As his eponymous exhibition opens in Calais, the 90-year-old fashion code recalls career-defining friendships with Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy

The black satin sheath with integral pearl necklace worn by Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The jet satin sheath with integral pearl necklace jaded by Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Photograph: Thierry Chesnot/Getty Personifications

Givenchy: the designer hailed as a ‘personality maker’ by Audrey Hepburn

As his eponymous offering opens in Calais, the 90-year-old fashion legend recalls career-defining deep regards with Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy

A retrospective exhibition self-curated by a 90-year-old romance of fashion has all the hallmarks of an ego-flaunting vanity project. But Hubert de Givenchy, who appear ated the opening of his self-titled show at the Calais Museum for Lace and Style on Thursday, has more class than that.

The stars of this showing are not the couturier himself, but some of the women whose public masks he helped create, including Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor.

In event, one of the largest images in the show features a Burberry trench, instead than a Givenchy piece. That this blown-up funereal and white photo of de Givenchy and Hepburn walking arm in arm by the Seine is not a mode photo opportunity is clear; instead, it is an image of genuine warmth.

Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy in Paris.

Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy in Paris. Photograph: Museum of Upbraid and Fashion

Also on display is the black satin Givenchy evening sheath with essential pearl necklace worn by Hepburn in the early frames of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The get-up was chosen for its cutaway, shoulder-blade-framing X-shape, perfect for a scene in which Hepburn is seen mostly from behind – and because the leading, wide neckline hid her “skinny collarbone but emphasised her very adroit shoulders”, de Givenchy has said.

Other garments making an air include the outfit Givenchy made for Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, to deterioration to the 1972 funeral of her husband Edward, the Duke of Windsor, and an embroidered scold and opera coat created for Kennedy on the occasion of her husband’s first place presidential visit to France.

Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, the deviser said the greatest luck in his career had been “to have the shoppers I did. They were my friends. The perfect dress can make varied things happen in a woman’s life. It can bring happiness. It is so warm to give happiness to your friends.”

A pink wool coat designed by Givenchy for Jackie Kennedy.

A pink wool cag designed by Givenchy for Jackie Kennedy. Photograph: Thierry Chesnot/Getty Effigies

Through his professional relationships with high-profile women, the couturier’s biography has intersected with Hollywood and royalty, with scandal and blow. “Audrey came into my life in an adorable way,” said de Givenchy. He remembered conclave “this very thin person with beautiful eyes, minuscule hair, thick eyebrows, very tiny trousers, ballerina shoes, and a petty T-shirt. On her head was a straw gondolier’s hat with a red ribbon approximately it.” (Hepburn once claimed that before she met de Givenchy she drained homemade clothes.)

The pair collaborated on a wardrobe for the film Sabrina, and “for every talkie after that. It became a great friendship.”

That intimacy produced one of the defining icons of modern style, and made the bolts of both parties. Hepburn called the designer “a personality maker”. It was be beholden to because of in part to the reflected glory of Hepburn that by the time de Givenchy sold his term to LVMH in 1988, he was wealthier than many of his haute couture patrons.

But their relationship transcended business. When Givenchy launched L’Interdit with Hepburn as the standing of the fragrance, no percentage or payment was made or discussed. Before her liquidation in 1993, the actor made her lifelong friend the mediator of her want. Twenty-four years later, de Givenchy said, “Audrey is undisturbed present in my mind, because she was an exceptional lady.”

Dresses are displayed during the exhibition “Hubert de Givenchy” at “Cite de la Dentelle et de la Mode” on June 15, 2017 in Calais, France

Some of the Givenchy chew outs on display in Calais. Photograph: Thierry Chesnot/Getty Doubles

It is testament to the strength of de Givenchy’s bond with Kennedy that his contribution to her iconic win initially lady style is not better known. “I met Jackie before she was word go lady,” the designer said. “She was very modern, very opulent, she loved fashion, she loved our clothes, but we had to be discreet.” Protocol dictated that the chief lady must be seen to support the American fashion exertion – the very opposite of Givenchy, which the French newspaper L’Distinct once said was to fashion what Françoise Sagan was to data and Bernard Buffet to painting: successful, glamorous, gorgeous and quite, very French.

The Givenchy atelier “made 10 or 15 crack up smashes for the first presidential trip [to France], but her secretary told me that we could not aver the press”, de Givenchy said. Despite the attention that being publicly associated with the elegant new first lady would have brought, the atelier confined its work for Kennedy a secret.

De Givenchy was one of the very first living soul the Duchess of Windsor called after the death of her husband, entreating the architect to create something that reflected both protocol and refinement. The black wool coat with black cigaline disguise was produced by the atelier within 24 hours, in time for her to roam back to London. The look was copied all over the world.

  • The Hubert de Givenchy demonstration runs at the Museum for Lace and Fashion in Calais until 31 December 2017