In memoriam: Hubert de Givenchy

Hubert Taffin de Givenchy, 1927 – 2018

Born in Beauvais, France in 1927, the creative talents of Hubert de Givenchy were perhaps not unexpected. He descended from a long line of creative minds; his father was an architect and both of his grandfathers worked as designers in the renowned tapestry factories at Gobelins and Beauvais.  His own aspirations to become a fashion designer surfaced as early as four-years-old and by the age of seven he was creating confections for his cousins’ dolls.

A visit to the Exposition Internationale in Paris in 1937–where he saw an exhibition of haute couture by Coco Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin and Madame Grès–solidified his determination to enter the fashion trade, despite his mother’s wishes to the contrary.  After graduating at age seventeen,  a few short months as apprentice notary and law student left him wholly unsatisfied.  Givenchy then landed a valued apprenticeship with the couturier Jacques Fath, which was followed by stints at the couture houses of Robert Piguet and Lucien Lelong.

However, it would be Elsa Schiaparelli whose mentorship provided young Givenchy with the opportunity to develop his talents.  She handed over the reins designing the collections for her ready-to-wear boutique while she focused on her couture clients.

After four years, and with the financial backing of relatives, 24-year hold Givenchy was ready to spread his own wings.  He opened his fashion house in 1952, initially conceptualized not as a maison de la couture, but rather a purveyor of exceptionally fine ready-to-wear and demi-couture. The acclaim surrounding his first collection made him a victim of his own success; the fledgling business could not keep up with demand.  The supply chain and labor necessary for him to continue in the vein of ready-to-wear was still in its infancy in Paris; Givenchy then returned to his earliest roots as a couturier.

The following year would see two important influences enter his life.  In 1953, he met his idol, the fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga, who would become his mentor and life-long friend.  As would also the celebrity client whose name would become synonymous with the Givenchy brand for the next four decades…. Audrey Hepburn.  The two maintained a profound personal friendship and working relationship, with Givenchy dressing both on and off-screen.

Givenchy’s signature became his love of volume, shape and simplicity.  From his mentor, Balenciaga, he developed a reverent regard for construction techniques and discipline in design.  His taste was beyond reproach and his elegant manner garnered Givenchy the nickname ‘the Gentleman Couturier.’

Thank you for all of the beauty you brought into the world, Monsieur de Givenchy.   You are already missed.

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