Last Friday evening, a pier overlooking ground zero turned into the modern-day equivalent of “La Dolce Vita” when the Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci made his New York Fashion Week debut.
Ostensibly, the show was about religion and the legacy of 9/11. But messages like that can become obscured when the impending arrival of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian holds up the proceedings for more than an hour.
Nicki Minaj was there, looking in her leopard print dress like the incarnation of Jessica Rabbit. A few feet away was a more understated Julia Roberts, standing in her black tuxedo jacket and matching pants, with a dash of black eyeliner. Seated toward the back were Christina Ricci, Courtney Love, Deborah Harry, Amanda Seyfried, Jennifer Hudson and Erykah Badu. Even Pedro Almodóvar was in attendance, having come all the way from Madrid.
And that was to say nothing of an older woman standing at the front gates professing to be a member of New York’s first family.
“I don’t think we were expecting Governor Cuomo’s mother,” a member of Mr. Tisci’s staff said incredulously into his headset. “Make her show ID.”
Ah, well. If you want to get into this designer’s club, there is a big line.
Over the last decade, Mr. Tisci has slowly become the most socially connected fashion designer of his generation, a man whose tentacles extend from Oscar contenders to reality show participants, top-drawer artists to gay night-life promoters, barely legal models to surgically altered socialites.
And his commitment to diversity has helped propel him to the top of his game not just with the usual crowd of (mostly) white editors and fashionistas, but also with a strikingly multicultural fan base.
Ms. Badu and Victor Cruz have appeared in his ad campaigns. Jay Z and Beyoncé are on his speed dial (and were at his table at the Met Gala). And then there are vacation buddies like Madonna and Kate Moss, corporate collaborators like Nike (which recently hired Mr. Tisci to do a sneaker line), and a beaming boss named Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH, who was seated this evening in the front row, looking pleased as punch at the event’s stellar turnout.
Backstage was Marina Abramovic, the art director for the show, an endeavor she estimates took six months (those in the audience familiar with the cost of these productions said it was most likely one of the most expensive fashion shows New York had ever seen).
“He never gave up,” she said.
And soon enough, he persuaded her representatives to let her do the shoot. She arrived at his loft, took the photo and never left his orbit.
“What hit me most was that he could not stop,” Ms. Boscono said. “He was obsessed almost. Like van Gogh. Those psycho artists.”
She, too, attributes his ferocious drive to his star sign — and her somewhat more laissez-faire demeanor to being a Virgo.
“I’m a Virgo, but my rising sign is Scorpio,” Ms. Boscono said. “There are a lot of Virgos in the fashion business, but Virgos are introverted and tormented. Riccardo’s 100 percent Leo. You can’t be a Leo and be insecure. Not even when he was making clothes out of T-shirts.”
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Tisci got a job at Ruffo Research, an Italian label that had previously given first jobs to future design stars like Nicolas Ghesquière and Sophia Kokosalaki. It went under before Mr. Tisci’s first show.
In 2005, after the departure of Julien Macdonald, he was hired by Givenchy. Although it was a storied house founded in 1952 by Hubert de Givenchy, who gained fame dressing Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy, it had fallen on hard times.
And Mr. Tisci bombed with his first collection. “It was a little too much gothic,” remembered Carine Roitfeld, then the editor of Paris Vogue, speaking by phone. “It was not so much success, but it was very much him. You could see he had talent.”
And he quickly saw that celebrities would be valuable to him, even if he rejects the idea that this was the guiding principle behind his social machinations. “I don’t dress celebrities for the sake of dressing celebrities,” he insisted. “I dress people I like.”
Among the first was Courtney Love, who was hired by Mr. Tisci to perform in 2007 at his atelier, in a white Stevie Nicks-meets-Catholic-Italian-housewife couture gown. Then, the stylist Arianne Phillips called and asked Mr. Tisci to send in some sketches for Madonna’s 2008 world tour, which led to a meeting with the diva, a job designing her black bedazzled costumes and, subsequently, a friendship.
“I just stayed at her house in the Hamptons,” Mr. Tisci said during the visit in June.
He became pals with Mr. West, who hired him to design the cover of his album collaboration with Jay Z (all gold embroidery, very Givenchy), then selected him to be a co-director for the rappers’ tour.
