Riccardo Tisci is keeping busy at the house of Givenchy, mixing up a scent as enchanting as his muse, Mariacarla Boscono
Mariacarla Boscono has a heart-shaped face, wide-set eyes, and a tiny chin—features so ethereal and elfin, one wouldn’t be surprised to find that her ears are pointed. When he first spotted this face in 1997, Riccardo Tisci knew instantly that he had found the fleshly embodiment of his future work; Boscono was his message to the fashion world, personified. “She’s super romantic, beautiful—but at the same time intelligent looking, so it’s not a perfection beauty. It’s sharp, and [she has a] darkness, which is my style,” Tisci says.
The enchantment was mutual. “I never met somebody who just couldn’t help himself but do clothes—even when he was just a student or just chilling out at home, he would cut out and make things,” Boscono says, her Italianate purr surprisingly substantial given the wispy figure from which it emanates. “It’s kind of like an artist or a musician, a Mozart, just born to play music naturally. That drive totally fascinated me.” At the time, Boscono was already gaining attention as a 17-year-old fledgling model; Tisci was a student at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. She agreed to pose for his graduate collection; the shoot led to dinner, which led to sleeping over at each other’s apartments, shared vacations, and, eventually, that particular fashion-world symbiosis of designer and muse.
Who else, then, would Tisci choose to represent his latest endeavor, his inaugural fragrance for the house of Givenchy, Dahlia Noir? Givenchy has a host of profitable fragrances, including 2003’s Very Irrésistible and 2009’s Ange ou Démon le Secret (fronted, respectively, by Liv Tyler and Uma Thurman). However, Dahlia Noir is the first one created with the input of the house’s head designer since 1957, when M de Givenchy simultaneously launched Le De (its moniker referenced the designer’s own aristocratic name) and, in honor of his muse Audrey Hepburn, the rose oriental L’Interdit.
On a sunny day in June, an unshaven, 37-year-old Tisci chain-smokes American Spirits in a small, dramatically darkened room in Givenchy’s elegant Parisian hôtel particulier. Here, Hubert de Givenchy once fitted Hepburn’s little black dresses. Now, clearly, the house is led by an homme of a different breed. In his tailored white shirt bearing the logo of New York skater brand Alife, Tisci still has both the scruffy look and the kinetic, up-all-night energy of that former art student. “I don’t sleep much,” he admits. “I think sleeping is losing time of the day.”
Tisci has had ample cause for insomnia of late, as speculation intensifies that he could be appointed the new head designer at Dior, a post vacated by John Galliano in March. “It is nice to have a lot of people support me, a lot of people mention my name, because it means that what I’m doing, people appreciate it,” he says before attempting—unsuccessfully—to put the rumors to rest. “The sure thing is that I’m staying with Givenchy…I’m staying, I’m staying.”
Dahlia Noir’s plush-petaled inspiration is a scentless bloom; its name was borrowed from the 1987 James Ellroy novel based on the real-life 1947 murder of Hollywood hopeful Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia. The scent is a floral chypre featuring notes plumbed from Tisci’s own memory—in particular the rose, which reminds him of his mother and sisters—plus iris, mimosa, and a rich base of sandalwood and patchouli. It marries Givenchy past and present: an old-fashioned floral slashed with an utterly suggestive undercurrent of nude skin. “The first note is very sharp,” says Tisci approvingly, “and then the evaporation on the skin makes it more powdery, more romantic, which is really what I want. My woman, she is very sharp, but sometimes she’s got a romantic side.”
Hubert de Givenchy was a precocious aristocrat who, at 10, had to persuade his blue-blooded family to let him follow his passion for design. Tisci, on the other hand, grew up poor and (from the age of four) fatherless, the youngest child and only son in a family of nine children in the small southern town of Palagianello, Italy. Even then, though, he knew what it took to give a brand “glory,” as he puts it: an unmistakable, indelible signature. “I was seeing things like, Oh my god, it’s very Versace,” he says. “That was my dream for my fashion…a design that is very recognizable.” Ever since the floor-length, witchy skirts of his first couture collection for Givenchy for fall 2005, Tisci has been as faithful to his tropes as he is to his muses, tempering iconography from his Catholic roots, Goth symbols, and allusions to pagan rituals with the rigorous construction of his Parisian atelier, a taste for gender-bending beauty, and—in addition to nude, white, cream, and the occasional scream of, say, shocking pink—black, black, and more black.