Antony Performs at Givenchy RTW, Delivers Feminist Manifesto
Yesterday afternoon, Antony Hegarty performed at the presentation of the Fall 2013 Ready-to-Wear collection for French fashion house Givenchy.
Outside the fashion world, Givenchy is probably still best-known for its association with the late Audrey Hepburn, who wore the label in her films Sabrina and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and who served as Hubert de Givenchy’s muse for decades. At its creative peak, the label epitomized the modern, ladylike, continental glamour of women like Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy but in subsequent decades, Givenchy’s influence waned and the ever-fickle fashion world looked toward new talent for inspiration.
After Hubert de Givenchy’s retirement in 1995, the label fell into a pattern of revolving-door leadership. Without a consistent vision, Givenchy’s couture sales plummeted and many speculated about the label’s potential for continued relevance – that is, until Riccardo Tisci was offered the position of Chief Creative Director in 2005.
Riccardo Tisci may represent one of my all-time favorite creative minds. When he took the reins at Givenchy, he was a relatively unknown fashion presence whose resume included stints at Puma and Ruffo Research (a Tuscan leather company). At Givenchy, Tisci’s work blends an incredible degree of technical proficiency with an astutely critical aesthetic mind. Like all great artists, his work centers around a handful of recurring themes – Catholic iconography (he and Marina Abramovic have recreated Biblical scenes for publications such as V and Visionaire), nature’s life cycle (bones, dried leaves, antlers, etc.), futurist minimalism, and gothic romanticism – but the output is always fresh and challenging. Moreover, it’s important to note that while Tisci’s collections are always beautiful, they are rarely “pretty,” (a tepid adjective if there ever was one).
One of Tisci’s most revolutionary introductions to the house of Givenchy has been his nuanced perspective on gender identity. In 2010, he made waves when he cast long-time friend and personal assistant, Lea T, a transgender woman in his ad campaigns. Unlike other similar statements by fashion-world personalities (culprits to remain unnamed), his casting of Lea never felt like a stunt, nor was it a vaguely misogynist statement about the female ideal. Rather, Tisci’s work bears such a striking appreciation for women and the female form that one suspects his admiration of Lea is simply another inclusive gesture toward women of all stripes. It is this thoughtful, progressive view of human sexuality and gender identity that makes his friendship with Antony Hegarty so natural and so beautiful.
As I have described here before, I am an admirer of Antony’s androgynous, Nina Simone-like voice. There are times when I listen to I Am Bird Now (his first record with the Johnsons), and am so overwhelmed by the gravity of his voice that I need a moment to collect myself before turning my attention to other matters.
It can be tempting, I suppose, to sum up Hegarty’s particular perspective by virtue of his transgender identification, but to do so, is to overlook the incredible range of influences that dictate much of his work. He borrows ideas from Japanese kabuki theatre, German conceptual musician Klaus Nomi, modern artists, including Ms. Abramovic, and American soul singers, such as Otis Redding and Donny Hathaway to create music that sounds utterly unique. Antony has served as Tisci’s muse in previous seasons and has worn custom-made Givenchy garments for performances.
Yesterday’s Givenchy presentation was in many ways a retrospective on Riccardo’s work for the label over the past decade. The garments bore sly references to past collections (nautically-striped boots, silk-screened sweatshirts, textured leather) but they also offered insight into Tisci’s view of women. The models were commanding presences, whose figures were accentuated and exaggerated by unfolding leather peplums and sheer embroidered skirts. The garments, like Tisci’s women, are alternately tough and delicate, and completely beautiful.
At the show, Antony’s performance of 2005′s “You Are My Sister” suggested the kinship both men feel with womankind. It was also a likely reference to Tisci’s eight sisters and the widowed mother who raised him. As inspiration for the models, Antony jotted down a short manifesto entitled “FUTURE FEMINISM” (also the title of a song on his 2012 album).
The manifesto reads in full:
We have created our society in man’s image but now the ecology is collapsing. We have abused the bodies of women and the body of the earth [sic] in the same ways. We are reaching the end of His story. Our old methods of survival as a species are becoming the cause of our downfall.
Men must find the humility to retreat. Women must step forward and start to forge a new way forward for our species and for all of nature. If there is to be a future on earth that includes us, it will be feminine.
For me – and countless other observers, I am sure – men like Riccardo Tisci and Antony Hegarty are refreshing presences in the male-dominated and often paternalistic industries of fashion and music.