Mr. West is a Gemini rather than a Leo, but Mr. Tisci has nothing but love for him, seeing in him a maverick, a punk-rock icon for a hip-hop age. In 2014, Mr. West and Ms. Kardashian called on Mr. Tisci to design outfits for their wedding, and he created a dress that later landed on the cover of Vogue.
By this point, Givenchy’s skeptics in the news media had long since come around.
LVMH, Givenchy’s parent company, increased the number of free-standing stores from around a dozen when he started to nearly 50. (The latest store in New York, which opened a few weeks ago, is its 57th free-standing location.)
Retailers were increasing their orders. “It’s a growing business,” said Neiman Marcus’s Ken Downing, who said that the black leather handbags, sporty hip-hop-inspired men’s wear and heavily embellished women’s ready-to-wear are among Givenchy’s best sellers of late.
And in January 2015, Mr. Tisci got another boost when Julianne Moore accepted her Golden Globe for best actress in a dark sleeveless metallic Givenchy dress.
“Riccardo must have submitted at least 30 sketches, and the sketches were all exquisite,” Ms. Moore said. “It was difficult to winnow them down — so difficult that we ended up asking if it would be possible for him to make three dresses for me to choose from. Riccardo agreed, and when the dresses were ready, he came to my house in New York to fit me personally and help us make the decision.
“Riccardo is very hands-on and is deeply insightful about each person that he dresses. He designs for the person, not just for the brand.”
In the end, Ms. Moore took two, wearing the second to the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The third, Mr. Tisci tossed into the reject pile.
It was “too romantic” for him, Ms. Moore said.
Mr. Tisci is a pack animal. Nearly all the people in his circle, including Ms. Ricci and Amanda Lear, have a story about meeting another glittery person they never would have gotten to know were it not for him. One celebrity friend gets connected to Mr. Tisci via another celebrity friend, and then Mr. Tisci connects the newest entrants to his roving band of selfie-taking merrymakers.
“I met Madonna, I met Alicia Keys through him,” Ms. Abramovic said. “Every time you are at his table, he makes sure there are models, artists, everything. He is a magnet.”
When Mr. West became involved with Ms. Kardashian, Mr. Tisci introduced her to Ms. Roitfeld, who then put Ms. Kardashian on a 2013 cover of her magazine, CR Fashion Book.
A reported ban on Ms. Kardashian at the annual Met Gala was lifted two years ago when Mr. Tisci hosted it with the fashion world’s supreme empress, Anna Wintour of Vogue.
“In a way,” Ms. Wintour said, “Riccardo reminds me of Gianni Versace because he’s such an open, lovely person that people are drawn to him.”
Mr. Tisci’s close friend Ladyfag, the night-life promoter, said: “He didn’t have a father growing up, so it’s interesting he’s become this patriarch for all these different people. It’s not planned out, but I do think there’s something to that.”
Today, Mr. Tisci lives in a manner similar to that of his most glittery friends. He resides for the bulk of the year in Paris in a sun-drenched apartment overlooking the Seine amid Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe photographs and Gio Ponti furniture. When not there, he jaunts around the globe with his leather Givenchy trolley full of black T-shirts and yellow American Spirit cigarettes.
There are spring breaks in Rio with Ms. Moss and Ms. Campbell and summers in Ibiza with Mr. West and the fashion photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott.
For a time, Mr. Tisci was making arrangements to live in New York with Ms. Abramovic, his industry mother, but that didn’t quite go according to plan.
Sometime around 2011, they bought a townhouse in SoHo together. She was to take the two bottom floors, and he was to take the top three. “It has a garden and a pool,” he said. “In the middle of New York. I think this is very lucky.”
So they renovated it, stocked it with more minimalist Italian furniture, and clinked glasses. But Mr. Tisci never moved in.
“I’m always traveling,” he said. “I don’t have time!”
After a year, Ms. Abramovic called him to say she was lonely. The house was huge, and he was never home. So she bought an apartment nearby and sold her two floors back to Mr. Tisci. He said he still hasn’t spent a night there, although his niece and nephew have and tell him it’s lovely.
Where does he reside while in New York?
“At the Mercer,” he said, letting out a laugh.
For the record, the apartment is but a few blocks from his hotel. And he and Ms. Abramovic remain the best of friends. Money, in this instance, did not change everything.
Like the celebrities he cavorts with, Riccardo Tisci has a schedule that no longer resembles a normal person’s. He is endlessly late and constantly rescheduling. A trip to New York scheduled for July was moved to August and then September. A meeting scheduled for Monday was moved to Tuesday, then Wednesday and finally Thursday.
