Hubert de Givenchy dies at age 91
He was the inventor of casual chic. Hubert James Taffin de Givenchy, founder of Parisian fashion label Givenchy, died on Saturday 10th March 2018, aged 91. Born in Beauvais, France, in 1927, Hubert de Givenchy made his mark in the history of fashion as one of the pioneers of luxury ready-to-wear. He died in his sleep, his partner Philippe Venet told French news agency AFP on Monday.
Hubert de Givenchy's career in fashion began in 1945, at the age of 18, when he joined the maison of Parisian couturier Jacques Fath, and then those of Robert Piguet, Lucien Lelong and Elsa Schiaparelli, for which he was appointed director of the place Vendôme store in the heart of Paris. After these initial experiences, at 25 he decided he wanted to establish his own label. Simply called Givenchy, it opened at 8 rue Alfred de Vigny in Paris in 1952, "the finest moment of my life," in the French couturier's own words.
In the same year, Hubert de Givenchy showed his first collection, immediately catching the fashion world's attention. With Bettina Graziani as model, he introduced a new concept: the two-piece suit. Different skirts and tops that could be combined with one another, among them the renowned white blouse with frilled sleeves - the 'Bettina blouse' - made in lawn, a very fine linen fabric, with a matching gabardine skirt. Items that were simpler, more comfortable and more accessible than haute couture ones, made in less expensive fabrics like the light cotton known as shirting, organdie and poplin cotton.
With these creations, Givenchy demonstrated for the first time how you could "democratise fashion", combining imagination and a classic touch to create a chic, casual look. A year later, in 1953, Hubert de Givenchy met two people who had a great impact in his life. Cristóbal Balenciaga, who transmitted him a taste for couture, and Audrey Hepburn, his muse and personal friend, with whom he built his career.
Balenciaga, his mentor
"For me, the best was Monsieur Balenciaga, a man who knew how to make perfect clothes," said an emotional Hubert de Givenchy on 15th June 2017 in Calais, France, at the inauguration of the exhibition dedicated to himself at the local Lace Museum.
Hubert de Givenchy had admired Balenciaga ever since his youth: "I was 10-11 years old when I caught a train from Beauvais, without telling my family, to travel to Paris to meet Monsieur Balenciaga. I reached avenue George V, took a lift up to his couture atelier and walked into a wonderful world, where I was surrounded by seamstresses, models and the smell of fabrics. I didn't manage to meet him, luckily, since I imagine my sketches weren't attractive enough." He would have to wait a few more years before meeting the man who would become his mentor.
The two eventually met by chance in New York, and never parted ways since, to the extent of bringing their maisons closer to one another. In 1959, Hubert de Givenchy in fact relocated his atelier opposite to Balenciaga's, on avenue George V, and constantly followed the advice of the Spanish designer.
Hubert de Givenchy's collections were steeped in the simple cuts, cleverly worked fabrics and flowing style that were the hallmark of Balenciaga, nicknamed 'the architect of fashion', to which the French designer added his own imaginative touch. Hubert de Givenchy took his mentor's teachings to heart, as is reflected in how he defined clothing, 45 years after the death of Balenciaga: "Clothes are indispensable, but above all they consist of form and fabric. They must be able to move, to blend harmoniously with a woman's body, without any contrivance getting in the way of fabric."
The privileged rapport between Hubert de Givenchy and Balenciaga lasted for twenty years, until the latter's death in 1972. In the course of this long period of time, the Givenchy label prospered. In 1954, the luxury ready-to-wear line 'Givenchy Université' was launched, three years later came the first fragrances, followed by more licensed products (table linen, footwear, jewellery, ties, etc.). Among Hubert de Givenchy's celebrity clients were Jackie Kennedy, the Duchess of Windsor and Daisy Fellowes, heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune.
The most loyal of them remained Audrey Hepburn. "She came into my life in an adorable way," said Hubert de Givenchy in Calais in 2017. They met through a common acquaintance, who wanted to introduce 'Miss Hepburn' to the French designer. Hubert de Givenchy was expecting to welcome actress Catherine Hepburn, instead young Audrey turned up, dressed in jeans and striped marine-style top, asking him to design her costumes for the film 'Sabrina' by director Billy Wilder.
Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn: two interconnected lives
Since that day, the two became inseparable, starting a professional collaboration which brought Hubert de Givenchy's costume creations to the film world, while the young actress' screen career and their friendship both blossomed.
The couturier designed Hepburn's outfits for 'Funny Face' (1957), the legendary 'Breakfast at Tiffany's’ (1961), which opens with a shot of the actress' back, clad in the famous back dress by Hubert de Givenchy, 'Charade' (1963) and 'How To Steal a Million' (1966).
Audrey Hepburn also followed Givenchy for the launch of the label's fragrances, becoming the face of L’Interdit perfume. It was a novelty for the beauty world, the first time a celebrity associated with a brand. The two remained close and worked together on a number of projects until the actress' death in 1993, at the age of 64. It was a huge loss for Hubert de Givenchy, who claimed he "was always thinking about her, and could not help smiling when he came across a picture of her."
"Times have changed"
The French designer, who used to say he was "a happy man, because I worked at the craft I dreamed about when I was a child," eventually retired in 1995, seven years after his label was bought by LVMH and after a design career spanning 40 years. Having left the fashion world, Hubert de Givenchy turned to that of art auctions, becoming President of the executive committee at Christie’s, and organising several exhibitions of his own work, notably in Madrid, The Hague and Calais, between 1997 and 2017. At the latter event, he said he was still busy on several projects: "We always say we stop, but there's something forever fascinating in life." He also said he was still very fond of drawing. "I often draw, I haven't lost my touch. That in itself is quite something."
Hubert de Givenchy still liked to keep up with today's fashion world, though not without a hint of bitterness: "Times have changed. The era of Madame Grès and Madame Vionnet, of Monsieur Dior and Monsieur Balenciaga, that was the golden age of couture. Fabrics were sumptuous, and there were the right occasions for wearing such dresses. Nowadays, there is no longer fashion, there are many fashions. That era ended when Monsieur Saint Laurent decided to stop," said Hubert de Givenchy in June 2017. "I would like to see young people bring in new blood, a new vision. I would tell them that the best way to learn is to work in an atelier, because that’s where life is, where you learn teamwork. It’s the best school."
Ever since Hubert de Givenchy left, the Givenchy label continued in the tradition of his daringly elegant creations. John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Julien MacDonald, Riccardo Tisci and now Clare Waight Keller have succeeded each other as the label's creative directors, eager to celebrate the Hubert de Givenchy style and to pay tribute to the couturier with their collections.
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