54 Minutes With Riccardo Tisci

Photo: Johns PkI/Splash News

Visionaire is a “publication” that deals with fashion and art. It’s a “publication” rather than a “magazine” because it is not always made of paper and it’s far too expensive to bring with you on, say, the subway. Editions, which are limited, have been made of all sorts of things, like wood or patent leather or a stack of compact discs, and an issue typically costs in the neighborhood of $400. It’s not the sort of thing one finds in the waiting room at the dentist’s.

Riccardo Tisci is the Italian creative director of Givenchy, the French couture house, where he’s been since 2005. He’s the first person in a while to make Givenchy relevant, and he has done this with a sensibility that’s rather gothic—he likes black lace and amulets and all the bloody, moody iconography of his beloved Roman Catholic Church.

When the editors at Visionaire decided to do a religion issue, Tisci was an obvious choice to guest edit. “I am very religious,” he says in a room at the Mercer Hotel on a cool spring day. He is wearing jeans and boots and a flannel shirt with the word “Tenderloin” embroidered on the chest and smoking cigarette after cigarette.

God, he explains, is with him quite a bit, and was most certainly there that day when he got the Givenchy call from LVMH—“I know it,” he says. Tisci has round, open eyes and a little gap between his teeth. He smiles. His hair is damp and curling across his forehead; the effect is cherubic.

Tisci has eight older sisters. His father died shortly after he was born, leaving his mother with more children than money. “We were so poor,” Tisci says, “and my mother had just called me and said she was going to have to sell our house. This was like a knife in my heart.” Tisci leans forward when he talks, makes deep eye contact. “The house, it was built by my father. It was one of the only things I knew of my father, and now it would have to be sold? No. The first thing I thought when I got this job was, Now my mother, she can keep the house. I don’t care anything for money, I care for my mother, my sisters.”

From Visionaire’s new issue.Photo: Dusan Reljin (Riccardo Tisci and Marina Abramovic, "The Contract," 2011)

For Tisci, saints and saviors are the women to whom he is related: his mother, his sisters. The pages he himself contributed to the issue are a tribute to them: For each sister, and for his mother, a page is left blank and covered in gold leaf. There is also one black page for his father, the great unknown.

Tisci’s guest-editing stint involved inviting friends to contribute black-and-white images on religious themes. The only instruction he gave was: no Givenchy. This was not, he insisted, to be some great big fashion ad. (The Givenchy logo, however, does appear on the back of the issue, as the fashion house collaborated with Visionaire on its publication.)

Nor did he intend for it to read as a referendum on Catholicism: Tisci has made his peace between his religion and his liberal attitudes toward gender and sex. One of his favorite models is Lea T, who originally came to Tisci as an assistant called Leo.

The collaborations yielded Karl Lagerfeld photographs of Carine Roitfeld with black lace tied across her mouth (symbolic, Tisci explains, as it was taken right around the time she left French Vogue), and Nick Knight portraits of Kate Moss wearing an enormous set of wings. Franca Sozzani—the editor of Italian Vogue—looks like a saint in photographs by her son, and Mario Testino contributed a series of moody pictures profoundly unlike the Carioca beach parties for which he is known.

Tisci himself appears in the issue twice, suckling at the teat of Marina Abramovic. The picture, which is about Abramovic’s opinion of the relationship between fashion and art, makes him blush. “Religion,” he says, turning the page, “is however you interpret it.”

And how about all the rumors? Ever since John Galliano’s episode at La Perle in Paris, Tisci has been at the top of every gossip’s list of potential replacements at the House of Dior.


“Can I answer that?” Tisci asks a publicist.

The publicist shakes his head: He cannot.

But he is quick to sing the praises of LVMH. “Mr. Arnault is such a smart man,” he says.

And anyway, it’s all out of his hands. Tisci looks up.

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54 Minutes With Riccardo Tisci