EXCLUSIVE: Givenchy parts ways with Clare Waight Keller

Clare Waight Keller is departing Givenchy after an eventful three-year stint as its artistic director, WWD has learned.

The British designer, who catapulted Givenchy’s international prominence – and her own – by dressing Meghan Markle for her royal nuptials in 2018, departs the French brand at the end of her initial contract.

Her last collection was the fall-winter 2020 women’s ready-to-wear, paraded on March 1 during Paris Fashion week.

The development underscores a trend for shorter tenures at heritage brands, and sets the stage for yet another reinvention at the storied couture house, controlled by luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton since 1998.

“Focusing on a world based on haute couture has been one of the highlights of my professional journey,” Waight Keller said in a statement shared first with WWD.

“I have shared so many incredible moments with the brilliant Givenchy ateliers and design teams: Your exceptional talent and dedication will forever remain in my memories. My heartfelt thanks go out to each of the unsung heroes and heroines behind the scenes, for their contribution from product to communications and retail, and every global team member, partner and supplier in between.”

Givenchy said it would announce a new “creative organization” at a later date.

Given the absence of an artistic director, and factory shutdowns amid the coronavirus outbreak, Givenchy has canceled its women’s pre-spring collection, and it will not produce a fall 2020 couture collection. It plans to prepare a big men’s collection – combining pre-spring and runway – for sale in its showrooms in June.

Meanwhile, the shelf life of its spring-summer 2020 and fall-winter 2020 collections is to be extended in its own boutiques, a spokesman noted.

Waight Keller was the first woman to lead Givenchy since it was established in 1952. After founder Hubert de Givenchy retired in 1995, the house saw a revolving door of designers: John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Julien MacDonald. Tisci took over the label in 2005, putting it back on the design map with his daring, Goth-tinged fashions during a stellar 12-year tenure.

Among Waight Keller’s key accomplishments was bringing couture back to the runway – Tisci had opted for static presentations, or sprinkling it into his men’s shows – and establishing Givenchy as the go-to brand for Markle’s dressier occasions, including Royal Ascot. She also continued the brand’s momentum on the red carpet.

She took an eclectic approach to Givenchy’s image, first mining masculine-feminine territory in her collections and ad campaigns, later conscripting young pop star Ariana Grande as an ambassador, and then an older, unlikely pairing: Marc Jacobs and Charlotte Rampling.

Sidney Toledano, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Fashion Group, thanked Waight Keller “for her contribution to Givenchy’s latest chapter.

“Under her creative leadership, and in great collaboration with its ateliers and teams, the maison reconnected with the founding values of Hubert de Givenchy and his innate sense of elegance. I wish Clare all the best in her future endeavors,” he said.

Waight Keller largely plied a tasteful, aristocratic brand of couture occasionally spiked with toughness or subversion – a touch of latex here, a giant wing-like backpack there. She dedicated her fall 2018 couture show to the founder, who died that year at age 91, by celebrating “his timeless elegance and grace” and referencing his “iconic creations, technique and personal lexicon.”

Popular with the fashion press, she won largely enthusiast reviews for her shows, particularly for couture, with her women’s ready-to-wear pinging between a variety of Eighties and Nineties references and an array of styles, from ravaged denim and modernist tailoring to ruffled dresses.

She boosted the profile of Givenchy’s men’s division by including couture looks for him on the catwalk, and scoring a guest-designer appearance at the Pitti Uomo trade fair in Florence in June 2019. However, the brand did not make significant headway with leather goods, the linchpin and lucrative category upon which many luxury brands depend.

Waight Keller scored the British designer of the year award for women’s wear at the 2018 Fashion Awards in London, and made the Time 100 List list in 2019.

When she arrived at Givenchy, the designer made clear that the boho romance of her six years at Chloé, her previous job, was not her true wheelhouse.

“How I’m perceived here in Paris is actually really different than who I am as a person and as a designer,” she said the night of her couture debut in March 2017. “I started out in the Nineties wearing black for about 10 years. The thing that’s been really exciting coming here, I feel like I’ve put a lot of me back into it.”

The British designer joined Chloé in 2011 after a six-year stint designing Pringle of Scotland. A calm, soft-spoken woman with a ready smile, Waight Keller brought a sure and steady hand to Chloé, rejuvenating its ready-to-wear and accessories business and winning largely positive reviews for her collections.

She was a popular and approachable figure among fashion’s upper echelons, and struck friendships with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli and Jacobs.

Boasting a strong background in knitwear and men’s wear, Waight Keller served as senior women’s designer at Gucci during the Tom Ford era, and had also worked at Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.

During her final days at Givenchy, she took to her Instagram account, which counts 432,000 followers, to document some behind-the-scenes highlights of fittings and photo shoots.

Her next move could not immediately be learned.

Givenchy recently welcomed a new president and ceo, Renaud de Lesquen, who previously held the same titles at Dior Americas.

A suave but discreet executive, de Lesquen has been in the New York-based role for four years, and previously served the same amount of time as president of Dior China. Prior to that, he spent 10 years at L’Oréal in Paris, as president and ceo of YSL Beauté, and before that as global president of Giorgio Armani Beauty.

See More from WWD:

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