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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Born on This Day in Fashion History: Paco Rabanne

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Portrait of Paco Rabanne from Vogue, July 1, 1968, 63.

Happy birthday to Paco Rabanne who was born on this day in 1934; a man who made waves, or should we say, links— that is— between fashion and architecture during the 1960s!

Formally trained as an architect, Rabanne got his first taste for fashion while he was in school, drawing fashion sketches for Dior and Givenchy as well as shoe sketches for Charles Jourdan.[1] Rabanne, a Spaniard from the Basque region, made his own mark on fashion when he launched a line of colorful plastic accessories in geometric shapes or spring 1965 that the fashion press overwhelmingly praised.[2] Not only were they plastic, they were large and eye-catching—layered square, circle, and rectangular earrings; circular arm cuffs; and even vinyl visors in shocking colors like chartreuse or a vibrant orange. For resort and summer 1966, Rabanne expanded his line of accessories to include jewelry for feet and ankles—toe rings that connected to an anklet with a chevron pattern or a blooming flower— all made from beautiful, malleable plastic. Rabanne’s plastic accessories flaunted their immediacy, affordability, and expendability—which became the new set of virtues upheld by the reigning 1960s youth culture. They flouted the stuffiness of the establishment, the haute couture, and the legions of women they dressed. Rabanne’s accessories were meant to be worn once, twice, maybe even three times, but just until the wearer grew tired of it, and out it went and onto the next! They appeared in almost every fashion editorial in Vogue that year.

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Paco Rabanne’s oversized, geometric earrings photographed by Irving Penn. Vogue, May 1, 1966, 214.

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WWD, January 3, 1966, 81.

For spring/summer 1966 Rabanne translated his approach to plastic into a collection of dresses that he presented in Paris and later in New York at Lord & Taylor’s Fantasia boutique. Various geometric shapes like diamonds, rectangles, or circles were crafted from thin sheets of Rhodoid that were then linked together to form futuristic looking dresses that resembled plates of armor. The dresses worked with, not against, the limitations of the material and their silhouettes echoed the fashions of the time such as a mini-skirted jumper or a fishtail evening dress. Alterations were made not with needle and thread, but with pliers. Vogue called it a “sensational collection of modern clothes” while WWD announced that New Yorkers were “bowled over by his outerspace dresses.”[3] Women from in fashion capitals all over the world preferred his short dresses that “makes all the noise” to long evening dress that were outdated and about as “non-groovy” as it gets.[4]

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Henry Clarke, Vogue, June 1, 1966, 78.

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Mia Farrow wearing Paco Rabanne’s pieced mink coat. Vogue, August 1, 1967, 76.

Rather than fall victim to his own successes, Rabanne explored other mediums like leather and ostrich feathers for fall/winter 1966. Rabanne’s designs at times played up rather than diminished their ability to curtail costs, like an ostrich feather coat, which according to Vogue, was “marvellously ingeniously made of strips of thick plastic tape, between which feathers are glued.”[5] At others, he lavishly deconstructed white mink only to reassemble it together with silver links to create a geometric patterned coat. Rabanne rebuked the traditions of the haute couture like staging collections within the house’s atelier, and instead, selected Iris Clert, “the most avant of avant garde galleries,” to show his new collection. His designs were set against corresponding paintings of modern artists such as Walter De Maria or Lucio Fontana, equating them at least aesthetically, to art. Rabanne embraced all aspects of modernity, which carried over to his boutique, which opened on 33 rue Bergère in Paris in October, 1966. The interior featured black walls and carpets with, what else, black plastic furniture while steel scaffolding outlined the walls and ceilings. Eventually, fashion, ever the elusive entity moved on and the styles that had dominated by Rabanne and his peers during height of the 1960s Youthquake quickly fell out of favor by the next decade.

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Paco Rabanne at Iris Clert. Vogue, September 15, 1966, 172.

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Dita Von Teese wearing Schmidt and Bitonti’s 3D printed gown.

Although the Paco Rabanne house continues today, it no longer leads the vanguard in fashion, but methodically churns out derivative work of its eponymous designer. Rabanne was an innovator who challenged the very notion of a textile and his influences are still felt today particularly in the realm of 3D printing. Although today’s 3D printed dresses, most notably by Dutch designer Iris van Herpen, Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti’s gown for Dita Von Teese, and the Kinematics Dress by Nervous System, are much more sophisticated in their design and structure, they are still inevitably restricted by the realities of the material— “rigid, hard plastic.”[6] Printed in variations of flowing mesh, all three of the aforementioned dresses are ultimately adaptations of Rabanne’s ingenious, chain-linked designs from the 1960s. Issey Miyake’s Bao Bao line of geometric bags and pouches that resemble tangrams also seem to reference Rabanne’s fluid, pieced designs. Rabanne will always be remembered for his experimentation with and application of unconventional, industrial materials like plastic, neon and metal towards fashion. His designs overturned and redefined the fashion system of the mid-1960s— staunchly declaring that new was in and old was out; youthfulness was revered and elegance was dead. Long live Paco Rabanne!

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Donyale Luna shot by Guy Bordin. Vogue, April 1, 1966, 118.

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Richard Avedon, Vogue, March 1, 1967, 204-205.

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Richard Avedon, Vogue, March 1, 1967, 206-207.

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Leather coat by Paco Rabanne, 1967, MET Museum.

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Runway show featuring Rabanne’s leather coat, shown above. Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1967, D1.

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Various silhouettes made from Rabanne’s plastic pieces. Vogue, April 1, 1966, 115.

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The perfect alternative to a boring, long evening dress: Paco Rabanne’s mini dress worn by Baroness Helen Bachofen von Echt, 1967, Victoria & Albert.


Notes:

[1] Claude De Leusse, “They’re Dingues:” (Dinge means mad, wild,” WWD, October 15, 1965, 14.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “The Plastic World of Paco Rabanne,” WWD, March 29, 1966, 8, and “Vogue’s Own Boutique,” Vogue, April 1, 1966, 115.

[4] Carol Bjorkman, “Carol,” WWD, April 29, 1966, 7.

[5] “Vogue’s Own Boutique,” Vogue, September 15, 1966, 173.

[6] “Kinematics Dress by Nervous System- 3D Printed by Shapeways,” Youtube Video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdRswasftfI