It takes time for a designer (even a very renowned one) to find his voice again. Riccardo Tisci‘s first seasons at Burberry felt overdone and unedited. But lately, starting from his spring-summer 2021 collection, it seems he finally feels confident with his role at the British house and knows what his vision for Burberry really is. The spring-summer 2022 line-up is quintessentially Tisci: dark, sensual, sharp. Filmed in an urban desert landscape by the Millennium Mills in East London’s Royal Victoria Docks, Tisci’s men’s collection distilled the aesthetic so distinct to his career into his most personal Burberry show to date. There were trench and carcoat references aplenty, but in its pure expression, this was Burberry learning Tisci’s language and not the other way around. He hacked the sleeves off outerwear and re-sculpted it into warrior form, refined the raglan lines of sportswear, and managed to make a halter-neck silhouette look hunky. Combatant chest plates continued those conversations, some reduced to just a ghostly outline on a T-shirt, while the exaggerated straps of workwear conjured visions of skeletons and rib cages, bringing back those delectable Memento Mori or Día de Muertos images Tisci’s work so often evoked in the past. Lifting each color of the Nova check, he covered the whole thing in a thick, luxe, dusty blanket of beige, white, red, and black, with sky blue nods to “the only thing we’ve been able to watch” while trapped lockdown. His interpretation of Burberry’s codes – deconstructed but refined – felt so authentic to his ethos, you wondered why he hadn’t taken this route sooner. “It takes time for a designer to find the right fit when you’re working in a company. For people outside, it seems like you just go there and…” he paused. “It’s an interesting process. The bigger the team, the more interesting and tough and difficult it is. So, it’s good that we’ve arrived here. After three years, the identity is getting clear.”The pandemic has also changed Tisci’s outlook: “I feel at home, even if I’ve been in lockdown. The world is going to restart, and for me, this was fresh. It’s what we want today: expression, freedom, physical freedom; to be ourselves. It’s punk in a positive way: breaking the boundaries.” Watching the world come back to life – “and the young generation pulling crazy looks again!” – Tisci was reminded of his early twenties when he escaped to India and had his eyes opened to another reality. “I remembered my first rave in India, with Shpongle, one of the best DJs in trance music,” he said, referring to the group that also scored the show, “partying in these open spaces, with all this nature, with all these young generations from around the world, being myself and expressing myself. I come from a poor family, but raves were somewhere I could express myself and be on the same level as everybody else.” Imbuing his collection with those memories of rave, it was as if that scene was once again giving Tisci a place to freely express himself.
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.
Riccardo Tisci’s second collection for Burberry left me with the same impression I had after his debut. Too much of content. Again, we’ve got an exhausting line-up of more than 100 looks and some sort of separated themes that relate to British culture. Guests sat in two spaces: one very formal with a 90s rave soundtrack, the other an urban jungle set to the sounds of classical piano. The collection was a matching game of contrasts between street and elegance. While Tisci wants to get as democratic and inclusive with his fashion as possible, it seems like the huge scope of Britishness is just too much for one collection. The second part of the collection, the formal one, was the strongest: we’ve had sharp tailoring, gorgeous, distinctly Burberry trench coats, refined eveningwear. The oyster print was properly posh, while the colour palette – Burb beige and pistachio – looked insanely good. Stella Tennant in a camel total look and a matching beanie was just it. The first part of the collection, the one that’s targeted for younger audience, was like a deja vu from Riccardo’s later Givenchy years, when he went full throttle with printed T-shirts and sweatshirts. Yes, those were bestsellers, but… we’re in 2019. That mould of tartan plaid, Burberry checks, puffers and logos wasn’t neither clubbing fashion, punk or anything close to that. Rather, millennials-minded mumble jumble of references.
London fashion week didn’t see a big debut for a while. But was it worth the wait? Riccardo Tisci at Burberry seemed to be an unlikely choice from the beginning. The brand’s logo and identity changes felt vague and predictable. A post-show, 24 hours only merch shopping via Instagram had to have everyone like ‘wow’, but I guess no one really bothered to buy anything. You might think that 134 looks in a collection have to speak loud and clear about the designer’s vision. That’s what I thought before. Well, maybe that number of looks tried to say a word or two, but in overall it felt like Tisci wanted to seize too much and mention too many things at a time in his first collection for this historic, British brand. The first part of the collection referred to Burberry’s heritage – trench coats, Burbs checks and silk foulards – and played with the notion of conservative, British middle class from the Thatcher era. If Riccardo developed that a bit further and kept the show in these 50 outfits, that might have been a good shot . But then, a dozen of identical menswear looks appeared, aesthetically closer to Prada and 90s Helmut Lang than Burberry. Another ton of womenswear (this time related to the punk movement, unfortunately looking shallow, preppy and… tired) and a portion of men’s unamusing streetwear (think sweatshirts and prints that are very close to Riccardo’s work at Givenchy – this time, however, we’ve got creepy, Victorian families photo instead of Catholic iconography) appeared on the runway. In the end, we had this quite stiff line-up of ladies’ eveningwear. I liked Christopher Bailey’s last seasons at Burberry, but I never really looked at his collections again. Tisci’s debut could have been more focused and gripping, that’s sure, but let’s give him time. And please, narrow down that scope!
I’ve been so excited about Riccardo Tisci‘s stree-style-wise pre-fall 2016 look-book which was photographed in Berlin – but I don’t feel that excitement anymore, if talking of Givenchy‘s menswear outing. It just feels like a look-back at the collections that Tisci delivered for men in the last few years. This season, the mood-board was all about a very narrow and specific theme – it was photographer Frank Marshall’s images of Botswana and its music devotees dressed up in their favourite band t-shirts, fringed biker jackets and cowboy hats. Indeed, it’s quite difficult to imagine the leather-filled Wild West in the heart in this African country. “I looked in the book and saw these gangs, their freedom – it was something very new for me”. There was a free-spirited attitude in the collection, which has also brought a spotlight on Africa’s stereotype-breaking subcultures. However, if you won’t pay attention to what books Tisci holds on his bookshelf, then the menswear part seems to look good, but surely not ground-breaking.
I have the same feelings towards the women’s part, which in reality is the spring-summer 2016 haute couture collection (smartly overlapped with menswear for the next season). Back in the days, when Givenchy’s creative director did separate haute couture presentations, everybody knew his girl well. You surely didn’t want to mess up with her. Her black, lace gown, fur stole and vampish make-up tells it all – she is a romantic, slightly gothic dame. And as you see, she hasn’t changed even a bit, she is still the Tisci girl from the Instagram favoured #GivenchyGang. The haute couture part is a collection of masterpieces (take the hand-embroidered cape with circular patterns), but just like in the case of menswear – doesn’t feel fresh.