The dress must follow the body of a woman, not the body following the shape of the dress.
– Hubert de Givenchy
Hubert de Givenchy founded the Paris fashion house of ‘Givenchy’, one of the world’s best-known luxury fashion brands today. Givenchy died on Saturday the 10th of March 2018 at his home, just outside of Paris. Philippe Venet announced his death. Venet was Hubert’s partner and also a fashion designer. His death was also published on Twitter by the Givenchy account, stating: ‘The House of Givenchy is sad to report the passing of its founder Hubert de Givenchy, a major personality of the world of French Haute Couture and a gentleman who symbolized Parisian chic and elegance for more than half a century. He will be greatly missed’.
A Background to the Life and Style of Givenchy:
Hubert de Givenchy was born in Beauvais in 1927 to an aristocratic family. In France he was affectionately known as ‘Le Grand Hubert’, as he was a tall man standing at 6’6”. He left his hometown at 17 to pursue his dream of becoming a fashion designer. Beginning his studies at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Hubert was introduced to the world of fashion at a young age. His mother took him to a fashion fair in Paris when he was ten. This fair showcased the designs of Chanel and Schiaparelli which was organised by Lanvin. (Hubert later worked with Schiaparelli before beginning his own fashion house). Hubert has pointed to this moment as the point in which he knew he wanted to have a career in fashion. In 2017 he stated that ‘I am happy because I did the job I dreamed of as a child’. Hubert also worked with Schiaparelli before beginning his own fashion house.
He is attributed with creating the idea of ‘separates’ in fashion, that the collection has key pieces that are interchangeable. Separates included skirts, blazers, trouser etc. which were in opposition to the then societal opinion on fashion, where a woman wore a dress each day. He was also the first to create a ‘Ready-to-Wear’ collection, as opposed to previously couture driven collections. From there he moved into the creation of menswear known as ‘Givenchy Gentleman’ in 1969. Hubert de Givenchy is well known for bringing ‘Parisian’ styling to his collections. A very simple yet elegant range of clothing, something that has been lost in the House of Givenchy after his departure from the brand. Another first for Givenchy came as he became one of the first fashion house to bring diversity to the runway in the 1970’s. In 2018, Vanity Fair even suggests that his shows had more representation of diversity than today. Givenchy is situated in the post-world war two period, where major brands such as Balmain and Dior were also being created.
The brand Givenchy is not limited to clothing, it has also moved into the beauty and makeup sphere (like many other originally fashion brands). Unusually, Givenchy also designed a limited-edition Lincoln car 1979 that featured Givenchy’s ‘G’ logo. He later further moved into interior design, as Givenchy helped design hotels around the same time period.
The Famous Moments:
Looking towards some of the designer’s greatest achievements, American magazine ‘Life’ brought Givenchy to the American stage in 1952 with a display of his collection. Hubert opened a showroom at 8 Rue Alfred de Vigny in Paris. Then Givenchy held his first showcase in February 1952 at the young age of 24, which led to the famous fashion pairing of Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy. Their friendship lasted over 40 years. Hepburn and Givenchy worked together on numerous occasions, orchestrating some of her best-known looks. The pair had a close working relationship, beginning with Givenchy designing the gown Audrey Hepburn wore in the film ‘Sabrina’ in 1954. Other outfits in the film were also from Givenchy. Sabrina later won the Academy award for Best Costume Design, although it was Edith Head that received the award, and she did not mention Givenchy in her acceptance speech. Again, in 1961, the fashion house created Hepburn’s iconic little black dress for her role as Holly Golightly in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. In 2006 that famous black dress sold for $923,187 at Christie’s in London! Hepburn also wore clothing from Givenchy in ‘How to Steal a Million’ (1968), ‘Funny Face’ (1957), ‘Love in the Afternoon’ (1957) and ‘Paris When it Sizzles’ (1964). While Hepburn sported Givenchy in her daily life as well, she also inspired the creation of Givenchy’s first perfume in 1957, ‘l’Interdit’. She appeared in the advertisement for the fragrance, and promoted the product, but did not receive payment for the role. When asked about Givenchy’s clothing, Hepburn stated that, ‘everyone wants to look beautiful and at least I feel beautiful when I’m in his clothes and they give me great confidence’.
Hepburn was not the only famous face to wear Givenchy’s design to a large audience. Jackie Kennedy, the First Lady to US President John F. Kennedy, collaborated with Givenchy to design her outfit while on an official visit to France in 1961. Wearing a white Givenchy dress while attending the Palace of Versailles. She also wore Givenchy at the funeral of her husband in 1963. Other famous clients of his include Liz Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Wallis Simpson (the Duchess of Windsor) and Princess Grace of Monaco.
Givenchy also had a great working relationship with another huge luxury fashion house; Balenciaga. Hubert de Givenchy and Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga met in the 1950’s. Givenchy was an apprentice of Balenciaga’s. Hubert cited Cristóba as one of his fashion heroes. Given that major fashion brands would usually be opposed to each other. They did not rival one another in the fashion sphere. Hubert once commented that ‘Balenciaga was my religion’.
The Last Years of Givenchy:
By 1988 he sold the fashion house to LVMH, a retail conglomerate that represents brands such as Louis Vuitton and Dior. The head of LVMH, Bernard Arnault, when asked to comment after the death of Hubert de Givenchy said that he was ‘one of the creators who put Paris at the summit of world fashion in the 1950s’. Hubert de Givenchy himself retired from the House of Givenchy in 1995, when he presented his final couture fashion show. After retiring, Givenchy saw a string of fashion designers at the head of the company, including John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Julien Macdonald and Riccardo Tisci. In March 2017, Clare Waight Keller took over as the creative director, being the first woman in that position in the history of Givenchy. In the wake of his death Keller posted on Instagram that he ‘was he one of the most influential fashion figures of our time, whose legacy still influences modern day dressing’. Other influential figures in fashion have also come forward with comments; Naomi Campbell said that ‘it was an honor to have met you and work with you’, while editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, Nina, posted that ‘he believed in beauty and he left us a more beautiful world’.
Hubert de Givenchy did not leave the fashion world completely in 1995: later, he was involved with the creation of antique fashion exhibitions at the Louvre in Paris. Before his death Hubert asked those to donate to Unicef instead of sending flowers.