In what is widely being considered fashion’s best-kept secret, Givenchy’s Clare Waight Keller is the designer behind Meghan Markle’s much-anticipated royal wedding dress. After names like Ralph & Russo, Erdem, Stella McCartney, and Burberry were throw around with increasingly fury leading up to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s big day, Waight Keller’s name and her cowl-necked creation were a striking surprise for fashion insiders and many in-the-know royal devotees, alike.
Givenchy, which was founded by the late creative Hubert de Givenchy in 1952, has a long history of catering to private bridal clients, whether it be reality star Kim Kardashian, stylist (and daughter of prolific American novelist Danielle Steele) Vanessa Traina, or Audrey Hepburn, the latter of whom was outfitted in Givenchy for her fictional wedding in the 1957 film, Funny Face, as well as for her own wedding to Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti in a town hall ceremony in Switzerland.
The royal wedding, however, is the first bridal moment for the Paris-based brand under the watch of Ms. Keller, 48.
The first female artistic director in the 66-year history of Givenchy, it was revealed in March 2017 that following at tenure at Chloé, Keller – the Royal College of Arts Master’s grad and mother of three (14-year-old identical-twin girls and a 6-year-old son) – would succeed celebrated Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci at the helm of the Paris-based brand.
Over the course of her career, Keller “has methodically climbed the fashion hierarchy: from design director of men’s wear at Ralph Lauren to senior designer at Gucci to creative director of Pringle of Scotland to creative director of Chloé to, finally, Givenchy,” has accomplished each milestone “so unobtrusively no one entirely realized what was happening,” as the New York Times put it.
Described as “serene and peaceful” by Philippe Fortunato, chief executive of Givenchy and the man who hired her and “calm,” by Bernard Arnault, chief executive of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the conglomerate that owns the brand, Clare Waight Keller is probably most aptly described as a quiet weapon, a designer who lets her work speak for itself. That – in the age of Instagram and inherently-public facing creatives, many of whom have found fame as the leaders of some of fashion’s most established houses – is something of a rarity.
Tasked with reinventing the storied Parisian couture house – which has wavered in recent years between showing on the seasonal couture calendar and opting out – and its ready-to-wear collection, Keller is nothing if not capable, and has a strong track record to boot. Before joining Chloé in 2011, Birmingham-born Keller joined Gucci at the height of its early-2000’s fame as senior designer for women’s ready-to-wear and accessories collections. she was tapped by former Gucci creative extraordinaire Tom Ford, who was busy taking the Italian brand from a nearly-bagmaker on the brink of bankruptcy to one of the most in-demand fashion houses in the world.
Keller would remain at Gucci, where she worked alongside Christopher Bailey and Francisco Costa as a senior designer, until 2004 when she embarked upon a six-year stint at Pringle of Scotland, where, as WWD notes, “she brought a sure and steady hand to the house, rejuvenating its ready-to-wear and accessories business and winning largely positive reviews for her collections.”
As others have declared, her Pringle creative directorship would see her completely rebrand heritage knitwear label to great critical acclaim and help position her perfectly to take the reins of Richemont-owned Chloè, bringing a sense of vitality to the Parisian house, not seen since cult-designer Phoebe Philo left the position of Chloè creative director some 6 years prior.
Now in her fifth collection for Givenchy, where she has said she is aiming to “build an entirely new story,” creatively speaking, Keller is forging another, even more momentous path. Yes, more than merely given the job of taking over creative control of Givenchy, which brings in an estimated $715 million in revenue each year, Keller – who spends weekends at her family home London with her husband and children before boarding the Eurostar back to Paris – has an even more important role. She is undoubtedly helping to reset the gender imbalance that has long existed in the upper echelon of famous fashion brands.
Yes, more than merely given the job of taking over creative control of Givenchy, which brings in an estimated $715 million in revenue each year, Keller has an even more important role: She is undoubtedly helping to reset the gender imbalance that has long existed at the top of famous French fashion brands.
This is something that was certainly not lost on brand new royal (and self-proclaimed feminist), Meghan Markle.