Givenchy's Riccardo Tisci on why working with Nike makes him so emotional
Through his work as creative director of the storied Paris fashion house Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci is the rare designer who is pretty much as important to 16-year old streetwear fanatics as he is to his French couture clients—kids scoop up his iconic Rottweiler T-shirts, and collaborations with musicians like Jay Z and Kanye (on both their Watch The Throne album art and tour costumes) have made him a household-internet-name. Tomorrow marks the launch of his collaboration with Nike for a new take on their iconic Air Force 1 shoe, his first foray into designing product with such a big reach, which he's re-imagined in the original white and black but with regal blue and gold accents. Right before a launch event in celebration of the shoes last night, we caught up with Tisci to talk Nike, Neneh Cherry and his first pair of AF1s. Tomorrow, head to 151 Wooster, 21 Mercer and Dover Street Market New York to pick up your pair.
What did you think when you first saw the Nikes you had designed? When I saw R.T. on these shoes, it took me back. I got very emotional because it’s something that related to my childhood—I’ve been wearing Nike my whole life. The project means a lot to me. And it means a lot to the young generation, it’s a project with a beautiful message of positivity that’s reachable to everyone. And I never thought when I was young that I would ever do a project with them.
Why does Nike make you so emotional? I used to save money to buy Nike. My life has changed so much and I’m one of the lucky people who came from nothing to what I’ve become today. This is what I want to celebrate. To make something that belongs to a tribe—when you’re young and you want to belong to a tribe you love, but you don’t have the cash to be a part of it, you save money to be a part of it. And you can already see kids on Instagram and the internet just waiting for this, so I feel like it’s a success.
So you can relate to those kids who are going to be in line for the shoe? Absolutely. It goes back to my childhood. I was saving money to buy Nike, Helmut Lang jeans, Versace jeans, and I couldn’t afford, so I saved for months and months and years—and this project is beautifully designed, represents me, and it’s going to make a lot of kids fly.
Why the Air Force 1? My first pair was white and blue—in the ‘90s. Electric blue and white. And then so many. I’ve been collecting trainers for so many years, so many Nikes. They had asked me to do other shoes, but I didn’t know what I could bring, because when you go to Nike in Portland, you understand how advanced and experimental they are with technology. It’s shocking! Beautiful and shocking. And I thought, What can I bring technically? I’m not technical. I’m a designer—I sell dreams and emotions. But this one made sense to me—it’s iconic, I wear it all the time, and I knew I could be respectful of it. They really gave me white paper to do whatever I wanted, but all I did was just adjust the shape, brought in my details, like the triangle. And we even kept the same leather because I wear that leather and I’m happy with it. It’s a new version of something that was already good. Iconic things are never out of fashion.
What did you bring to this collaboration? I think they look very new. So that makes me happy. Making something that’s never been seen before is in the back in the head of every creative person—to not be scared, to break down the boundary.
You used the word “tribe”—what is the Riccardo Tisci tribe? It’s someone who is conscious of sexuality, life, work, religion—religion could be music, Catholicism, Buddhism, whatever you believe in—and someone respectful of society but loves to be wild, celebrate life. That’s my tribe.
You’ve never been scared of combining the street with high fashion. Never. I come from the street. I’m in high fashion couture, and that’s my success. But it wasn’t planned. It just came naturally. I’ve got couture clients and I’ve got young generation. And I never forget about the young generation. When the pictures of the Nike collaboration came out, I saw kids on Instagram trying to find the moodboard for this, old collections that had these colors, posting pictures of clothes I’ve made for Madonna. And that was insane for me to see.
Why are musicians so excited always to wear your clothes? We dress so many different kinds of musicians—Bjork, Courtney Love, Madonna, Kanye West, Jay Z—but there’s a thread between them: they are intelligent people, super talented, and respectful. Music is important to me.
What do you listen to? I love Neneh Cherry, Sade, Erykah Badu—my queens—and then maybe I’ll listen to the newest band. I’m a vampire for new music. I can’t be one of those people that says, “I like rock music,” because I like everything.
Are you a hip-hop fan? I love the freedom of hip-hop. But when I started working with hip-hop artists, there weren’t many fashion houses working with them. But now it’s become a big thing. And I’m happy about that—Kanye and Jay are my friends and I’m always going to work with them.
When Kanye and Jay Z asked you to do Watch the Throne, what did you think? I think we really broke down boundaries with that. They didn’t ask me to just do the clothes, they wanted me to do the album cover, the set of the show, everything. They asked me for a long time. And to be honest, I was not so sure about it at first. But then I met Kanye and Jay and it clicked. I was very honest with them about what I thought about their work, and they were very honest with me. Everybody after that said, Oh wow, a fashion designer could work with a rapper. But I’m not scared of things—I’m not scared what people think. I’m open.
And now the kids love you. So it’s good.