To some designers, the slowed down pace forced by the pandemic does wonders. Riccardo Tisci‘s latest collection for Burberry is his best yet for the British brand. The autumn-winter 2021 line-up reminds of Tisci’s early work at Givenchy: dark, well-edited, elegant, and perfectly balancing the feminine and the powerful. “Re-thinking a lot” was how he described his pandemic experience. “I had time to slow down. The fashion business is very fast. It’s a huge company. I was ticking boxes, and I was like, ‘Okay, stop.’ ” Rather than over-saturating his runway with multiple market categories and menswear, Tisci presented a focused women’s collection rooted in the ferocious and sensual but viable glamour that is his (slightly forgotten by the public) signature. “Slowly we’ve built an identity, and I realized my identity was very strong within the label,” he said, evaluating his tenure at the house. “It’s the most free collection I’ve done at Burberry.” Tisci expressed it through references to the clothes historically worn in nature, most specifically around the turn of the last century. “Through history, the costume of people going to the forest has been very ‘child-designed’: a naïve outline, but made much more sensual,” he said, explaining his approach to the idea. The ease and adaptability represented by those garments inspired dresses constructed as if from squares sewn together, and transformative takes on tailoring which could be de- and reconstructed by the wearer using closing techniques. There was an arts-and-craftsy character to the collection, backed up by manipulated flag and astronomy motifs and the lashings of eco faux-fur that drove home Tisci’s nature-centric message. His post-pandemic mindset had discovered a kindred spirit in the naturalist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which informed the collection. Fueled by the malaise of the fin-de-siècle, it was a time when instinct and whim were put above rationalism and materialism, when artists felt the call of the wild, and sought to de-program themselves from the rules of society. Before the show, Burberry released a video of a British-ly diverse crew of women reflecting on the meaning of femininity now. And the spoken-word show-opener by the British performer Shygirl, who starred as “Mother Nature,” was an homage to the waves of liberation and celebrations of identity washing over contemporary culture today. “It’s very sexy, I think, but without being vulgar. Femininity is something I really wanted to achieve at Burberry when I arrived, because it’s a very masculine company,” Tisci said, referring to the trench-tastic roots of the house. As with the progressive young generations to which his videos paid tribute, authenticity is key. For Burberry, it’s found in a menswear-y character that its female clientele probably expects. For Tisci, it’s the sensual and almost athletic glitz in which he excels. This collection showed that the two can co-exist on the same runway. As he said, “I feel like I’m starting to see my vocabulary at Burberry.” Finally.
“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.
As far as I didn’t entirely get Riccardo Tisci‘s Burberry, his spring-summer 2021 virtual fashion-show-slash-performance was gripping. As far as humor goes, it doesn’t get much darker than “a love story between a mermaid and a shark.” It was Riccardo Tisci’s loaded reference for his post-lockdown collection. A metaphor for the events of the past seven months, it reflects the loneliness and thirst for freedom we all experienced in quarantine. But in his under-the-sea analogy – a theme that pervaded both garments and graphics – Tisci’s shark (a career trademark we remember from Givenchy) represented something more menacing than mere loneliness. In that sense, it was an accurate depiction of how many of us felt in lockdown: part zen and at one with nature, part terrified out of our minds. For the show, the designer took his models – and muses, like Mariacarla Boscono and Lea T – to a deep, British forest. Under the canopy of nature, every feeling that had washed over the designer during lockdown was released in an ominous performance created by the artist duo Anne Imhof and Elizabeth Douglas, who sang at the live-streamed event. Staged sans audience, the tactile performance that ensued could easily make you forget we were in the middle of a pandemic. Cameras captured models getting dressed inside claustrophobic boxes before they could escape and embrace the freedom of the forest. It all felt very liberating until groups of men in black suits and sunglasses popped up behind them. They followed the models to a clearing where white-clad performers engaged in a ritualistic dance macabre amidst billows of orange smoke that had young commenters on the streaming service Twitch, which hosted the show, rife with quips. Looking at the collection, it was just the right balance of street and fashion. The prints were finally as good as the ones Tisci spoiled as back at the French maison. Summing up, it was a very good collection, edited down (no 150+ looks, thankfully) and desirable. “Being scared made me realize how lucky I am to do this job,” Tisci said. “I want to be more creative. I want to give the best of myself. In the beginning, you want to get to a level you want to get to. When you get there, you’re working towards stabilization. But this was a wake-up call: let’s do our best.”
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.