Cou­turier de­fined ro­man­tic el­e­gance

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - IN MEMORY - By Eric Wil­son

Hu­bert de Givenchy, the French cou­turier who up­held a stan­dard of quintessen­tially ro­man­tic el­e­gance in fash­ion for more than four decades, dress­ing the likes of Jac­que­line Kennedy Onas­sis, Grace Kelly and mem­o­rably Au­drey Hep­burn, in a lit­tle black dress in the movie “Break­fast at Tif­fany’s,” died Satur­day at his home out­side Paris. He was 91.

Philippe Venet, his long­time com­pan­ion and a for­mer cou­ture de­signer, con­firmed the death.

Givenchy was em­blem­atic of a gen­er­a­tion of gen­tle­manly de­sign­ers who es­tab­lished their cou­ture houses in post­war Paris, nur­tur­ing per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with cus­tomers and cre­at­ing en­tire col­lec­tions with spe­cific women in mind.

His very first show — a smash hit with re­tail­ers and the press when it was seen in Fe­bru­ary 1952, when he was just 24 — in­cluded the “Bet­tina blouse,” a trib­ute to his orig­i­nal muse, Bet­tina Graziani, Paris’ lead­ing model of the day, who had joined his fledg­ling com­pany as di­rec­tor of pub­lic re­la­tions, sales­woman and fit model.

Shortly there­after Givenchy came to the at­ten­tion of the young Hep­burn, a ris­ing star who was so charmed by his youth­ful de­signs that she in­sisted that he make her clothes for nearly all of her movies, and help mold her sylph­like im­age in the process.

In 1961 Hep­burn and Givenchy cre­ated one of the most in­deli­ble cin­e­matic fash­ion mo­ments of the 20th cen­tury in “Break­fast at Tif­fany’s,” when her char­ac­ter, Holly Go­lightly, ap­proaches the tit­u­lar Fifth Av­enue jew­eler wear­ing over­size sun­glasses, four strands of sparkling pearls, long evening gloves and a black Givenchy dress — a slen­der, shoul­der-bar­ing col­umn — that looks star­tlingly out of place for the early morn­ing hour.

For gen­er­a­tions of young women dream­ing of a glam­orous life in the big city, the im­age of Hep­burn as Holly came to rep­re­sent a cer­tain ideal, that of the rich bo­hemian throw­ing wild par­ties while wear­ing mag­nif­i­cently gor­geous gowns. In 2006 the dress was sold at a char­ity auc­tion at Christie’s in London for $923,187.

Although claim to the in­ven­tion of the lit­tle black dress is more of­ten at­trib­uted to Coco Chanel, who had al­ready pop­u­lar­ized the look, or to the many de­sign­ers who had made black dresses be­fore her, the style in­stantly be­came as­so­ci­ated with Hu­bert de Givenchy.

“The lit­tle black dress is the hard­est thing to re­al­ize,” he said, “be­cause you must keep it sim­ple.”

Givenchy was the found­ing chair­man of the Cris­to­bal Ba­len­ci­aga Foun­da­tion, which opened a mu­seum ded­i­cated to Ba­len­ci­aga in Ge­taria, Spain, in 2011.

Since his re­tire­ment from fash­ion in 1995, Givenchy re­mained ac­tive in the arts as an an­tiques ex­pert for Christie’s, the Chateau de Ver­sailles and the Lou­vre mu­seum. He also man­aged the French branch of the World Mon­u­ments Fund for sev­eral years.

Six feet 6 inches tall, with a shock of sand-col­ored hair, chival­rous to a fault, ath­letic and hand­some, Givenchy was the epit­ome of a French aris­to­crat.

The March 3, 1952, is­sue of Life mag­a­zine in­tro­duced Givenchy to U.S. au­di­ences in a four-page fea­ture: “De Givenchy, a New Name in Paris.” The young de­signer had planted his flag in a tiny show­room at 8 Rue Al­fred de Vigny, herald­ing a new con­cept for mod­ern women: sep­a­rates that were de­signed to be worn in­ter­change­ably, cre­at­ing mul­ti­ple out­fits from a few key pieces — three tops plus three skirts equals nine out­fits.

Givenchy cre­ated one of the most rec­og­niz­able fash­ion la­bels in France, with prod­ucts li­censed for chil­dren’s wear, men’s dress shirts and at one point a Givenchy edi­tion of a Lin­coln lux­ury car.

Givenchy sold his house to the lux­ury con­glom­er­ate LVMH in 1988 and con­tin­ued to de­sign there un­til his re­tire­ment.


Hu­bert de Givenchy

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