Riccardo Tisci is known, among other talents, for having one of the keenest eyes in casting. So when he puts an unexpected face in his ad campaigns for Givenchy, the world takes notice. Expect tremors on this one. Presenting the new star of the label’s Mert & Marcus-shot campaigns: neo-soul singer Erykah Badu.
“Erykah, she’s an icon—come on!” Tisci said by phone from Paris. “What I want to do with my advertising campaign is spread the love. Already now it’s been three seasons that I’ve been using people that express something—they are great artists, or beautiful women, or stylish women, or models that I really believe in. It’s kind of a family portfolio.”
Tisci had known Badu slightly but had never worked with her. Still, he said, he’d had her image in the back of his mind when he was designing the Spring 2014 collection, a mash-up of African and Japanese influences. “She’s one of the most stylish women I’ve met in my life,” he said. “She’s got such a good sense of proportion, of colors.”
What may attract as much attention as the unexpected Badu cameo is the fact that all of the campaign’s female models are women of color (the models Maria Borges, newcomer Riley, and Asia Chow). It follows a season with a noticeable uptick in the use of models of color on the runway, following scathing condemnations of homogeneity in fashion from Bethann Hardison and Iman, sounding off from certain casting directors, and coverage of the issue in The New York Times.
“There was a lot of talk this season in fashion,” Tisci said. “Me, I was one of the persons who ended up not being touched by this. I discovered Joan Smalls, I discovered Maria [Borges]. I discovered a lot of black girls, and I’ve been always supporting them. For me, I grew up in a family and I grew up in a culture, an education, that we all are the same.” (He was already working on the collection, and had Badu in mind, when the first articles came out.)
It’s true that Tisci has been active in promoting women of color on his runway and in his campaigns. (Besides Smalls and Borges, he has championed Grace Mahary, Dalianah Arekion, and Daniela Braga, among others.)
Does he think the world will catch up to his lead? “I hope so,” he said. “It’s 2013. Everybody’s being so cool about Instagram, about Facebook, any media—everybody’s being so open. At the end of the day, why are not so many black girls or Latin girls in shows? When you have an American president who is black! When I see this happening, it’s quite sad, I think. People can be so avant-garde, so advanced, but actually not, because people are still making differences between skin color.”