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Why the Clare Waight Keller-Givenchy Partnership Was Short-Lived

The artistic director joined the house three years ago.
Clare Waight Keller after the Givenchy haute couture Spring/Summer 2020 show in January | Source: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
By
  • Chantal Fernandez
BoF PROFESSIONAL

PARIS, France — Givenchy Artistic Director Clare Waight Keller is leaving the LVMH-owned label after three years in the role. She acknowledged the exit in an Instagram post on April 10. The Autumn/Winter 2020 womenswear collection presented in March in Paris will be her last for the house.

A statement from Givenchy said a successor would be announced at a later date. The appointment may take longer than expected due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has closed down stores and luxury operations across Europe and the United States.

Waight Keller joined Givenchy from Chloé, where she helped grow the business to around €400 million in annual sales on the back of a strong accessories and fragrance programme.

At Givenchy, where she succeeded Riccardo Tisci in 2017, she surprised the fashion community with strong haute couture collections unexpected from a more commercially-minded designer.

LVMH had big expectations for Givenchy under Waight Keller and Chief Executive Philippe Fortunato, an LVMH veteran. In 2018, the executive told BoF he planned to grow the brand to reach the scale of Dior's fashion business, with revenue exceeding €2 billion. Opening new stores and expanding e-commerce were key priorities At that point, the house was estimated to generate just over €400 million per year. (LVMH does not break out the revenue for its smaller houses, including Givenchy.)

Waight Keller responded by breaking strongly with the aesthetic of her predecessor, Tisci, and, diving into the house’s archives, looked more closely at the history of Givenchy under Hubert de Givenchy himself. Such creative resets, when they work, can be game-changing for luxury brands.

In the case of Waight Keller, strong couture collections, while powerful image-drivers, were simply not enough to propel sales growth. Under Tisci, Givenchy's men's business was crucial to its success, and this part of the brand remained robust under Waight Keller’s watch, according to retail market sources. The women's ready-to-wear and accessories, however, never took off.

For months, the industry has speculated about Waight Keller's departure, which seemed all the more likely after Fortunato exited the business in February. He was replaced by Renaud de Lesquen, whom LVMH brought over from Dior Americas where he was chief executive and president.

As for who will replace Waight Keller, LVMH may look to its other houses for a blueprint, perhaps even splitting up the men's and women's creative director roles. Matthew Williams, the founder of 1017 ALYX 9SM and a comrade of LVMH menswear designer Virgil Abloh and Kanye West, is a name that keeps surfacing.

"As the first woman to be the Artistic Director of this legendary Maison, I feel honoured to have been given the opportunity to cherish its legacy and bring it new life," wrote Waight Keller on Instagram. "I am now looking forward to embarking on the next episode."

Disclosure: LVMH is part of a group of investors who, together, hold a minority interest in The Business of Fashion. All investors have signed shareholders’ documentation guaranteeing BoF’s complete editorial independence.

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