Hubert de Givenchy was one of the most popular fashion names of the twentieth century and perhaps the last living legend in the 21st century after Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior and the other great mid-twentieth century phenomena.
An impressive head of snow-white hair, simple dark suit and tie with a white shirt: this is how most people and fashion-addicts will remember Mr. Givenchy who devoted his entire life to fashion and making women feel beautiful, elegant and special.
This article tells a story of a great life that came to an end on the 10th of March, 2018.
But one thing we are sure of is that Hubert de Givenchy, a giant of fashion in every sense, will live on and will be greatly missed.
Let’s take a look back at some of the most important and life-changing dates and moments of iconic designer Hubert de Givenchy.
- recall Givenchy’s most inspiring quotes and extracts from his interviews.
- find out the most interesting facts about our favorite designer,
- get acquainted with some of his most elegant clients, including Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy.
Life changing Dates and Events: Timeline
February 21, 1927
Hubert de Givenchy James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy was born to an aristocratic family in Beauvais, France.
His mother’s family was well connected with the great tapestry artisans of Beauvais, and his father’s family had been ennobled in the 18th century.
Givenchy’s father died of influenza. Givenchy and his brother, Jean Claude, were brought up by their mother and maternal grandparents.
Givenchy was introduced to the fine craftsmanship of textiles at an early age. Developing an interest in fashion, he became obsessed with the idea of meeting the Spanish haute couturier he admired above all, Cristobal Balenciaga.
Training and Early Career
Hubert James Taffin de Givenchy left his hometown for Paris at the age of 17 to study at the École des Beaux-Arts (The French National School of Fine Art).
Through his family’s connections, he began an apprenticeship with the innovative couturier Jacques Fath.
After his time with Fath, Givenchy worked for famous French couture houses like Lucien Lelong, Robert Piguet and Elsa Schiaparelli.
Mr. Givenchy worked for the eccentric Ms. Schiaparelli, dreaming of starting his own house even as leading couturiers, including Edward Molyneux and Mr. Piguet, were closing their doors because of the rising costs for luxury fabrics.
House of Givenchy
Givenchy founded his namesake house in Paris, aged 24. His first collection featured elegant blouses and light skirts in simple materials and was heavily influenced by the structured, architectural style of Balenciaga.
Givenchy was immediately praised for his chic, feminine designs. In March, Life magazine introduced Mr. Givenchy to American audiences in a four-page feature: “De Givenchy, a New Name in Paris.”
In summer, the couturier met Audrey Hepburn, who borrowed several looks for her film Sabrina. It was the start of a long, faithful collaboration and a deep friendship.
Later that year, in New York, Givenchy finally met his idol, Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga, with whom he became close friends.
Mr. Givenchy regarded his talents as a gift from God, but once he told Women’s Wear Daily:
Balenciaga was my religion. Since I’m a believer, for me, there’s Balenciaga, and the good Lord.
In the mid-1950s, the two teamed up to introduce a new silhouette called the “sack,” a loose form without any waistline.
The designer created his men’s ready-to-wear line “Givenchy Gentleman”.
Awards of Hubert de Givenchy
Givenchy was chosen for the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame.
Givenchy received the Chevalier de la Légiond’Honneur (National Order of the Legion of Honour).
The designer received a lifetime achievement award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
The departure of Hubert de Givenchy and his Successors
Givenchy sold his business to Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton in 1988, but continued designing at the helm until his retirement in 1995.
After designing for decades, Givenchy stepped down from the house he founded. Just hours after he presented his final couture collection, the company announced that his successor would be the British upstart John Galliano.
Galliano was barely there for two years before Alexander McQueen came on board, booting Galliano over to Dior.
Designer Julien Macdonald was appointed Artistic Director for the women’s lines, which consist of haute couture and ready-to-wear.
The label was handed to the Italian designer Riccardo Tisci, who introduced an aggressive aesthetic of streetwear printed with gaping sharks and raging Rottweiler graphics in addition to more avant-garde evening wear.
Last March, Clare Waight Keller became the first woman to run the creative side of the Givenchy house when she was made artistic director, replacing Mr. Tisci.
Clare Waight Keller took on all creative responsibilities, including Women’s and Men’s Ready-to-wear and accessories collections, as well as Haute Couture.
Death of Hubert de Givenchy
March 10, 2018
The House of Givenchy announced the passing of its founder, Hubert de Givenchy aged 91, calling him a “symbol of Parisian elegance for more than half a century”.
“A kind of marriage” between Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn
Paramount Studios called. I was told that Miss Hepburn was coming to look for clothes for her new movie, “Sabrina.”
Since I loved Katharine Hepburn’s style and look, I thought this was fantastic. But when the door of my studio opened, there stood a young woman, very slim, very tall, with doe eyes and short hair and wearing a pair of narrow pants, a little T-shirt, slippers and a gondolier’s hat with red ribbon that read “Venezia.” I told her “Mademoiselle, I would love to help you, but I have very few sewers, I am in the middle of doing a collection, I can’t make you clothes.” So she said, “Show me what you have already made for the collection.” She tried on the dresses — “It’s exactly what I need!”
“…we had dinner that night, and before dinner was over, I told her, ‘I’ll do anything for you.’
– Hubert de Givenchy.
This is how in the summer of 1953, the couturier met Audrey Hepburn. It was the beginning of a long collaboration and profound friendship between the actress and the designer.
Givenchy dressed her personally, in pictures for decades, and in her most well-known films including:
- Funny Face (1957),
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961),
- Love in the Afternoon (1957),
- Charade (1963),
- Paris When It Sizzles (1964),
- How to Steal a Million (1966).
“Givenchy’s clothes are the only ones in which I feel myself. He is more than a designer, he is a creator of personality,” Hepburn said.
