Hubert James Taffin de Givenchy

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B. February 20, 1927 Birthplace: Beauvais, France

Awards: Oscar, Wardrobe Design, Sabrina (1954)

Oscar, Wardrobe Design, Breakfast at Tiffany's (1960) De d'Or Award (Golden Thimble), 1982, 1978 Chicago Fashion Award, Chicago Historical Society, 1995

Hubert de Givenchy's imagination was inspired by his grandfather, a former director of the renowned Manufacture de Beauvais and the Manufacture des Gobelins tapestry works, and his grandmother's collection of fine textiles. Givenchy viewed his first couture garments at the age of ten when he attended the Pavillon d' Elegance at the 1937 Paris Exposition. From that moment, Givenchy knew that he wanted to be a couturier; however, his family disapproved. At his family's request, Givenchy attended college, intending to pursue a career in law, but he found himself drawn to fabrics and fashion periodicals.

Givenchy moved to Paris after World War II and entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. While pursuing a formal education in fashion, he apprenticed at the House of Fath. Givenchy also worked briefly at two of the top couture establishments in Paris, the House of Piguet—which was known for a young, dramatic, yet simple style—and the House of Lelong—which had a reputation for conservative, distinguished, high-quality clothing. Next, Givenchy took a position under Elsa Schiaparelli, one of the most creative and unconventional designers in Paris, where he designed her youthful boutique clothes. This position gave him creative control and the opportunity to cultivate relationships with couture customers.

Givenchy's first collection, shown in February 1952, was an immediate success. This collection introduced simple, functional, and youthful separates and dresses in complete contrast to Christian Dior's rigid, corseted, and padded styles. His clothes were modern and fresh. The success of his first collection allowed Givenchy to meet his longtime idol, Cristobal Ba-lenciaga. Balenciaga, who became Givenchy's mentor and friend, helped him refine his designs. Givenchy derived his design philosophy from Balen-ciaga: "Keep it simple. Eliminate everything that interferes with the line." Givenchy continued to refine his designs, placing more emphasis on shape. By 1957 his experimentation had resulted in a new fashion silhouette, the chemise or sack silhouette, the first major style change since the hourglass silhouette of Dior's New Look in 1947. The sack dress was widely adapted by all women for its style and comfort.

Givenchy's designs are characterized by bright colors, unusual textures, and architectural shapes. He sculpted his creations from crisp silk gazar, soft cut velvets, and heavy cloque textured silks. Givenchy's design combined both elegance and playfulness, with subtle, whimsical details and accents such as feathers or fringe. His collections contained easy to wear, mix and match pieces for day and evening which were both stylish and practical.

Jackie Onassis Silhouette

Hubert de Givenchy: Through experimentation with line, shape, and form, Given-chy pioneered the new sack silhouette for women in 1957. The silhouette marked the first major departure from Christian Dior's New Look of 1947.

Givenchy's client list has included such distinctive and elegant women as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Wallis Warfield Simpson, and Princess Grace of Monaco; however, he is probably best known for his relationship with film star Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn came to epitomize the spirited, classic, and glamorous clothing designed by Givenchy. Givenchy and Hepburn first met when he was hired to design her wardrobe for the movie Sabrina. The two immediately became friends. The youthful energy exuded by Hepburn became the inspiration for many of Givenchy's designs; she even served as the inspiration for his perfume L'Interdit. The fashions designed by Given-chy and the youthful chic of Hepburn define both the fashion ideal of the 1960s and the new ideal for feminine beauty. Givenchy continued to design wardrobes for other Hepburn films such as Funny Face and Breakfast at Tiffany's, in addition to her personal wardrobe.

The 1960s were difficult times for many couture houses. Changing economic conditions reduced the number of clients who could afford to pay couture prices. The new youth market was not interested in conservative fashions which required numerous fittings. Many couture houses began exploring options in ready-to-wear clothing and licensing to expand their marketplace and profits. Givenchy introduced his first line of ready-to-wear apparel, Givenchy Nouvelle Boutique, in 1968. The line contained trendy, chic fashions targeted to the youth market, at substainially less than haute couture prices.

