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]
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]
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’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]
[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.