Style & Grooming

How Clare Waight Keller ‘Collided’ Gender Codes at Givenchy

This season, the designer built her collection for the house around a queer Swiss writer

Swiss writer, photographer and adventurer Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach was the starting point for Clare Waight Keller’s S/S19 collection for Givenchy. Born in 1908, Clarac-Schwarzenbach travelled the world throughout the first half of the 20th century, documenting everything from the rise of Fascism in Europe to the Depression in the Deep South through her writings and photographs.

Androgynously beautiful, Clarac-Schwarzenbach was said to have dressed and acted like a boy from an early age, and was often mistaken for a man later in life. And it was this idea – of a woman who was more used to dressing like a boy – which lay at the heart of Waight Keller’s collection, debuted last night at Paris Fashion Week.

Modelled by a cast of handsome women, many of whom sported cropped boyish haircuts, the collection included tuxedo and leather biker jackets tucked into army trousers – a direct reference to a photograph of Clarac-Schwarzenbach, apparently. Waight Keller chose to “collide the codes” of womens- and menswear in the eveningwear too, pairing dresses with yet more tuxedo jackets and shoulder-boosting capelets.

And it went both ways: where the femininity of the collection was strong, the masculinity was soft. The men’s looks, which represented about a quarter of the collection, were as sensual as they were seductive: from a louche lilac suit to a crisp cargo shirt cut from a plush, pinkish silk, these were not clothes for an alpha male. (Poignant, given the current and grotesque state of the patriarchy.) Even the bicep-bearing bikers looks were softened. It’s a kind of masculinity – and, indeed, femininity – that is reminiscent of the photography of Collier Schorr.

This, combined with the luxuriant rendering of the clothes themselves, made this a very attractive offering.