Up Close And Personal With Clare Waight Keller Of Givenchy

BAZAAR had an in-depth conversation with the winner of 'British Designer of the Year Womenswear'

This interview and spread appeared in Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore October 2018 issue.

On May 19, 2018, it took the simplest white gown to announce the arrival of Clare Waight Keller to the world at large. The Artistic Director of Givenchy became a household name the minute she was spotted adjusting Meghan Markle’s wedding dress on the West Steps of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. The Birmingham-born Brit had worked on the gown for over five months—while the rest of the world speculated which designer would be granted the honour—and finally, on that fateful day, the gown was revealed to a global audience of over 1.9 billion. You could say it was a designer’s ultimate wet dream; a runway show bar none. Waight Keller’s star status was sealed.

“For me, the main thing coming into this House was to bring a sense of the couple. Because when I arrived, the men’s and women’s businesses were equal. In many houses, the men’s is much, much less; and for me, it was genuinely powerful that both sides were equal. I wanted to bring that back into the brand as the core at the heart of the message. That’s what I’ve been working and building on, which is why you see men’s and women’s every time I do a collection—from pre-collections, to haute couture and ready-to-wear. It’s really about efficiency.”

This no-nonsense attitude seems to prevail over Waight Keller’s reign at Givenchy. Her first couture collection in January was an exercise in strict tailoring and impeccable proportions. The way she layered coats over glittery gowns and paired black jackets with soft diaphanous skirts was a message that the new Givenchy woman can be equal parts strong as well as feminine; a modern-day heroine. For Waight Keller, that meant focusing on one body part in particular: “There’s something very powerful about the shoulder. Everything has a strong shoulder. That was something I talked to him (“him” being Hubert de Givenchy, the late founder of the House who passed away earlier this year) about as he believed that everything comes from the shoulder.”

Waight Keller’s approach to couture is confident and self-assured. That debut spring/summer couture collection garnered enormous digital traction, with plenty of mentions at haute couture week. “I think it’s great that people were talking about it! For me, it’s something that’s resonating [with people]. It started with couture because there was a lot of buzz at the couture show. Probably because it was my first one, but also because I did some things differently from what the other couture houses were doing. We had a small, intimate setting; the models walked very slowly through the space. The approach between men’s and women’s created a distinct atmosphere, and it was very impactful on the collection itself. I carried those elements through to the fall/winter 2018 show in March. Again, I created the iconography, the feeling of being in a real atmosphere and absorbing the essence in the collection; all the digital assets that were put out, which were quite deep in the storytelling of the collection, really captured the audience.”

Looking at Waight Keller’s creations up close, the strong shoulders and strict tailoring made the collection almost severe in their execution. When asked about this, Waight Keller told me, “The customers were very happy about the tailoring, which is great as there aren’t too many couture houses doing tailoring. So, that’s a very big message they’ve been drawn to. Interestingly, I had a huge reaction to the menswear. That was completely unexpected because obviously, it’s [our] first time doing men’s couture. There were only four looks. So it wasn’t like a massive menswear presence but so far, there have been an enormous amount of requests for men’s couture.”

And it’s not just this unified vision of mens- and womenswear that has given Waight Keller such early success at Givenchy. It’s also her attitude towards sustainability that’s bringing her acclaim.

A power brand for the modern woman by a British woman in a French House—a true embodiment of globalisation, especially when it breaks down the traditional notions of fashion that we have been accustomed to. One thing’s for sure, Waight Keller has had international fame thrusted upon her tailored shoulders, thanks in no small part to a certain white gown. But look beyond the five-metre train of embroidered lace, past the 1.9 billion viewers of the Royal Wedding, and there stands a woman with a clear fashion vision—and it includes men, women, people of colour, strong tailoring and a pledge for sustainability. Join her for the ride.

This interview has been condensed for clarity. 

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