Born on this day in fashion history: Hubert de Givenchy

Hubert de Givenchy in his studio, 1960. Image via Givenchy.com

Hubert de Givenchy in his studio, 1960. Image via Givenchy.com

Few fashion houses today survive from the Golden Age of 1950s couture and even fewer whose namesakes are still alive. Yet such is the case with Givenchy, whose founder Hubert de Givenchy celebrates his 88th birthday today. Givenchy, or more specifically Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy was born to a distinguished French family in Beauvais, France on this day in 1927. Givenchy began his career in fashion at the young age of 17 when he took a job as a studio design assistant for couturier Jacques Fath. He would later hone his skills working for other distinguished designers including Robert Piquet, Lucien Lelong and Elsa Schiaparelli before opening his own house in 1952 at the age of 24.[i]

Givenchy's  "Bettina Blouse" found great success in the designer's first ever collection in February 1952. It was named after its model and Givenchy muse Bettina Graziani. Image via Givenchy.com

Givenchy’s “Bettina Blouse” found great success in the designer’s first ever collection in February 1952. It was named after its model and Givenchy muse Bettina Graziani. Image via Givenchy.com

Young, talented, driven, Givenchy had all the makings of a great designer and found almost immediate success, his designs praised for their elegant, yet youthful, femininity. His aesthetic fit perfectly within the hyper-structured 1950s idiom of Dior’s “New Look” silhouette, and yet possessed enough creative and innovative expressions to make them stand out—a fact literally compounded by the designer’s 6’6” stature. In 1957, the New York Times recognized Givenchy as the creator of Paris fashion, praise awarded only to Christian Dior, Coco Chanel and Cristobal Balenciaga, whose prestigious company he had joined after only five short years after opening his business. The same article described Givenchy’s ideal client as embodying “the notion of an American a Frenchwoman gleans from the American fashion magazines at her hairdresser’s.”[ii]

Audrey Hepburn in the film Sabrina wearing a Givenchy designed gown, 1953. Image via Paramount Pictures.

Audrey Hepburn in the film Sabrina wearing a Givenchy designed gown, 1953. Image via Paramount Pictures.

Indeed, the Givenchy name became synonymous with the glamour and sophistication of fashion magazine staple and Hollywood sweetheart Audrey Hepburn for whom he designed wardrobe on and off the screen. In 1955, Edith Head won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for the film Sabrina, in which Hepburn starred, but it was Givenchy who designed many of her more memorable looks, including the white gown featured here. According to Givenchy, Hepburn was furious that the designer did not receive due credit, declaring from then on: “Each time I’m in a film, Givenchy dresses me.”[iii] The two collaborated on many beloved Hepburn films including Funny Face (1957) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). The two developed a close friendship that lasted until Hepburn’s death from cancer in 1993.

Givenchy debuted his shapeless "Sack" dress in 1957, the same year that Balenciaga presented a similar silhouette. The design evolved out of the "Shirt Dress" featured at left and was largely copied by manufactures, signifying a shift away from the highly-structured silhouettes that dominated 1950s fashion. Image via Givenchy.com

Givenchy debuted his shapeless “Sack” dress in 1957, the same year that Balenciaga presented a similar silhouette. The design evolved out of the “Shirt Dress” featured at left and was largely copied by manufactures, signifying a shift away from the highly-structured silhouettes that dominated 1950s fashion. Image via Givenchy.com

Givenchy pant-suit featured in the New York Times on February 2, 1968.

Givenchy pant-suit featured in the New York Times on February 2, 1968.

Givenchy’s house survived the Youthquake Revolution of the 1960s, largely due to his business acumen and foresight to adapt to contemporary times, expanding his business to include a ready-to-wear boutique in 1968 and menswear in the 1970s. He also possessed an uncanny ability to combine his signature elegance with fashionable trends. “He made the old couture look relevant,”[iv] wrote the New York Times in 1971, a period when the status of couture was increasingly challenged by the rise of ready-to-wear. Givenchy was able to succeed in both. In 1988, he sold his company to the French luxury conglomerate LVMH, but continued to design until he retired in 1995. Just as Givenchy began his career working under illustrious Parisian designers in the 1940s and early 50s, so too did three of today’s most celebrated designers get their start designing under the Givenchy name. John Galliano was his first successor, followed by Alexander McQueen, and now Riccardo Tisci, who has been at the brand’s helm since 2005.[v]

Givenchy was known for his fun and creative hats. Here, some examples are modeled by Givenchy muse Audrey Hepburn in the August 15, 1964 issue of Vogue.

Givenchy was known for his fun and creative hats. Here, some examples are modeled by Givenchy muse Audrey Hepburn in the August 15, 1964 issue of Vogue.

Givenchy evening gown, ca. 1968, Salmon-colored silk with feathers, in the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Givenchy evening gown, ca. 1968, Salmon-colored silk with feathers, in the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Givenchy designs featured in Women's Wear Daily, January 27, 1981, pg 1.

Givenchy designs featured in Women’s Wear Daily, January 27, 1981, pg 1.

Givenchy design featured in Vogue magazine, photographed by Helmut Newton, November, 11, 1990, pg 335.

Givenchy design featured in Vogue magazine, photographed by Helmut Newton, November, 11, 1990, pg 335.

Ricardo Tissci for Givenchy, Autumn/Winter Couture 2011/2012.  Image via Vogue.com

Ricardo Tissci for Givenchy, Autumn/Winter Couture 2011/2012. Image via Vogue.com

[i] “Hubert de Givenchy,” http://www.givenchy.com/en/maison-17/hubert-de-givenchy. [ii] Françoise Giroud, “Backstage at Paris Fashion Drama,” The New York Times, January 27, 1957, SM13. [iii] Mary M. Lane, “Hubert de Givenchy Remembers Audrey Hepburn,” The Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2012, http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2012/09/04/hubert-de-givenchy-remembers-audrey-hepburn. [iv] Bernadine Morris, “Givenchy: Elegance and More,” The New York Times, January 28, 1971, 41. [v] John Major, “Givenchy, Hubert de,” The Berg Fashion Library, 2005, http://libproxy.fitsuny.edu:2105/view/bazf/bazf00271.xml.

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