I’ve always loved the stories of unknown people who finally reach success, without any help from a generous mentor or a famous family; in particular, the story of Riccardo Tisci has always had a particular charm: he was born in Taranto, South Italy, he was brought up near Como and studied at Central St Martin’s in London. In 2005 he was relatively unknown to most of the fashion insiders (even if he had already presented his own collection in Milan), when he was chosen to replace Julien McDonald at Givenchy. I remember reading Givenchy spring 2005 collection (that was the second collection designed by Tisci) review by Sarah Mower with a mix of disappointment and unbelief, because I didn’t agree with what she wrote and because I realized the strikingly personal vision of Tisci was unique and probably too original to be grasped after two collections only (the first was Haute Couture fall 2005).
After some years and the success of his collections, Tisci’s creativity is appreciated but this hasn’t tamed it: as you can see from the amazing A Magazine issue curated by him, his peculiar aesthetic mixing gothic, the fascination of death and funerals, anatomy and romanticism is still going strong. Fall 2010 Haute Couture collection, for example, is a masterpiece of tailoring and needlecraft, where the main theme comes from the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead . Each dress is a masterpiece, completely hand-made, and reveals the maximum care of details; furthermore, each dress has got a name which refers to an element of the Mexican festivity, so the collection can be seen as a journey through the traditions of the most mysterious day of the year.
Catrina is a long dress in stretch nude tulle embroidered with blush-coloured crystals, hand-cut lace motifs and ostrich feathers. The name refers to La Calavera Catrina, one of the most famous figures of the Day of the Dead: originally a 1913 zinc etching by the Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada, it is a female skeleton wearing elegant clothes, and symbolizes the democratic value of Death.
Los Angelitos is a long dress in blush-coloured tulle embroidered with cut-out lace and hand-braided silk georgette motifs, worn with a bodysuit in nude stretch tulle embroidered with cut-out lace and a jacket in matching hand-braided goat fur. The back of the jacket is stunning, a mix of a tail coat and an exoskeleton. As written in note 1, the name of this outfit comes from the dead children, celebrated on November 1st.
La Llorada is a jumpsuit in blush-coloured tulle embroidered with lace and silk satin motifs, worn with a bodysuit in nude stretch tulle embroidered with lace applications and a jacket in silk gazar embroidered with matching hand-cut silk fringes. The bell-bottom jumpsuit is one of the most amazing pieces of the collection, and the overlapping lines of fringes resemble the ribs of a skeleton. The name refers to the collective weeping of families and friends of the dead on their graves, during the vigil of the Day of the Dead.
Mariposa is a long dress in blush-coloured silk organza and tulle embroidered with silk thread and fringes. The amazing embroideries and the shape of the hand-cut tulle sections actually resemble the wings of a monarch butterfly, hence the name. According to the tradition, butterflies are believed to bear the spirits of ancestors.
Veladoras is a long corseted dress hand-embroidered all over in an open lace design with golden thread, fine golden chain and crystals, worn with a tail coat embroidered with hand-cut gold metallic sequins and crystals. My words fail to describe the intricacy and the beauty of the embroideries and embellishments on this outfit. The name refers to a tradition of the Mexican state of Morelos: to enter the house where someone has recently died, visitors give veladoras (small wax candles) to show respect for the family of the dead.
Coronas is a long corseted dress embroidered all over with hand-cut gold metallic sequins and crystals. It is reminiscent of Veladoras, but its shape is – if possible – more charming, with the sports opening on the back and the mermaid line. Both dresses are accessorised with golden spiked belts. The name refers to the wreaths, made from satin ribbons, that are put in cemeteries as offerings.
Copafeira is a long dress in silk tulle hand-painted in a degrade from darkest peat brown to ivory, embroidered with ostrich feathers and laser-cut lace panels, worn with a long jacket embroidered with fine bands of matching brown leather. The jacket reminds me of the iconic Zac Posen dress at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, all made of thin leather bands, connected with hooks and eyes. The name is a reference to copal, a resin produced from plant sap, often from trees of the Copafeira genus (the name of the genus means “copal-bearer”).
Calavera is a long dress in bone white tulle embroidered with hand-cut lace motifs and cornelli work in silk chiffon, ribbon and thread. It is worn with a jacket in matching cotton double duchesse embroidered with alabaster stones, silk thread and three dimensional ‘porcelain’ coated lace motifs, and a bodysuit in fine knitted silk. This is one of the most impressive outfits: the dress is so romantic, with the lace motifs and the corset-like belt at the waist, while the jacket is a masterpiece, with all those intricate decorations and complex cuts. Calavera is the skull, one of the main and most obvious symbols of the Day of the Dead: in particular, it can be referred to skull-shaped candies (calaveras de azucar) and baked products.
Flor de Muerto is a long dress in bone white tulle embroidered with three dimensional ‘porcelain’ coated lace motifs, alabaster stones, crystals and pearls trapped in tulle, worn with a bodysuit in fine ribbed knitted silk. The decorations on the back of the skirt resemble the spine of a skeleton. The name refers to orange Mexican marigolds, called cempasúchitl, which are thought to attract the souls of the dead to the offerings at Día de los Muertos.
Calacas is a long dress in bone white tulle embroidered all over with a lace design in silk thread, worn with a jacket in matching cotton double duchesse embroidered with three dimensional ‘porcelain’ coated lace motifs. The dress – worn by Mariacarla Boscono, Tisci’s muse – is wonderful, but the jacket is stunning, reminding the jacket of Calavera outfit, but longer. Calacas are skeletons, another obvious symbol of the Day of the Dead: they are always depicted as joyful, not mourning, wearing festive clothing, dancing and playing instruments, because no dead soul likes to be thought of sadly (according to a Mexican/Aztec belief). This idea of skeletons reminds me of the stop-motion works of the Quay Brothers, who heavily pay homage to Victorian and gothic culture, too.
What are your opinions on this collection? I know these amazing dresses will be owned by a very few lucky women (at the moment, Givenchy Haute Couture clients are 27), but the mastery and the creativity behind these creations can be enjoyed by everybody.
 November 1st is known as Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) but also as Día de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels) and November 2nd as Día de los Muertos or Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead).