One of fashion’s last great legends, Hubert de Givenchy, died on Saturday at age 91, in news that became public on Monday.
The French fashion conglomerate LVMH acquired Givenchy’s brand in 1988, and the designer retired from fashion in 1995, succeeded by John Galliano, the late Alexander McQueen, Julien Macdonald, Riccardo Tisci, and Clare Waight Keller, each of whom has reimagined Givenchy’s design legacy in his or her own way. But to say that Givenchy’s influenced only the fashion world would be to shortchange a designer responsible for some of the iconic looks of old Hollywood — worn by Lauren Bacall, Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor, and, most famously, Audrey Hepburn.
The French aristocrat founded his eponymous house in his mid-20s in 1952, and launched his ready-to-wear collection in 1954, coming into his own alongside fashion’s most recognizable names, including Christian Dior and his mentor, Cristobal Balenciaga. The fashion world celebrated Givenchy’s first collection, giving him credibility among Parisian couturiers and, soon after, Hollywood.
The tale of Givenchy and Hepburn’s first meeting and subsequent designer-muse relationship has been told and retold countless times, at anniversary exhibitions of the designer’s work, at the time of Hepburn’s death in 1993, and again in 2014, when Givenchy dedicated a book of sketches to Hepburn, To Audrey with Love. The U.K. newspaper the Telegraph noted at the time “what fashion experts say is the couturier’s main contribution to his art, that he was responsible for keeping alive the standards of haute couture after the Second World War.”
Givenchy met Hepburn on the set of her movie Sabrina, having been asked to help create costumes for the film. Givenchy declined, citing a mid-collection workload, but gravitated toward Hepburn, “inspired by her youth, gamine look, and elegant spirit,” according to the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum in New York. Givenchy would ultimately be nominated for an Academy Award in costume design in 1958 for Hepburn’s film Funny Face, and of course, went on to create the Breakfast at Tiffany’s little black dress that cemented Hepburn’s place in cinematic iconography.
Eventually, Givenchy would translate his working relationship with Hepburn in cinema into his own business, launching the first actress-designer perfume, L’interdit, which was to serve as a model for the way actresses carry perfume campaigns today (think: Charlize Theron promoting Dior’s J’adore and Natalie Portman’s Miss Dior campaigns.)
Still, the pair’s great devotion to each other surmounted whatever financial success it brought them. Of Hepburn, Givenchy gushed in 1982: “Audrey knows everything that is good for her. She gives me direction.” As Hepburn said of Givenchy: “His are the only clothes in which I am myself. He is far more than a couturier; he is a creator of personality.”
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