The afternoon before his fashion week show, on the third floor of the West Chelsea building where Givenchy had set up shop, people talked in hushed tones about how to say no to Riccardo. On the second floor, models mixed with seamstresses lurched over their sewing machines. Others hung out in a coffee area eating tarts and croissants.
The mood was neither lazy nor to-the-bone, but instead like a film set, as work and pleasure bumped against each other, and everyone vacillated between looking captured and as if there was no better place in the world to be.
As for Mr. Tisci, it perhaps makes sense that after spending a decade tending to the whims and unique scheduling patterns of rappers and movie stars, the ability to make people wait is now a luxury for him.
It is a symbol both of having arrived and of — just as often — wanting not to be found.
Indeed, sitting on his large black leather sofa in front of yet another large cactus, smoking yet another American Spirit later that afternoon, Mr. Tisci said his biggest desire was for the week to be over so he could go spend an anniversary with his boyfriend.
One year, five years or 10? a reporter asked.
“One month,” said Mr. Tisci, adding that they met in Ibiza.
Forty-one years and much success have done little to change Mr. Tisci’s childlike demeanor.
For one, he still bites his nails when he is nervous. For another, he does not so much sit in a chair but recline in it, as if he is constantly waiting for something, whether it is caffeine, American Spirits — or, more profoundly, inspiration. He is both a boy whose mama loved him a lot and a man determined to rebel against that.
He’ll design a Victorian-inspired floor-length gown, then stick it on a transgender model named Lea T. He likes to call his most recent men’s wear collection “Jesus in Prison.”
Last week, three male models showed up for a casting. Two had a cornfed Calvin Klein-pinup look, and a third seemed to have come straight out of a Larry Clark film: His skin was dark and ruddy; his hair had an orange tint. Mr. Tisci cast him immediately, and sent the other two men packing.
His explanation? “Givenchy is supposed to be a little dangerous.”
Recently, there’s been talk that Mr. Tisci may be on the way to somewhere bigger and better. His name was in heavy rotation when Frida Giannini was forced out at Gucci last year, and there was much chatter during fashion week that his show was not just an anniversary party but perhaps a farewell.
Ms. Wintour is one person who would like to see him stay put. “I hope we see a little less musical chairs in fashion,” she said. “Givenchy is a great platform for him.”
Mr. Tisci professes to agree.
“In 10 years, a lot of people approach me,” he said. “When you make a house successful, people approach. But I always decline everything because I’m happy where I am. I want to concentrate on Givenchy.”
Shortly after his fitting wrapped up, Mr. Tisci grabbed his American Spirits, chucked a handful of mixed nuts into his mouth and — with his publicist and one of the women in black — got into a Suburban and headed off to a rehearsal space with Ms. Abramovic.
In Hell’s Kitchen, the car turned onto 53rd and Ninth, and Mr. Tisci looked out the window.
“Where are we?” he asked the woman in black, as if there were not a street sign just in front of him.
Upstairs in the rehearsal space a few minutes later, Ms. Abramovic was waiting with a handful of performers, who sang for Mr. Tisci in Hebrew, Arabic and Latin. Yet again he reclined in his chair, this time looking genuinely exhausted. After it was done, Ms. Abramovic walked out with him to the elevators.
“We’re missing the Buddhist,” Ms. Abramovic said to him as they rode down to the street. “How many cars do you have?”
“One,” said Mr. Tisci, indicating that there was space for her in it.
Then, they bickered over the outfit of one of the performers. “You can’t do trousers,” she said. “He has to look a Turkish samurai.”
“I think it should be simple,” he said, shaking his head. “Skirts are going to look strange.”
It was raining. But Ms. Abramovic had seen the weather reports for the next day and felt optimistic. That’s what happens when people work with Riccardo Tisci.
“God is on our side,” she said. “Today is raining, Saturday is going to be raining, Sunday is raining. And tomorrow is great? How do you explain it? It’s divine help.”
Mr. Tisci agreed. “He is alive,” he said, referring to the big guy upstairs and maybe himself, too.
And then he lit another cigarette, said goodbye to his publicist and headed off with Ms. Abramovic for what would indeed be 24 of the best hours of his professional life, complete with great weather and endless accolades from glittery friends.
Among the last to be seated was Matilda Cuomo.