of the leather hot pants and thigh-high boots worn by Rihanna on her Diamonds world tour in 2013, and of Beyonce’s latex gown at the 2016 Met Gala. He will be based in London, where he last lived during the 1990s as a student at Central St Martins.
Tisci has been ahead of the curve in almost all of the most important ways fashion has shifted over the last decade. He has a longstanding love of streetwear. He pioneered the sweatshirt as a statement fashion piece during his tenure at Givenchy, and is a respected designer of trainers, partnering with Nike for a long-running collaboration.
When Tisci began putting the Givenchy slogan onto sweatshirts, critics sniped that it was moving a storied brand downmarket, but now that streetwear brands are power players – the New York based skatewear label Supreme was recently valued at $1bn – the alignment looks impressively prescient.
One standout line from Burberry’s announcement notes that Tisci’s “skill in blending streetwear with high fashion is highly relevant to today’s luxury consumer”. His spring/summer 2013 collection was one of many Givenchy shows which experimented with religious imagery, a theme which has stayed in the fashion consciousness since. In two months’ time, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination will open at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Androgyny and gender fluidity are also recurring themes in Tisci’s collections, and he has championed the career of Lea T, who became the first transgender model to land a major beauty contract when she signed for Redken in 2014. Tisci employed Lea as an assistant and fit model, and cast her in a Givenchy advertising campaign in 2010.
In the year since Tisci left Givenchy, rumour had persistently linked him with Versace. His close friendship with Donatella, and the fierce, unapologetically sexual aesthetic which he shares with her, led many to believe he was being lined up as her successor.