It will come as no surprise to some that Hubert de Givenchy is one of my most loved designers. The man and his fashion house and synonymous with creating Audrey Hepburn’s style of the 1950’s. And it is my all-time love for Audrey that bought me to discover and admire the work of Givenchy. He was a man of tall stature, and over a 40 year career in fashion, he build his name into a recognisable brand that reflected his towering height over his opponents.
Hubert de Givenchy is another product of France, being born in Beauvais in 1927. He and his brother enjoyed a mostly affluent lifestyle, being born into an aristocratic family. The boys were raised by their mother and grandmother after their father’s untimely passing in 1930. Givenchy knew from a young age that he had a love for design and the arts, and attended an arts school after briefly considering a career in law. At the tender young age of only 17, he began an apprenticeship with one of the greats, Jacques Fath, and built on his natural talents as a designer. After working with Fath, Givenchy moved on to work alongside some of the other famous names of the time, including Robert Piguet, Lucien Lelong and Elsa Schiaparelli. Then on the 2nd February, 1952, on the rue Alfred de Vigny, Givenchy opened his first couture house.
Givenchy was one of the first design houses of the 1950’s to produce a ready-to-wear collection. And it was an enormous success. Vogue magazine and The New York Times sang his praises claiming “A star is born”, and rating Givenchy as one of the “most newsworthy happenings this spring”. His collection included floaty skirts and puffy blouses all made from raw cotton, and the most iconic piece of this collection was the Bettina Blouse made of white cotton, and named after one of Givenchy’s muse Bettina Grazia. The applause at the conclusion of this debut was said to be loud, long and unqualified. First day sales totalled seven million francs!
Givenchy created many of the classic 1950’s silhouettes which I am a fan on today, and put emphasis on creating separate skirts and tops which appealed to the younger market. His initial collections displayed full skirts, nipped in waists, voluminous sleeves, and were accessorised with gloves, belts and ‘garbo’ hats. It was reported that in the early days, Givenchy only had a small premise in which to create his magic, and was often found ironing garments in the bathroom moments before they appeared on the runway. Hollywood soon noticed this young designer, and came calling for Givenchy to create costumes for some of the iconic films of the 1950’s and 1960’s. And it was here that Hubert de Givenchy meet Audrey Hepburn, and a lifelong friendship and adoration for each other began.
The first film in which Givenchy dressed Hepburn was Sabrina, alongside famed costume designer Edith Head. He then went on to style her wardrobe both on and off the screen, and Hepburn became the new ambassador for the House of Givenchy. Possibly the most famous image of Audrey Hepburn wearing a Givenchy creation is the little black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Givenchy also dressed Hepburn in some of her other famous films of the era including Funny Face, How to Steal a Million, and Paris when it Sizzles. Their relationship remained solid over Givenchy’s career, and at his exhibition celebration 40 years in the business in 1991, it was naturally Hepburn who inaugurated it. Other famous women of the time who proudly wore Givenchy include Jaquelin Kennedy, Lauren Bacall and the Duchess of Windsor, for whom he made an outfit for to wear to her husband’s funeral in only 48 hours. In 1957, Givenchy’s relationship with his new muse Hepburn was so strong, that he developed a perfume for her sole use. L`Interdit later became available to the public, along with many other fragrances that the House of Givenchy developed.
It should also be mentioned the influence that another great designer had on Givenchy. Balenciaga formed a close bond with Givenchy, and by 1963 they were both talked about in the same breath. It is said that through this friendship, Givenchy quest for perfection was formed, and he wore his mentors white coat at the end of each show. At one point in time, Balenciaga and Givenchy had their fashion houses located opposite each other on the same street in Paris.
The Givenchy label has grown significantly over the decades, and now not only encompasses women’s fashion, but also menswear, shoes, jewelry, ties, tableware, upholstery and kimonos. A significant milestone for Givenchy came in 1988 when after 36 years at the helm, Hubert de Givenchy sold his empire to LVMH. He stayed on for a few more years, finally winding down and retiring in 1995. Givenchy was succeeded by John Galliano, followed closely by Alexander McQueen in 1996. Also having been in charge and taking the title of artistic director have been Julien MacDonald, Riccardo Tisci and currently Clare Waight Keller.
As Hubert de Givenchy now sits back and enjoys his retirement, I’m sure he must be immensely proud and empowered by his contributions to the history of fashion. Every time I watch one of my favourite Audrey Hepburn films, I simply marvel at his ingenuity and flair for style that made the 1950’s such a grand decade in couture. Be it that little black dress, the floral printed full skirt or those chic and voluptuous sleeves, Givenchy has certainly left an everlasting mark on the world of fashion.
Love Always, Anastacia Rose xx