In a statement given by his family, the world was informed of the death of legendary French designer and icon Hubert de Givenchy. The designer died at the age of 91 on Saturday 10th March at the Renaissance chateau which was once shared with his partner Phillipe Venet.
Famously associated with actress Audrey Hepburn and First Lady Jackie Kennedy, the designer made both fashion and cinematic history with his designs of many iconic costumes worn by famous faces like Hepburn. Givenchy first opened his house in 1952 after working with other designers Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior and continued to act as creative director and lead designer until he retired from fashion design in 1995 when John Galliano took the reigns of Givenchy.
“Givenchy also launched a cosmetic line which encapsulates the modern woman with luxury“
When originally agreeing to work alongside Hepburn, Givenchy initially thought that his designs were going to be for American actress Katherine Hepburn. The first of many of Givenchy’s designs to be worn by Hepburn was her wardrobe for 1954 film Sabrina, where she was defined by her Cinderella-esque gown worn when dancing with actor and former flame William Holden. This film and wardrobe defined both Audrey and Givenchy for the rest of their careers and birthed a relationship between the two that would last until Audrey’s death in 1993.
One of Givenchy’s most famous designs was a black sheath dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where he designed many of the items worn. The dress was floor length, covering most of Audrey’s legs, with a fitted bodice and a distinctive cut out detail at the back of the design. The Roger Scemama necklace worn by Audrey sat on top of the décolleté featured on this design. The dress itself is simple yet extremely feminine and Parisian. Both Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Sabrina set precedent for Givenchy and his future in fashion. It was then not long until Givenchy created his first men’s line in 1969.
Like other luxury designers, the House of Givenchy was split in 1981 to begin a perfume line known exclusively as Parfums Givenchy. Of course, before the split, the house had made various perfumes in which Audrey Hepburn became the face of in the late 1950’s. Alongside the creation of perfumes, Givenchy also launched a cosmetic line which encapsulated the modern woman with luxury and creativity in mind.
“Givenchy himself was known as being a champion in diversity”
As Givenchy changed hands from Galliano, Julien Macdonald and Riccardo Tisci to now creative director, British stylist Clare Waight Keller, the style and designs the world knew best changed as directors became more experimental and adventurous with what they designed for the fashion house. Tisci’s Fall 2015 ready-to-wear collection saw giant septum rings and a lot of other facial jewellery and braids. This collection was different from Givenchy’s usual conservative dresses, pea jackets and kitten heels, seen in the much of the 1960’s. This collection was commented on as one fashion’s biggest mashups as the dark, velvet Victoriana dresses harked back to previous shows by Tisci and introduced more Gothic and darker themes within the clothing and his work for Givenchy. Many fashion bloggers and commentators did have mixed opinions on the collection as it did not represent the original premise of the French fashion giant.
Since the release of Breakfast at Tiffany’s 50 years ago, the iconic dress is still a vision of elegance and Givenchy. Many actresses and party goers have attempted to recreate the look with the over sized black sunglasses, hair piled on top of the head, coffee in hand wishing to walk the streets of Manhattan. The thrill of an evening dress being warn in the early morning was imprinted on everyone’s mind even if they had or had not seen the film. The likes of Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy and Lauren Bacall were the perfect muses and spokeswomen for the fashion house and helped to launch this exclusive luxury brand.
The legacy that Givenchy leaves will not just be the dresses he designed or the famous women who wore his designs but instead it will be the work force he had behind him. Givenchy himself was known as being a champion of diversity and began asking women of all ethnic backgrounds to walk in shows. Fashion designer and author Jeffrey Banks once quoted that “At one point in the 1970s, his entire cabine was almost exclusively African-American girls—and no one was doing that then!”. Givenchy first started using women from all different walks of life and ethnic backgrounds in 1973 and has continued to ever since.
The question now on everyone’s lips is what is to happen with Givenchy now? Current creative director Clare Wright Keller commented at Paris Fashion Week that she wishes to start Givenchy on a new journey when asked about tackling the house’s ghosts and taking them into a new direction. As mentioned, the house has significantly changed and probably will continue to so long as the design process is in safe hands. Like any other designer, their clothes and any other lines have to follow the trends and fashion which is happening now. It is of course their own decision if they wish to take the house into a different direction, whether that be revising current designs or axing the use of fur and other animal produce from their work.
All in all, the fashion industry and its audience thanks Givenchy for his commitment and revolutionary approach to changing they ways in which women see themselves and the way they dress. The Givenchy fashion house made a statement about Hubert’s death saying “Today his approach to fashion and his influence still continue … his work remains as relevant today as it has always been.”