But almost everyone will agree with us, that one of the most iconic and indelible cinematic fashion moments of the 20th century can be found in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, when her character, Holly Golightly, approaches the titular Fifth Avenue jeweler wearing oversized sunglasses, four strands of sparkling pearls, long evening gloves and a little black Givenchy dress, creating a style magic that still looks chic more than half a century later.
Even in the 21st century, black dresses, ballerina pumps, sunglasses and pearls still conjure up the image of Hepburn.
“The little black dress is the hardest thing to realize, because you must keep it simple.”- Givenchy said in 2010.
“She was not like other movie stars, because she loved simplicity,” Givenchy once said.
Their partnership grew into “a great friendship or “a kind of marriage” as Givenchy used to say. In 1957 the Givenchy brand released an immensely popular fragrance inspired by Hepburn called L’Interdit.
The most striking thing about this is that Ms. Hepburn appeared without payment in an ad campaign for Givenchy’s hit scent L’Interdit.
The cooperation was just based on true friendship.
To a question “What made her so special?” Givenchy once answered;
“She had an elegance, she knew how to walk, she knew what she wanted, she knew the faults in her face, she knew herself perfectly. She was true, honest. From time to time I’d say, because she was so thin, “Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t show your collarbone?” And she’d say, “No, it doesn’t bother me.” As Billy Wilder said, “What counts in Audrey is her allure.” And she was kind. When the telephone would ring in the studio, I knew when it was her. I would answer and she’d say, “I know you are busy, but I want to send you a big kiss,” and she’d hang up. That was Audrey.”
Hubert de Givenchy and his most devoted clients
Thanks to the designs that symbolized Parisian chic and elegance for more than a half-century, Hubert de Givenchy dressed some of the world’s most beautiful women for decades.
Givenchy’s creations have always been eagerly awaited and sought out by the titled and wealthy, including Princess Grace of Monaco, Wallis Simpson (Duchess of Windsor), Jackie Kennedy…
They say, in 1972 one of the first telephone calls made by Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, after the death of her husband Edward, the Duke of Windsor, was to the Givenchy atelier.
The photos of a black wool coat with cigaline veil, produced overnight for the duchess to travel to the funeral, made headlines all over the world.
Former US First Lady Jackie Kennedy was among other celebrity fans of the designer.
Givenchy has always been charmed by the beauty and youthful energy of Jackie Kennedy, whom he first met while her husband was running for president.
10 or 15 pieces were made for Mrs Kennedy for her first official visit to France. After the trip, Kennedy wrote a card to Givenchy relaying a compliment given to her by Charles de Gaulle at an event at Versailles, for which she had worn a Givenchy gown: “Madame, this evening you look like a Parisienne.”
Jackie Kennedy was wearing a veil and neat black Givenchy suit on the day of her husband, John F Kennedy’s, funeral in 1963.
Other notable women among Givenchy’s clients include:
- Marella Agnelli,
- Lauren Bacall,
- Ingrid Bergman,
- Marlene Dietrich,
- and Diana Vreeland were all clients.
The Countess Mona von Bismarck was even buried in one of his gowns.
From the invention of the “separates” to dramatic capes and shawls, two-piece evening dresses, simple jersey bodices and tunics in a brilliant array of colors, Givenchy’s style is characterized by bright cheerful colors and youthful femininity.
Givenchy’s very first show, a real thunderstorm in fashion industry, featured elegant blouses and light skirts in simple materials, heavily influenced by the structured, architectural style of Balenciaga. This is when Givenchy style was born.
“The dress must follow the body of a woman, not the body following the shape of the dress”.- Hubert de Givenchy
In fact, part of Mr. Givenchy’s strategy was practical. His fabrics cost about a third less than those of his competitors.
Like his “master”, Givenchy strongly believed less was more when it came to fashion design, preferring the simple but perfect stylish cut to the decorated or ostentatious.
“All a woman needs to be chic is a raincoat, two suits, a pair of trousers and a cashmere sweater”
– Hubert de Givenchy
However, yet his simple cocktail dresses and evening dresses were also the height of chic.
Madame Figaro magazine described his clothes as being made with an almost “surgical precision … not too much, not too little”.
Founding a house in postwar Paris, Givenchy created groundbreaking and timeless collections with specific women in mind.
Designs that were chic and ladylike were the hallmarks of the house.
“You must, if it’s possible, be born with a kind of elegance. It’s part of you, of yourself.”-Givenchy.
Mr. Givenchy regarded his talents as a gift from God, “I absolutely believe my talent is God-given. I ask God for a lot, but I also thank him. I’m a very demanding believer.”
Hubert de Givenchy also brought diversity to the runway breaking from French couture tradition when he hired a group of non-white models in the early 1970s.
After Givenchy saw the models, including Pat Cleveland, Bethann Hardison, Billie Blair, Alva Chinn, China Machado, Jennifer Brice, and Ramona Saunders, he decided to break all stereotypes and use music and a range of models to present his fashions.
Designer Jeffrey Banks remembers, “At one point in the 1970s, his entire backstage was almost exclusively African-American girls, and no one was doing that then!”
It’s more than obvious that much has changed in fashion industry in almost 70 years since Givenchy founded his label.
Givenchy described the loss of original couturiers Cristóbal Balenciaga and Madame Grès as a great sadness for the fashion world.
“I have an enormous interest in everything, but I am just sad about fashion now because the epoch is sad,”- he said.
Did you know? Since his retirement from fashion in 1995, Mr. Givenchy remained active in the arts as an antique expert for Christie’s, the Château de Versailles and the Louvre museum. He also managed the French branch of the World Monuments Fund for several years.
At the opening of an exhibition in his honor at the Museum for Lace and Fashion in Calais last year, Givenchy said: “I am happy because I did the job I dreamed of as a child.”
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