by SARAH MOWER
The Englishwoman and her love of gardens are inseparable. Clare Waight Keller’s spring haute couture collection for Givenchy was rooted in her recollections of visiting the garden rooms planted at Sissinghurst Castle by Vita Sackville-West and by reading the passionate love letters between Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. “It’s one of the most romantic places in England,” Waight Keller said. “I’m quite obsessed by the place.”
Famously it was Woolf’s involvement with Sackville-West and dreaming through the Elizabethan history of the Sackville-West family house that inspired Woolf to write her time- and gender-traversing novel Orlando (which, by the by, is the only literary reference in these identity-exploring times that is putting the L into LGBTQIA+ fashion representation).
Hence: the coordinates Waight Keller used to map out a poetic collection that encapsulated her own strengths in tailoring—her white trouser suits and narrow coats—and the summer-garden colors and swirling 3D-petal forms of dresses. But it was also, Waight Keller said, “my own love letter to Hubert de Givenchy because I went into the archive for this collection and looked into the history of the house from the very beginning.” Photographs of the pristine flower-lace gowns he made in the era he designed for Audrey Hepburn were pinned to her inspiration board. Givenchy, as it happens, was dedicated to garden design too.
Waight Keller extracted ideas from the sculptural millinery of the 1950s and the rounded cloche shapes Givenchy developed for demi-transparent umbrella hats that swooped back over the shoulders, amplifying the volumes of tops and ball gowns to bloom with the colors of pansies, anemones, irises, and marigolds. The outside edges of the jacket of a neat black pantsuit were implanted with a halo of gypsophila embroidery.
Within the garden varieties of the collection, there was modernity—the multilayered tulle petal-pink skirt overlaid with Chantilly lace and worn with a sheer black T-shirt, for example—as well as all-out romantic fantasy. For years, spring collections at Givenchy were the place for girls to come seeking wedding dresses. Waight Keller finished up her show by sending out Kaia Gerber as the ultimate fantasy bride in an off-the-shoulder cut-lace white chemise and a hat so huge it almost formed a canopy under which to take her vows.