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Throwback Thursday: Remembering the Cult-Classic Givenchy Nightingale

The one that started it all for Givenchy

Within the wider world of pretty purses, there are those handbags that constitute a giant push from heritage houses: spotted on the arms of celebrities and influencers left and right, splayed across our collective feeds and FYPs, and materializing pretty much everywhere you look, for what feels like indefinite periods of time into the foreseeable future – only to, one day, suddenly vanish off the face of the earth. 

Yes, we’re looking at you, the Loewe Puzzle Hobo.

And then some may have been a brand push in some capacity – perhaps even gifted to a starlet or two – but eventually becomes so well-loved and accepted that it remains closet a staple among both us commoners and the not-so-commoners for – you guessed it – seemingly indefinite periods into the foreseeable future.

It is this category of purses that, when discontinued years, or potentially decades later in the natural course of its life, continue to possess purse-lovers in the same chokehold it had had upon release – a level of fandom certainly not for the faint of heart, much less one that your average it-purse can ever hope to achieve.

And it is within this category of purses that the Givenchy Nightingale falls somewhat squarely into, its once-revered name still echoing across the hallowed halls of Hubert de Givenchy’s atelier, now that it’s been left empty by the departure of its latest Artistic Director, Matthew Williams earlier this year. So, in today’s age of revivals, regurgitations, and all-out zombie fiction of handbags, could a revival of the Nightingale answer Givenchy’s prayers?

A Classic of Gothic Origins

Upon first glance, the name Nightingale, inspired by Florence Nightingale’s ceaselessly selfless nursing of the injured in the Crimean War, appears to have little bearing on the actual bag’s appearance.

In fact, more punk than pious, with chunky-chic hardware and an even chunkier shoulder strap, the Nightingale was first in line of Tisci’s uniquely Gothic brand of it-bags for Givenchy, which later went on to encompass the Antigona, the Pandora, the bifurcated Bambi, the Rottweiler, and the Madonna-printed totes.

givenchy Large
Riccardo Tisci poses with a Rottweiler for 032c Magazine

Miraculous healing prowess, however? Not so much. And don’t forget the $83,785 price tag for the limited edition croc-skin luggage version from the Vogue archives.

But it is in its absence of convention that the Nightingale resembles the Lady with the Lamp. Unveiled to the world in 2006 – back when the blinding bedazzlement of Y2K it-purses still reigned supreme – Tisci’s creation was distinctive in that it rarely showed up on the runway. Instead, it was seen strategically placed on the arms of the Olsen twins, Hilary Duff, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Tisdale.

And his approach – correctly described as Gothic for its equal doses of darkness and disruptiveness – dispelled any doubt from the minds of even the staunchest of traditionalists in the brand atelier. Here was the new era of Givenchy; hear it roar.

The Second Coming of the Nightingale

Gothic, going by Giorgio Vasari’s descriptor in Lives of the Artists (1550), also represents the barbaric and the offensive. From the very onset, this was what Tisci seemed to be going for, having been roped in to shake up the storied Maison in the immediate aftermath of his own label’s funeral-themed second collection.

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Givenchy Nightingdale
Givenchy Nightingale
$695 via Fashionphile

By the time the Nightingale rolled in, Tisci’s penchant for shock value had paid off. His debut ready-to-wear lineup was described as “painful,” his debut couture Fall 2005 collection striking, in the words of Vogue’s Sarah Mower, the perfect balance between the aggressiveness and vulgarity of predecessors McQueen and MacDonald respectively, when all the while, all he really wanted was to sell purses.

And sell they did, increasing the brand’s revenue sixfold under Tisci’s regime and inspiring a long list of yet more successful successors and imitators, such as the Antigona of 2011 and BCBG’s “reinterpretation” – the Rembrandt of 2010.

But when they said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they hadn’t envisioned the prospect of streamlining the silhouette to factor in an element of futurism, thus resonating with an entirely new set of audiences nearly a decade after its release.

That’s precisely what the re-edition of the Nightingale achieved, hitting stores with a slightly elevated price tag and a far-elevated luxe appeal for Pre-Fall 2015, now in an even more comprehensive selection of skins like exotics, lambskin, calfskin, and goatskin.

Rosie Huntington Whiteley Givenchy Nightingale Bag
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley with the redesigned Nightingale

Almost overnight, a troupe of tastemakers as disparate as Kim Kardashian, Anne Hathaway, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley were spotted with the new relaxed rendition, others choosing to take their old faves out for another spin under the sun.

The Nightingale fever had fashion in a frenzy yet again, and we were here for it!

A Third Coming on the Horizon?

However, even this “grown-up” iteration of the handbag juggernaut wasn’t enough to last it through a change of tenure. And by the time Clare Waight Keller had taken up the brand’s reins in March 2017, the Nightingale was already well on its way out.

Givenchy Antigona Cube 5 1
Most of the brand’s new designs remain derivative, like the Antigona Cube

One can then easily argue, the brand hasn’t quite recovered from the discontinuation of the Nightingale, its fashion cred remains unmatched even today, despite the Antigona being massively successful on its own right.

But perhaps what it really boils down to is Tisci’s own understanding of the anatomy of fashion. Of the Nightingale’s redesign, he reportedly said, “It’s normal that people become very attached to their bag, carrying it every day that it becomes almost an extension of them.” Plus, his subversiveness, the fluidity of gender roles, and the religious iconography all remain the stuff of fashion folklore.

These days, its legacy is lost amid the various essentially phoned-in redesigns of former classics. The fast turnover of designers among brands—Ludovic de Saint Sernin setting a new record at Ann Demeulemeester—clearly does not help matters.

So, until Givenchy figures out what to do with itself, what we really need to do is dive into the resale market for Nightingales. After all, who needs a swanky mini it-purse when you can have the comforting reassurance of a hulking hauler?

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Kaly
Kaly
23 days ago

I’ve got 3 Nightingales—black, red and a gorgeous dusty pink. I haven’t carried them in quite a while, but can’t part with them either! This was one of the very few styles of a shoulder strap bag that didn’t slide off my arm. Guess I better put them back into rotation!

7thgenerationtexasgrrrl
7thgenerationtexasgrrrl
23 days ago

I love this! I have 3 Nightingales, black, gray/light blue, and brown. I haven’t carried them in years but couldn’t make myself part with them either. Out of all the great designer bags, especially from the incredible “It bag” heyday of the early 2000s, this one has always been one of my favorites. I think I’ll go pull them out right now. Yay!

Denise Rodriguez
Denise Rodriguez
22 days ago

I recently used my brown Nightingale for travel. It was perfect, not too precious and roomy enough. Try it ladies.

tara l
tara l
25 days ago

all so pretty; like for sizes; colors and designs.

Shelby33
Shelby33
21 days ago

I always love your articles!

pat
pat
20 days ago

I have the one Rosie HW is carrying in the photo. Seeing her with this back when I kept up with the celebrity fashion threads. I bought one and wore it in the LV store and people were asking me about it. The leather is so luscious. I still have it though I haven’t carried it a few years.

MadBbagGirl
MadBbagGirl
12 days ago

I have two Nightingales, one in the old design and the other in the new. Love them both, though I use the newer one more because it has a longer strap and it’s super sturdy so it makes a great work bag. Wish the older one had a less chunky strap because I like the design more.