Couturier Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy died in his sleep on Saturday 10 March 2018 at the Chateau du Jonchet near Paris, his home in retirement after 1995.
Givenchy as he was known in business, began his celebrity career in the Rue Alfred de Vigny during the early 1950’s when in his twenties.
He introduced into the world of fashion his big idea of what modernity should be about.
He was first to offer a fabulous collection of mix-and-match pieces that everywoman would want to wear, because they were so comfortable on the body.
Givenchy had a long association with Cristobal Balenciaga, the designer he admired more than any other.
He went onto become one of the most sought-after designers of his own generation, especially by those clients who embraced his vision.
They included such actors as Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sophia Loren, the First Lady of America in the 60’s, Jacqueline Kennedy and many other high society ladies.
Having met actor Audrey Hepburn in 1953, she became his most renowned client until she died in 1993. Her taste for the simplicity he espoused, ensured theirs was a relationship, which flourished from being professional, into being personal.
After she met Givenchy and embraced the simplicity of his style choices, Audrey Hepburn’s personal style was forever linked to his name and she insisted in every movie contract she signed, that he design her costume.
Audrey Hepburn was for any designer, a fashion peg par excellence with her gamin face, unique look and slender frame caused by prolonged, but not planned starvation as a growing teenager during World War II.
Costume design in Hollywood for the movies has a long, distinguished and charismatic career in helping to build our view of, and about a character, as well as aid the storytelling.
While much of Givenchy’s fame today is mainly based on his black dress designed for Audrey Hepburn for the opening scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, however fabulous it was there were others before it.
The first encounter Givenchy had with Sabrina came through her wanting to purchase real clothes from Paris for her character and the supervising costumer for the film Hollywood’s famous Edith Head agreed.
In the movie Sabrina goes to Paris to be ‘finished’, sent by her father the chauffeur on the Larabee estate – something that happened to well-bred girls of the day to help them bag a husband.
Sadly, at a point in his career where it would have helped Givenchy, was never credited for the glorious dresses she wore, including that first little ‘black dress’ chosen from his current collection, which he designed and had Edith Head make up for her because he was so busy.
My favourite was a superb black lace dress with matching black lace silk stockings and with a black lace mask entirely covering the upper half of her face, designed for Hepburn to wear in her rendevouz with Peter O’Toole in the Hotel Ritz Bar at Paris in the movie How to Steal a Million. It was fabulous.
I have the first image of her, also from that movie, fused into my memory.
She is driving an Autobianchi Bianchina Special Cabriolet along the Seine nearby one of Paris’s main landmarks of the time, wearing a sixties helmet style hat, disposed over an equally marvellous coat with underneath, a simple but divine dress with a peplum.
It was set off by white sheer silk stockings, a white patent belt and matching low-heeled pumps – the piece de resistance being outrageously large white sunglasses.
William Wyler’s How to Steal a Million was billed as the ‘crime caper of the century’ and revolved around Audrey Hepburn as Givenchy clad fashionista Nicole Bonnet, daughter renowned art collector (forger) Charles Bonnet (Hugh Griffith) who is hoodwinking the world and having a great time doing it.
Nicole employs Simon Dermott (Peter O’Toole) who she thinks is a ‘burglar’, to help her steal a statue of Venus from a Parisian museum. Playing her part Audrey is called upon to give ‘Givenchy a night off’ by O’Toole, by donning the garb of a cleaning lady.
Can’t imagine Givenchy ever had too many night’s off, even when he retired, his creative mind would have always demanded he have a pencil in his hand, or nearby.
Hubert Givenchy will forever be associated with the ‘classic’ age of elegance in fashion that came about during his lifetime with his clothes and costume for Audrey Hepburn.
They confirmed he was a very cool man of perception, who clearly understood what women want, a combination of beauty, form and style.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2018