Fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy dies at 91

fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy (C) talks to Carmen
Martinez-Bordiu (R) and her husband Jose Campos Garcia (2nd R)
during the inauguration of the Cristobal Balenciaga museum in
the Spanish couturier’s home town of Getaria June 7, 2011.
Vincent West, Reuters/file photo

PARIS – French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, an
aristocrat who founded the house of Givenchy in the 1950s,
becoming famous for dressing the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy
Onassis and Grace Kelly, has died at the age of 91, the
Givenchy label said on Monday.

A commanding presence in fashion from the moment he presented
his first collection in Paris at the age of 24, Givenchy became
synonymous with elegance and an insouciant glamour. He designed
the black dress Audrey Hepburn wore in “Breakfast at

His family — his father was the marquis of Givenchy — had
hoped their son would become a lawyer but the young man, who
stood 1.96 metres (6 feet 5 inches) tall, was drawn to fashion
and design from a young age, moving to Paris to study at 17.


His hallmark creations, including balloon-sleeved blouses and
calf-length trousers with flared hems, were hailed in their
time as airy alternatives to the tight waists and artificial
curves of the then-dominant “New Look” of Christian Dior.

His first collection — unveiled in 1952 — won recognition the
day it was presented: Givenchy rang up 7 million francs
(approximately 1 million euros) of orders, enough to allow him
to pay off his backers and assume ownership himself.

His interest in fabric sprang from a childhood familiarity with
fine textiles at the home of his maternal grandfather, who was
an administrator for the Beauvais and Gobelin tapestry
industries and a collector of quality fabrics.

The designer’s father died when Hubert, born in Beauvais, north
of Paris, was two years old. He and his brother were brought up
by their mother and her parents.


The young Givenchy initially studied law but, in the atmosphere
of liberation following World War Two, he entered the Ecole des
Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Fascinated by Spanish-born Cristobal Balenciaga, who was at
that time the dean of Paris designers, Givenchy presented
himself and his sketchbook at Balenciaga’s door, only to be
turned away with a curt “”Mr Balenciaga sees no one”.

Givenchy served apprenticeships with other designers — Jacques
Fath, Robert Piguet and the exuberant, iconoclastic Elsa
Schiaparelli — before venturing out on his own.

Of that first collection, a British fashion writer wrote:
“”These dresses remind you of that first, best, glass of

After his phenomenal debut, Givenchy went to New York to
capitalise on his popularity with Americans. It was there that
he finally met the reclusive Balenciaga, and the two maintained
a close friendship until the Spaniard’s death in 1972.

Givenchy often told interviewers: ““Balenciaga taught me
everything I know. He taught me to care for the details, that
it was not necessary to sew on a button where it had no use, or
to add a flower to make a dress beautiful … no unnecessary

Among his American customers were Jacqueline Kennedy, who wore
one of his designs to President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in
1963, and movie goddess Grace Kelly, who became Princess of

Perhaps his most loyal muse was Audrey Hepburn, who sported his
dresses for three decades after they struck up a working
relationship in 1963. It has been rumoured that Givenchy first
thought he was dealing with Katherine Hepburn when he was
contacted about dressing Audrey for her movies.


As well as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, Givenchy clothed Hepburn
in “Sabrina”, ““Funny Girl”, ““Charade”, ““How to Steal a
Million” and ““Bloodline”.

He dedicated ““L’Interdit”, his second of four perfumes, to
Hepburn, and in 1988, when the state of California presented
him with a Lifetime Achievement Award, she presided at the

Givenchy branched out into menswear soon after opening his
fashion house, and in 1970 he began designing furnishing
fabrics. He also designed interiors for several hotels as well
as a limited edition of Ford Continental cars.

Even today, Givenchy remains a star-studded brand. Under
designer Riccardo Tisci (who recently joined Burberry) it
became a hit with the Kardashians and was credited with
attracting the most social media “buzz” during Paris fashion

The silver-haired, blue-eyed Givenchy was a prodigious worker
in his time, starting weekdays sketching or choosing fabrics at
7 a.m. in his studio on the Avenue George V in Paris.

On holidays and at weekends he often retreated to his stone,
moat-enclosed manor house in the countryside on the road to
Tours, in western France, surrounded by Chinese, French and
English antiques and fabrics of his own design.

After more than 30 years in charge, he sold his label to the
French luxury goods group LVMH Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton in
1988, staying on under LVMH control before retiring in 1995.

In addition to the Paris fashion house and boutiques in at
least eight countries, LVMH also took ownership of 178 Givenchy
licences for perfumes, clothing, and interior decoration.

Givenchy now earns LVMH in the region of 110 million euros in
annual sales, according to an estimate by investment analysts
at the Bernstein financial services firm.

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