Last year, after over a decade at the house, designer Riccardo Tisci walked away from his job as creative director of Givenchy. A brand that he put back on the fashion map, making it an epicen- ter of cool, street inspired ready-to-wear collections that brought an entirely new fan base to the house. And on the other end of the spectrum Tisci also designed cutting edge haute couture that gave a breath of creative fresh air to the sartorial art form. Along the way he dresses some of the most beautiful women in the world and became friends with living legends like Kim Kardashian, artist Marina Abramović and fashion editor Carine Roitfeld.
During his whirlwind career what has kept Tisci humble and his feet firmly planted on the ground is his family. He is the youngest of nine siblings and the only son to a mother who lost her husband when the designer was just four years old. This loss bonded an already close knit family even tighter together and the designer has often spoken about how his family has inspired him over the years.
Even after he left home at the age of 17 to study in London at the prestigious Central Saint Martins fashion school, Tisci found a way to recreate this sense of family through a close circle of friends who have been by his side since those early college years. Its these friends, as well as a handful that joined the group during his time at Givenchy, and his family that have been the focus of Tisci’s time over the past year.
When we spoke Tisci had just finished lunch with his mother who had recently been released from the hospital after a health scare. The event had the designer in a very reflective mood about his life, what he wants to do next and why now having a son has become something very important to him.
You had a rather unique environment growing up, sur- rounded pretty much exclusively by women. How do you think that shaped you during your formative years?
Well this is the only thing I have ever known. And I think it just really showed me very clearly how powerful women are. I think I really learned from my sisters and my mom is how to deal with problems. Because life is beautiful, but sometimes we have to deal with difficult situations, this happens to everybody, and it shapes who you are. And I find that women are very brave when it comes to facing problems in life, but they also approach them in a positive way. Something that I think men, now that I am grown up and have had more time to interact with men as well, that they tend to be more pessimistic.
So I grew up with nine very strong women, in a poor family from Puglia. When I was young we moved from the south of Italy up to Como in the north, and at that time there was a real prejudice in Italy between people from the north and south. Anyway, as you know, I lost my father when I was four years old. So we all had to pitch in and we all started working when we were very young. I would see how my sisters would deal with society and their work and the people around them. And I remember they were so strong, like warriors, very tough. And then at night they would come home, it was like they would take off their armour and they would become these sweet creatures. Very funny and open, just completely different than how they were when they were outside the front door of the house. It was like, if somebody had a problem then everybody got involved to help. They were very collaborative. I don’t agree when people say that women don’t collaborate well together. I think actually, when a lot of women all come together they can really solve a lot of problems.
So, you were the youngest child, with 8 older sisters. How did you create a space for yourself among all these women? Did you try to differentiate yourself and stand out?
So I might not have had any men in my house, but to be honest, my mom she is like a man. She is a real tough woman and she is the toughest one of all of us. So my mom was my reference. And my sisters, I have to be honest, they never treated me as a kid. They always spoke to me, and treated me, like an adult. But then of course I would find a different connection with each of them. One of them is like my mother, one of them is like my friend, one of them you can play games with, I would find a different thing about each one of them that we would build a connection through. But we are all very collaborative with each other.
Everybody talks with everybody else, we all pretty much get along with each other. In our house there wasn’t any diffe- rence between men and women. And this is why I just naturally grew up as a feminist. I remember when I started working I was so surprise to discover how the world treated women differently. It was a real shock. Because in my house there was no difference. I was washing the clothing, my sisters were fixing things when they broke in the house, taking care of the garden, they did everything and there was never any question about if they were capable of it. They just did it.
What do you think, for somebody who grew up not seeing any difference between men and women, about this whole Time’s Up movement and the floodgates that have opened in terms of the issue of sexual harassment?
I think it is really good that it is happening. I think society will only become stronger when women have a bigger voice. The only thing we can thank Donald Trump for is that he gal- vanized women to speak up and stand up for themselves and each other. And I only hope that in the next decade we will see less and less discrimination between men and women, different cultures and different races. Because the world is facing a lot of problems that we need to deal with together. Like humans are destroying nature, so we need humans to start working together to try and fix the damage they have done to the environment. We are all on this planet together.
It has been over a year now that you walked away from your job as the artistic director of Givenchy. What has it been like to have this time to reconnect with family and friends?
