Hubert de Givenchy and his life-long friend Audrey Hepburn
Hubert de Givenchy and his life-long friend Audrey Hepburn
Image: Getty

Hubert de Givenchy, one of the most acclaimed fashion designers of the 20th century, has died aged 91.

After founding the house of Givenchy in 1952, he went on to dress some of the most famous woman of the time, including Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy, becoming synonymous with a classical, understated style and the “little black dress”.

Described by the Givenchy label on Monday as “a gentleman who symbolised Parisian chic and elegance for more than half a century,” Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy was born into an aristocratic French family in Beauvais, north of Paris in 1927.

In February 1952 he presented his first collection which featured the “Bettina” blouse with flounced sleeves covered in eyelet embroidery and worn with a neat pencil skirt. Named after his PR director and model of the day Bettina Graziani, it was made from the raw cotton shirting generally only used for couture fittings.

A gentleman who symbolised Parisian chic and elegance for more than half a century

This collection, with its emphasis on clean line and separates, was an instant hit with well-heeled clients and enabled Givenchy to pay off his investors and assume full ownership of the company.

In 1954 he launched Givenchy Université, his ready-to-wear line, and in 1969 he debuted Givenchy Gentleman, his first men’s line.

Givenchy’s life-long friendship with Audrey Hepburn, the British actress born in Belgium, began in 1953 when the designer lent her clothes for the 1954 film Sabrina. Having received a call that she would be coming to see him about the costumes, he assumed that he would be meeting the Hollywood star Katharine Hepburn, because he had not heard of Audrey.

He went on to create possibly the most memorable little black dress in movie history; the fitted column gown with cutaway crescent back worn by Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In later life he said the dress was “the hardest thing to realise, because you must keep it simple.”

The dress sold at auction at Christie’s in 2006 for £467,200.

Audrey Hepburn wears Givenchy
Audrey Hepburn wears Givenchy
Image: Getty

Audrey Hepburn also became the face of Givenchy’s first perfume, L’Interdit, in 1957, which was dedicated to her.

Other clients included Grace Kelly, who wore an emerald green dress and bolero jacket on a state visit to Washington in 1961, and Jackie Kennedy whose black Givenchy skirt suit, worn to her husband’s funeral in 1963, was heavily photographed.

Givenchy sold his couture house to LVMH for a reported $45m in 1988, staying on as head of creative design until 1995, when he retired.

After a succession of designers came and went, the fashion brand flourished under designer Riccardo Tisci, who arrived in 2005. He took Givenchy in a darker, more dramatic direction, with a focus on streetwear. After his departure last year, he was replaced by Clare Waight Keller. Rogerio Fujimori, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, estimated that Givenchy had annual revenues of €400m last year.

A handsome, dapper figure, who was always smartly dressed and stood at 6ft 5in tall, Givenchy was known for his impeccable manners and taste in art and interiors as well as fashion. He spent part of his time at Manoir du Jonchet, a grand moated manor house in western France, full of exquisite antiques.

Emmanuel Macron, French president, hailed the designer as a “master of elegance, creation and inventiveness, adding: “It is through such artists that France shines in the world and there is no doubt that the legacy of Hubert de Givenchy will endure.”

Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of LVMH, also paid tribute to the designer: “I am deeply saddened by the death of Hubert de Givenchy. He was among those designers who placed Paris firmly at the heart of world fashion post-1950 while creating a unique personality for his own fashion label.”

This article was originally published by the Financial Times.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018.

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