Take Charles Baudelaire, the romantic and doomed 19th century author of “Les Fleurs du Mal,” a collection of poetry so scandalously decadent it was banned in his native France until 1949. Transport him to Florence’s Villa Palmieri, a palatial abode surrounded by classical English, French and Italian gardens once visited by Queen Victoria, with its own steamy history stretching back to the late 14th century as the dream setting for the erotic tales of “The Decameron.” Add a burst of South Korean-inspired male flamboyance, speed forward to Spring/Summer 2020, and you have what Givenchy’s Creative Director Clare Waight Keller affectionately calls a “Modern Glitch.”
For her first menswear show last night as this season’s Pitti Uomo Special Guest Designer, Waight Keller took this clash of old world romanticism and cutting-edge technical prowess—patched tapestry coats embroidered with mirror-like paillette cut beads, kayak anoraks in velvet nylon, three-button jackets in iridescent cottons—and let it fly. “I wanted a fusion between the old world and the incredibly modern, to create something like a glitch,” says Waight Keller. “That moment when the computer merges everything together.” The figure of a dark dandy like Baudelaire became a source of inspiration for the designer when she learned that Hubert de Givenchy’s uncle was a tapestry maker. “This idea of a jacket in old, patched together tapestry fabric seemed poetic to me, especially when you put it into the way men dress at the moment, this sort of hybrid street style mix of technical sport with tailoring. ” Some of Baudelaire’s poems found their way into the collection, with its mint green florals that turn up in unusual silhouettes. There’s a cropped pant that rides shockingly low on the hips, for example, covered in outdoorsman pockets. The anoraks, adorned with calligraphy scrawls, are so light they can be rolled up into a ball, but they billow in the back with the slightest movement like the capes of superheroes.
Waight Keller lived and worked in Florence for seven years designing for Ralph Lauren and Gucci, so when Pitti called to propose doing a show here, the time and place seemed right to launch her standalone mens collection. “ I know the feeling Pitti Uomo has. There’s this sort of sartorial presence on the streets here. And I love the idea of showing in a spectacular setting like a villa. My first priority at Givenchy was Haute Couture because it runs throughout the house, then showing men and women together. Now I’m ready to concentrate on men by themselves.”