Everyone thinks that I took this sabbatical year to rest after time at Givenchy. But I have really been working non-stop since I was 9 years old. I didn’t want to look back on my life and have regrets. I took it off because of my family. I could always find a bit of time for myself while I was working. But I realized that my nieces and nephews were growing up so fast, and my mom was getting older, and yes I spent time with them over the years, but it always felt like that when I went for a visit or we went on a holi- day that there was always this clock ticking away. I was always watching the clock, that I couldn’t ever just be there with them one hundred percent. Because of all the success at Givenchy my job became a 24-hour thing. So I wasn’t able to have the quality time I wanted to with my family.
So this year I just took the time. The time to do simple things like go shopping, see my sisters kids in their Christmas play, go to the movies. To just sit and talk about everyday things, to talk about life. When I get older I want to have these memories. I know they will sustain me and they have made my relationship with my family even stronger.
How has it been over this past year with your fashion family. The band of friends that you build for yourself over your career? How have those relationships evolved?
Well, there are two things I have two say. I left Italy I was 17 and I went to London and I build my own sort of family of friends there. You know that most of these people who work with me I have known for 20-25 years. These are people who knew me when I was nobody. Then when I got to Givenchy I build another sort of family, a bigger, broader family with people like Marina Abramović and Carine Roitfeld who I now get to see and talk to more than I could before. You can call them a group, or tribe or whatever you want, but to me these people are family. They are the people who stick with you no matter what. For better or worst I am a very faithful friend. If I have a problem with someone I always try and work it out. When I consider a friend is part of my family I don’t drop them. I fight for them, I always try and find a solution and I always try and share my successes with them. For me, not so many people know how to live as a family with friends.
What does you look for in a person? I mean, you have already a ton of friends...
There are three things that really attract me to people; honesty, humour and intelligence. And when I say intelligence, I am not talking about someone who has a great education or a lot of culture. For me intelligence means people that have a strong personality, who are very open and honest about things. This is what I grew up with, in my family we have always been honest to each other. We’ve always been trying to be positive. I considered my mom and my sisters intelligent because they survived and they are survivors, they have an emotional intelligence.
I know that your mom just had a bit of a health scare and I know how close the two of you are. Did that experience put your life in a new kind of perspective?
It has always been my fear to lose my mom, you know. This time, when she had a heart attack on the 1st of January, it was a trauma for everybody. I rushed back from my holiday in Brazil to be with her in the hospital. And I spend all day and night with her. I was looking at her while she was recuperating and I was thinking a lot. I think you need to prepare yourself, parents are not immortals. At some point everyone is going to die so you should try to find time for the people you love, you should forgive people who made mistakes in the past, make the time to help the people you love because life goes by so fast.
Of course it breaks everybody’s heart when you see your parents getting old. But I think that if you can live this moment in a way that you really see the best in them, everything they gave to you, then you will live the rest of your life with beautiful memo- ries. I have friends who fights with their parents, and I tell them “one day you are going to regret it”. Parents make mistakes, they are humans, we are all. Be a parent is not easy. You need to see them as the people they are, not just your parents.
What about you? I know you have lots of nieces and nephews but have you ever thought about being a father yourself?
Yes. I have been talking about this for a long time. I know some people have kids without a husband, without a wife. I am ready. I am 43 I want to be a father very soon, for two rea-
sons. Reason one because I love kids. Second is because I am the only boy in my family, the only one who can carry on the Tisci name in my family. So the name Tisci is going to stop if I don’t have kids of my own. So I was telling my mom and my sisters very very soon I want to have a boy. I hope it will be a boy because I want to give him the name of my father, who I never met when
I was a child.
I never had the figure of a father in my life. But I do
love it when I see around me boys with their father who are also such good friends. I think to be a good father you also should be a good friend. You need to have a fantastic communication with your kids. But I like this idea of raising a son, and showing him the right way to live, to give him the right education about life and how to live in this world. I think the moment has come in my life that I want to do this, that I want to share what I have learned about life with my own son.
Well now that you are thinking about having a son, what role will the world of fashion play in your life in the future? Or is there some other sort of creative field you would like to explore instead?
You know during my career my job was never just about designing clothes and beautiful bags, jewellery and make-up. I explored a lot of things, I did a book, I worked in the theatre, I worked with many different artists. In this sabbatical year, I think personally it was the right moment to take a break. Because I am a very positive person and it felt like fashion was becoming very negative and it was going through changes. Now I am ready to come back and I am sure 2018 is going to be the year I return. But I want to come-back in a different way.
I don’t want to be a workaholic like I was in the past. I now have enough experiences and have grown enough that I feel I can delegate to people and just focus on being a creative direc- tor one hundred percent. When I was at Givenchy things were growing so fast and I didn’t have the time to learn how to delegate and be smarter with my time and where I spend my energy. The year away has really helped me get clear about a lot of things and now I am really ready to come back.