For a lot of designers, the big screen is their meal ticket to mainstream attention and guaranteed commercial success. Over the years, a lot of designers have dabbled in film costume design, dressing some of the most beautiful women on screen and helping tell the story through their clothes. Some have even created iconic pieces, holding relevance in both cinematic and fashion history. One such master is Hubert de Givenchy, who has established his couture house, not only through his impeccable work but with the help of his most famous muse, Audrey Hepburn. With the help of Hepburn and her films, Givenchy was able to reach new heights in fashion and build an empire that is still relevant and significant in fashion today.
Hubert de Givenchy
He was born as Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy on February 27, 1927, to an aristocratic family in Beauvais, a city in northern France. He comes from a long line of 18th-century nobility from his paternal side, and on his maternal side, a long line of artists. His father passed away while he was aged 3, and was raised by both his mother and grandmother, inheriting their love for textiles. It’s said that he decided to become a fashion designer at aged 10, upon seeing over 30 models from the most famous French couture houses at that time during the World’s Fair in Paris. At age 17, he left his hometown for the City of Lights to fulfill his dream.
After the Second World War, by 1944, Givenchy studied the craft of haute couture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. It was during this time that worked for a number of couture houses as well, becoming an apprentice of Jacques Fath and Robert Piguet. He also worked as an assistant for Lucien Long, replacing another legendary fashion designer who used to hold the position, Christian Dior. In 1947, he was hired by Italian couturier and surrealist Elsa Schiaparelli to manage her Paris store in Place Vendôme. With mentorship from some of the greatest couturiers of that (all) time, Givenchy finally opened his own couture house in 1952.
The Birth of Givenchy
His first collection, dubbed “Separates”, received universal acclaim. It’s most remembered by the opening look, a crisp white shirt with wide sleeves hemmed with frills and ruffles, labelled the “Bettina” blouse after the model who wore it, Bettina Graziani. His signature style was both refined and relaxed, a slight departure from the constricting silhouettes of Christian Dior and Cristobal Balenciaga (more about the brand here), the two most famous designers of that era. He frequently presented an array of floor-length skirts worn with elegant blouses, easy looks which would inspire his luxury ready-to-wear line, which he opened in 1954, becoming one of the first couture houses to have one.
In 1953, Givenchy met actress Audrey Hepburn, his eventual long-time muse and friend. He initially thought he would be meeting Katharine Hepburn, as Audrey wasn’t that well-known at the time, for costumes for a new film entitled “Sabrina”. Instead, he was met by a simply-dressed Audrey, who then chose a few of his pieces to wear on the film. Sabrina was the start of Hepburn and Givenchy’s collaboration throughout her film career, bringing about some of the most iconic fashion moments in cinematic history. Some of them include the embroidered white ball gown and black cocktail dress (which inspired a new neckline) in Sabrina, a crimson evening gown and tea-length wedding dress in “Funny Face”, a series of day suits for “Charade”, and an all-white ensemble for “How To Steal a Million Dollars”.
Among their many collaborations, however, none is more iconic than the little black dress Hepburn wore in the opening scene of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. The simple yet sophisticated piece has defined both Hepburn’s and Givenchy’s careers, as well as becoming the most famous dress in film history. Hubert himself once confessed that it was one of the most difficult pieces he’d ever designed because of its simplicity. Another of his most famous yet simple designs is the sack dress, which he debuted in 1957. It was a shapeless sheath dress that did not outline the woman’s body, which at that time was the trendiest style. Not fearing any risks, he also encouraged women to show a bit more leg by raising up hemlines – a precursor to the mini-skirt look of the 1960’s.
Also in 1957 saw the launch of the house’s first perfume, “L’interdit”, which means forbidden. It has a delicate floral and powdery scent, containing notes of rose, jasmine, and violet, mixed with a blend of woods and grasses. It became one of the most successful perfumes of the decade, thanks to Audrey Hepburn’s endorsement. It was the first time a Hollywood actress advertised for a couture houses’ perfume.
The Evolution of Modern Givenchy
In 1973, the designer opened “Gentleman Givenchy”, his menswear line. At this point, his label was getting bigger and bigger, and by 1988, he sold his couture house to the retail group, Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. He still stayed on as creative director of the house until his retirement in 1995. He would be succeeded by a roster of designers who themselves have become industry greats in their own right. Gibraltan designer John Galliano was the first, holding the helm for about a year before Alexander Mcqueen took over in October of 1996, as Galliano transferred to Dior. After a few years, some with controversial collections, Mcqueen was succeeded by Julien Macdonald in 2001.
In 2005, Italian designer Riccardo Tisci took the position of creative director of the house after Macdonald’s exit. To this day, he is the longest-serving head designer for the house, overseeing both men’s’ and womenswear, as well as haute couture and accessories. He revolutionized the Givenchy look, transforming it from the sweet Audrey Hepburn-like elegance to a darker, gothic, and more urban aesthetic. One of his most iconic pieces for the brand is a panther and pansy sweater from his Fall 2011 womenswear collection and it became one of the brand’s most best-selling items in the 21st century. He also made the label a lot more youthful, consistently collaborating with sportswear brands like Nike to create capsule collections.
In 2017, Tisci surprised the entire industry by leaving the couture house after 12 years at the helm. Clare Waight Keller, the former designer of Pringle of Scotland and Chloe, succeeded him, becoming the first woman to stand as creative director of the label. It’s said that she herself met Hubert de Givenchy before debuting her first collection in October 2017, during the Paris Spring 2018 fashion week. She was reportedly the only one out of the many creative directors that succeeded the founder and was one of the last few to have met him before he passed away on March 10, 2018.