To Au­drey with love: A fash­ion de­signer's trib­ute

Kuwait Times - - WEEKENDER -

One of the fash­ion world’s great­est pla­tonic love sto­ries al­most never came to pass, when in the 1950s French cou­turier Hu­bert de Givenchy at first re­fused a re­quest to de­sign for Au­drey Hep­burn. “When Au­drey came to me and asked me to make her dresses for the film ‘Sab­rina’, I didn’t know who she was. I was ex­pect­ing Katharine Hep­burn,” Givenchy said in an emo­tional press con­fer­ence for the open­ing of a new ex­hi­bi­tion of his cre­ations in The Nether­lands. “She ar­rived look­ing so vul­ner­a­ble, so grace­ful, so young and sparkling” dressed like “a young girl to­day” in cot­ton trousers, bal­le­rina flats and Tshirt which showed off her belly-but­ton, car­ry­ing a straw gon­do­lier’s hat, the de­signer re­called.

“But I wasn’t re­ally in any con­di­tion to make a ma­jor wardrobe for ‘Sab­rina’ and I told her, ‘No, Made­moi­selle, I can’t dress you.’” Luck­ily for fash­ion­istas ev­ery­where, Hep­burn was not to be dis­suaded and sweetly in­vited Givenchy to din­ner. By the end of that meal in 1953, the aris­to­cratic French de­signer had fallen un­der the spell of the petite ac­tress. So be­gan a cre­ative friend­ship which lasted down the decades un­til the Bri­tish film star died of can­cer in 1993. “She per­suaded me, how lucky I was to have ac­cepted,” Givenchy said.

Cre­ator of per­son­al­ity

The ret­ro­spec­tive of Givenchy’s de­signs for his friend and style icon en­ti­tled “To Au­drey with Love” has just opened at the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum in The Hague, and lasts un­til late March. It is the de­signer’s homage to his muse and Givenchy has per­son­ally se­lected many of the 100 out­fits fea­tured in the col­lec­tion, a few of which have never been seen in pub­lic be­fore, in what he calls a “jour­ney through her wardrobe”. In the 1954 ro­man­tic comedy “Sab­rina”, Hep­burn ap­peared along­side then screen heart-throb Humphrey Bog­art, and in one key screen wore a so­phis­ti­cated, float­ing ivory ball dress edged in black with em­broi­dered black flow­ers-a Givenchy cre­ation.

The same year, she wore a del­i­cate ivory lace Givenchy cre­ation for the Os­cars where she won the Best Ac­tress award for “Ro­man Hol­i­day”. Givenchy was to re­main by her side for many of her most iconic films such as the 1961 “Break­fast at Tif­fany’s” and “Cha­rade” in 1963 and some of his most mem­o­rable out­fits from those films are on show. Us­ing ev­ery­thing from satin to tulle and silk, his imag­i­na­tion flour­ished as he de­signed for Hep­burn both on and off-screen. “Givenchy’s clothes are the only ones I feel my­self in. He is more than a de­signer, he is a cre­ator of per­son­al­ity,” she once said.

The ex­hi­bi­tion has taken a year to put to­gether, with Givenchy, now 89, over­see­ing ev­ery de­tail, and hop­ing to pay trib­ute to his muse’s “el­e­gance and style.” It also in­cludes a col­lec­tion of beau­ti­ful jew­elry, ac­ces­sories, scarves and hats, as well as sketches, drawings, pho­tos and film stills.

Pro­tected by silk

Im­bued with a sense of nos­tal­gia for the fash­ion of decades past, the col­lec­tion none­the­less shows how the ac­tress’s style has re­mained re­mark­ably fresh and con­tem­po­rary. Hep­burn knew how to bring her clothes to life through “her beauty, per­son­al­ity and light­ness of spirit,” Givenchy said. In some ways it is also a home­com­ing, as Hep­burn was the daugh­ter of a Bri­tish banker and a Dutch baroness, and had deep ties to The Nether­lands. Af­ter Hep­burn was ap­pointed in 1988 as a good­will am­bas­sador for the UN chil­dren’s agency UNICEF, she would of­ten give in­ter­views wear­ing a sim­ple silk or satin T-shirt. She told Givenchy re­count­ing the horrors of war she had seen that “thanks to this small piece of silk, I feel pro­tected be­cause you are close to me.”

At the end of her life, they were again united through a piece of ma­te­rial when he vis­ited her at her home in Switzer­land as she bat­tled can­cer. Hep­burn gave him a navy blue quilted coat urg­ing him “when you are sad, wear this and it will give you courage.” “From Geneva to Paris, I wept in the jacket she had given me,” he said, still over­come with emo­tion two decades af­ter her death. “Au­drey will never go out of fash­ion. She is cur­rent. And her im­age con­tin­ues to amaze us.”

A woman pre­par­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion ‘To Au­drey With Love’ show­cas­ing a ret­ro­spec­tive of the work of de­signer Hu­bert de Givenchy at the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum in The Hague.

French fash­ion de­signer Hu­bert de Givenchy pos­ing at the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum in The Hague, dur­ing a ret­ro­spec­tive of the de­signer’s work at the ex­hi­bi­tion ‘To Au­drey With Love’.

This file photo taken on Oc­to­ber 21, 1991 shows ac­tress Au­drey Hep­burn an­swer­ing jour­nal­ists dur­ing a re­cep­tion hon­or­ing her friend and fash­ion de­signer Hu­bert de Givenchy in Paris.

—AFP

This file photo taken on Oc­to­ber 21, 1991 shows French de­signer Hu­bert de Givenchy (left) and Amer­i­can ac­tress Au­drey Hep­burn talk­ing with each other at the Gal­liera Mu­seum in Paris dur­ing a re­cep­tion hon­or­ing Givenchy for his 40 years in fash­ion.

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