Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hubert De Givenchy - Couturier Confidant

Originally published on the Coletterie blog.

Hubert de Givenchy (1927-  )

Audrey Hepburn, 1964.

Hubert de Givenchy was born to a prestigious family. Though he thought of studying law, he became a fashion designer instead. He is now known for clothing of superb cut and workmanship made up in beautiful fabrics. His clothes were pure, classical, and sometimes severe in their simplicity of design.

Silk and coral gown, 1963.

His career began through working for French designers Jacques Fath, Robert Piguet, and Lucien Lelong. At Lelong, he worked with another unknown, named Christian Dior. He eventually worked under avant-garde designer Elsa Schiaparelli before he opened his own shop in 1952

Audrey in the 'Larrabee' party dress from Sabrina.

At the early age of 26, he gained notoriety by becoming the favored designer for Audrey Hepburn. In 1953, by personal request from the 24 year-old Hepburn, he designed the majority of her wardrobe for the movie Sabrina, when the character has had her French makeover. His most famous design from the movie would be the frothy, strapless “Larabee party” dress with elaborate black and white embroidered overskirt.  However, due to stipulations in her contract, Paramount designer Edith Head was listed solely as the movie’s designer and she received the Oscar that year for costume design.

'Les Muguets', 1955.

After that film, Hepburn made sure that he was the contracted designer for almost all of her future films. As well as creating a majority of her off-screen wardrobe he also became her dear friend until her death in 1993. Other famous and devoted customers of Givenchy were Grace Kelly, members of the Guinness and Kennedy dynasties, and The Duchess of Windsor.

House of Givenchy, 1967-69

In 1988, because of financial reasons Givenchy sold the company to the Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennessy (LVMH) organization. When he retired in 1995, even though he had picked his successor, he was overruled by the new owners and designer John Galliano was installed as head of design instead.

Silk and satin dress, 1968.

Hollywood connection: Designer of Audrey Hepburn’s costumes in the majority of her films after 1953, most notably Sabrina (1954), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Charade (1963) and How To Steal A Million (1966).

McCall's 4875, c. 1959.

Home sewing connection: Givenchy created patterns for Spadea, Vogue’s Paris Original series, and McCall’s throughout the 1950-60s.

Magazine ad for separates.

His style, innovations, and influence on fashion:
  • His first collection showed skirts and blouses made in inexpensive cotton shirting fabrics. 
The "Bettina" blouse, 1952.

  • He named both his first collection in 1952 and a full ruffle-sleeved cotton blouse after his muse, model Bettina (aka Simone Micheline Bodin Gaziani).
  • Even though Coco Chanel is frequently said to be the originator of the little black dress, his versions of the LBD in Sabrina and Breakfast at Tiffany’s are the ones most popularly referenced.
  • In 1957, he created the fragrance L’Interdit for Hepburn’s personal use. She later convinced him to commercially market the scent.
  • Givenchy’s own fashion idol was Cristobal Balenciaga whom he considered, “a great architect”, because “all the proportions of Balenciaga are strong, modern, and wonderful”.
Sources: Dressmakers of France (1956) Mary Brooks Pickens, Dora Loues Miller; Fashion (2003) Christopher Breward; 100 Dresses (2010) Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Who’s Who in Fashion (2009) Anne Stegemeyer.

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