On March 12, the world lost a fashion legend and true gentleman when Hubert de Givenchy passed away at the age of 91. Known for his elegant and ladylike clothes, Givenchy was the last of his generation of post-war French designers that gave new life to haute couture.
Born in 1927 as the son of a marquis, Givenchy knew from an early age he wanted to design dresses; he was inspired by a family trip to a Parisian fair that highlighted the fashions of Chanel, Lanvin, and other couture houses. He attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris for a year, and after apprenticing for fashion powerhouses such as Jacques Fath, Robert Piguet, Lucien Lelong, and Elsa Schiaparelli, the young designer launched his own label in 1952. He found success with his first collection by using affordable fabrics - a solution to the rising cost of textiles in Europe's recovering economy - and introducing stylish separates. The Bettina blouse, a lively embroidered flamenco-sleeve garment named for his fit model and PR Director Bettina Graziani, was an instant smash. At just 25, the handsome and statuesque designer was a breath of fresh air in the French fashion community.
He will forever be linked with his muse and lifelong friend Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn, then relatively unknown, approached the sought-after designer as she prepared for her role as a transformed Parisian sophisticate in Sabrina (1954). After an initial mix-up (he thought he would be dressing Katharine Hepburn) the two made an immediate connection. He dressed the actress for her iconic roles in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Funny Face (1957), and Charade (1963), among other films, and helped establish her renowned personal style; she praised, "His are the only clothes in which I am myself." Jacqueline Kennedy, Grace Kelly, and FIDM Museum founding donor Betsy Bloomingdale were just a few of the women that made up his high profile clientele.
Cristóbal Balenciaga also played a large role in Givenchy's life and career. He never hesitated to express his admiration of the Spanish designer, who became a close personal friend. Their ateliers were across from each other on the Avenue George V, leading to years of creative collaboration and mentorship. When Balenciaga closed his doors in 1968, unwilling to keep up with the faster changing pace of fashion, he referred his clients to Givenchy. Hubert continued to design at his house until 1995 - long after many of his colleagues had retired - continuing his legacy of beautifully constructed, sophisticated clothes. After he announced his retirement, he was quickly succeeded by John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, and Julien Macdonald. Riccardo Tisci, Artistic Director since 2005, handed the reigns to the brand's first female designer Clare Waight Keller in 2017. Though he mostly refrained from comment, Givenchy did reveal his unhappiness with the direction of his house in a 2007 Women's Wear Daily interview, stating "After all, one is proud of one's name."
Givenchy remained active in his retirement as an art and antiques collector and consultant, working with institutions such as the Louvre, Château de Versailles, and Christie's auction house. He was also the founding chairman of the Cristóbal Balenciaga Foundation, eventually opening the Balenciaga Museum in 2011. The FIDM Museum was very fortunate to work with Hubert de Givenchy in conjunction with our 2009 exhibition High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture. He participated in the documentary that accompanied the exhibition, sharing his remembrances of working with Mrs. Bloomindale and the couture process; you can watch his interview and Mrs. Bloomingdale's memories of the designer below. Monsieur Givenchy also generously provided the preface to Fabulous! 10 Years of FIDM Museum Acquisitions, 2000-2010. This catalog, written by Kevin Jones and Christina Johnson, accompanied the 2011 FIDM Museum exhibition of the same name. In it, Givenchy advises young designers to "look for concepts that lend nobility to fashion, which has always brought to us so much creativity, beauty, and elegance." Indeed, Hubert de Givenchy - couturier, scholar, aristocrat, and gentleman - will always be celebrated for the creativity, beauty, and elegance he brought to his own craft.
Hubert de Givenchy's preface to Fabulous! 10 Years of FIDM Museum Acquisitions, 2000-2010. This catalog, written by Kevin Jones and Christina Johnson, accompanied the 2011 FIDM Museum exhibition of the same name.