Hubert de Givenchy, one of the greatest couturiers of the 20th century, has passed away near Paris at the age of 91. Givenchy created some of fashion’s most iconic and enduring looks, and was celebrated worldwide in particular for his “little black dress” and for his collaboration with Audrey Hepburn.
Hubert James Taffin de Givenchy was born on 21 February 1927 into an aristocratic French family of Italian descent. At the age of 17 he moved to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and in his early career in the mid-to-late 1940s he worked with fashion legends including Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior and Elsa Schiaparelli.
At the age of just 25, he established his own couture house in 1952 (ready-to-wear came in 1954) and a year later met Hepburn during the shooting of the movie Sabrina and went on to create her iconic look for Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961. The pair forged a lifelong close friendship and she starred in the ads for his first fragrances, L’Interdit and Le de Givenchy, for free as they were created in her honour.
Other famous patrons of Givenchy included Jackie Kennedy, Maria Callas, Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, Greta Garbo, the Duchess of Windsor, Babe Paley and Lee Radziwill. The Givenchy house was split in 1981 with LVMH taking over the fashion arm and perfumes going to Veuve Cliquot. Today LVMH owns both the fashion and perfumes arm.
Givenchy himself stopped designing in 1995 and has been succeeded by a string of mostly British designers at the head of the house. John Galliano took over from Givenchy for five years, followed by Alexander McQueen and Julien Macdonald. Italian designer Riccardo Tisci arrived in 2005 and transformed the house during his 12-year tenure with his dark romantic aesthetic (though it is understood Givenchy himself was not keen on Tisci’s celebrity muses such as Kim Kardashian), and he was succeeded by Briton Clare Waight Keller (the first woman to head the house) who has just created her second critically acclaimed collection for the house.
At his height during the late 1950s and 1960s Givenchy created a number of timeless designs from the little black dress, to the babydoll and “the Beat” look featuring tweed miniskirts, knitted jerkins and headscarves. At six foot six inches tall, he was an imposingly elegant figure himself and insisted on wearing a white smock coat in his studio – an homage of sorts to his idol Cristobal Balenciaga.
He may have fallen out of the limelight and the headlines when fashion took a less elegant turn but over the four decades he worked, he proved himself to be more than worthy company for his contemporaries such as Saint Laurent, Balmain and Madame Chanel in what was a golden era for fashion.