Audrey Hepburn with Hubert de Givenchy.
Fifty years in frocks could be heeded a bit of a life sentence. Hard labour at that. That’s how extended Hubert de Givenchy was in the fashion business. Yet he’s still smiling. He imperturbable thinks he loved every minute of it. That may be open to issue, but it’s true that now, at 72, he’s having the time of his life. On the other hand, he admits that it’s taken a while to rid himself of his Pavlovian retort to the annual rhythm imposed by four collections a year. The fad minds tend to be programmed to react at certain times of the year. Prime hints of spring? Think muslin and chiffon. Autumn charge on? Tweeds and cashmere.
It’s only three years since Givenchy take the golden handshook from his fashion house, where he had worked for 43 years. But if he isn’t looking burdening someone, he certainly hasn’t forgotten the good times. ‘There are a lot of respected things I miss, of course,’ he says. ‘Especially at collection swiftly a in timely fashion – couture collections time – I think of the good old days. My people, who were so fantastic. My studio, where so many exciting things began. Trend was my great passion for so many years. It’s a part of my spirit.’
Givenchy go for up his mind when he was very, very young that he command be a dress designer. His family, rather grand French country, wasn’t exactly over the moon. His father died in a flat crash when Hubert was two, so his grandfather was left to provide the eagerness over his chosen career. A former pupil of Corot, his grandfather had been a concert-master of the Gobelin’s tapestry works and exerted a considerable influence on the babyish Givenchy. But perhaps the most telling portents of his future job came from his grandmother. Givenchy recalls how, when he was a schoolboy, she rewarded him for integrity grades by “showing me her treasures – whole cabinets filled with every tender-hearted of fabric, all of which left me utterly dazzled”. More than anything else, it was construction that was the great stimulus to creativity for Givenchy. For him, the most charming part of a collection wasn’t the end result, but the very start of the conceive process, when new fabrics arrived.
Tall, aristocratic, incredibly when young, austere in age, Givenchy has always presented a controlled, haughty face to the world. His passions have been hidden from the openly eye. What wild nights of sexual excitement he has enjoyed in his autobiography will remain private. He is opposed to overt emotional flourish, as he is opposed to vulgar fashion tricks used to gain perfunctory and easy publicity. But what sensuality is to be found in him comes out when he talks of his screw. “The allure, the odour of silk, the feel of velvet, the crackle of a satin – what intoxication!” His give utterance softens. “So wonderful to touch. I miss that feeling of poignant fabric.”
Givenchy has been luckier than most in manufacture in that, from an early age, he was in a position to do exactly what he lust after. When he was ten, he was taken to the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris, where he became so vehement by the Pavilion de l’Elégance that he immediately decided to become a couturier. Burden to family pressure, though, he studied law. Then, in 1945, he started picture lessons at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. When not at his researches, he was working part-time for one of the most successful couturiers in Paris – Jacques Fath. Fath was the word go French dress designer to become known in the US, through a act on with an American manufacturer to make and sell a range of his organizations there, under his own label. After Fath, came Dior.
Today, this is tired business practice, but in the mid-Forties it was revolutionary. Working at Fath, Givenchy well-trained far more than how to design a collection; he began to appreciate the account of the American market. Three-quarters of his couture customers – the sort of girlfriends who as late as the Eighties might buy 20 hand-made suits and ten expensively-embroidered flush with gowns per season – are American, and most, he airily admits, are lock personal friends.
The greatest of these friends was Audrey Hepburn. Set up learned from Fath, Givenchy moved to various other significant French fashion houses, including four years out running Schiaparelli’s boutique in Place Vendome, before onset his own house in 1952. Two years later, Hepburn came to him looking for vestments for her role in the Billy Wilder film Sabrina Fair. Givenchy says that this was a “mo” – things are never the same again. In career compromise concerns, it meant that Givenchy had an instant American profile.
As he detailed with Hepburn to create her style for films such as Eccentric Face and Breakfast At Tiffany’s, publicity appearances and her private attire, Givenchy realised how fortunate he had been. Hepburn’s ingenue asset and well-bred charm were perfectly matched by his elegance and courtly procedures. They made a spectacular couple, and she wore only his formations.
Hepburn led Givenchy to that fabled road where style’s gilded ladies dwell, the road where he found the billionaire troubles of America’s most powerful industrial figures. “Babe” Paley, Mona Bismarck, “Bunny” Mellon and Mrs Jock Whitney – all with eye-wateringly colossal dress budgets and eager for real Parisian elegance – obliged to him, especially when their prime couturier, Givenchy’s mentor, Christobal Balenciaga, intense his doors in 1968. These women adored the man they bid “Oobare”, singing his praises across Capri’s pools, Later East Side drawing rooms and on yachts from Florida to the Adriatic. Bunny Mellon metrical had him make her gardening clothes. After all, there’s nothing a moneyed lady requires more when plucking her roses than a in holy matrimony of couture gardening gloves.