Givenchy also developed other product lines and entered into licensing agreements. The Givenchy name appeared on products such as cosmetics, fragrances, eyeglasses, furs, men's shirts, and home furnishings. He licensed two jewelry lines, Givenchy Bijoux and Nouvelle Classics, both manufactured by Victoria Creations in New York, and a hosiery line licensed by Esmark Inc. He licensed a line of handbags and small leather goods to Koret, which concluded in 1994 and was returned to in-house design staff. These licensing agreements not only were lucrative, but also allowed Gi-venchy to offer men and women the complete "Givenchy look."Other unique opportunities were also presented to the couturier from outside the fashion industry. Givenchy designed a 1979 model of the Lincoln Continental Mark V, interiors for the Singapore and Brussels Hiltons hotels, the Indosuez Nagoya Bank in Tokyo, and porcelain for Limoges.

Givenchy was a master at incorporating the latest fashion trends into designs that did not look too trendy. He moderated his unusual combinations of color, texture, and line with his own inherent sense of good taste and sophistication. Many consider Givenchy to be one of the last true couturiers. Givenchy has subltly and consistently directed fashion trends since the opening of his house in 1952. With the fall 1995 haute couture collection, Givenchy completed his seven-year contract with Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton (LVMH), the company which bought his couture house from him in 1988, and he retired from the fashion industry.

After Givenchy's retirement, the flamboyant John Galliano was named by LVMH as the new head couturier at the House of Givenchy. The appointment of the British newcomer and ready-to-wear designer was considered controversial. His wildlife style and theatrical designs were in complete contrast to the Givenchy style. LVMH hoped Galliano would update and revitalize the image of Givenchy, but would the ready-to-wear designer measure up to French standards?

John Galliano, born Juan Carlos in Gibraltar in 1960, grew up in the working-class suburbs of London. Galliano studied design at the St. Martin's School of Art and graduated in 1983. The collection he produced for his graduation was so impressive that it was purchased immediately by Brown's, one of London's fashionable shops. This early success provided Galliano with the impetus to found his own ready-to-wear business, and in 1991 he launched his first collection in Paris. However, his wild lifestyle and artistic temperament often delayed his production schedule, earned him a reputation for being difficult to work with, and cost him the support of many of his financial backers. Drawing on historic costume research and cultural groups, Galliano's ready-to-wear collections are dynamic and glamorous. He is the master of the slinky bias-cut dress. His first couture collection for Givenchy (spring 1996) was received with mixed reviews. While paying homage to Givenchy's style, the collection was sparse, only fifty pieces, and lacked the strong themes and grandeur of French couture. Galliano designed two collections for the House of Givenchy before being appointed head designer at the House of Dior (also owned by LVMH).

Alexander McQueen was signed to Givenchy in 1996 to replace Galliano, and he produced his first couture collection for the house for the spring 1997 season. McQueen, another British newcomer and ready-to-wear designer has been noted for his post-punk designs which are sexy, dark, and energetic. He often has been criticized for using car crashes and attacks as inspiration for producing his angry, edgy designs. His work is the epitome of British design, and it stands in complete opposition to the quiet elegance of the House of Givenchy.

Born in 1970 on London's East End, McQueen is the son of a cabdriver. He apprenticed on Savile Row as a pattern cutter for tailors Anderson & Sheppard and Gieves & Hawkes. Next, McQueen assisted Kohji Tatsuno in London and Romeo Gigli in Milan. This work helped him win a scholarship to the St. Martin's College of Art and Design where he graduated in 1991 and his senior collection garnered him attention from fashion critics. He founded his own label in 1992 and produced shocking and raw women's ready-to-wear clothing. He launched his first men's and footwear collections in spring 1996. Also, in 1996, he received the British Designer of the Year award.

McQueen's first collection for Givenchy was not received with rave reviews. It contained several strong pieces, yet lacked maturity. Underneath the glitz and glamor however, was superbly constructed clothing. In 1998 LVMH resigned McQueen to a three-year contract which will end with the fall 2001 ready-to-wear season. With each collection McQueen continues to refine the Givenchy image. His work is becoming more fluid and elegant, with a purity of line and an emphasis on geometric shapes which show innovative details and impeccable tailoring. He has re-created the Givenchy woman combining good, clean Parisian couture with a tough chic image. See also: Jacques Fath; Elsa Schiaparelli; Christian Dior; Cristobal Balen-ciaga; Louis Vuitton.


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