All About Givenchy

A brief biography of Hubert de Givenchy (1927- ), his fashion design, its influence, and the famous women he has dressed.

Givenchy, the name itself evokes glamour, refined elegance, simplicity, and style. Givenchy's trademark flowing lines, use of embroidered and print fabrics, and bold colors make his work easily recognizable.He has dressed an impressive list of famous women: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, The Duchess of Windsor, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Greta Garbo, and his favorite muse, Audrey Hepburn.For 53 years, Hubert de Givenchy has epitomized quality, elegance, and lady-like fashion.

Hubert de Givenchy (pronounced Gee-von-shee) was born in 1927 in the small town of Beauvais, France.His father died when he was very young and he was raised by his mother and grandfather, an artist and expert tapestry maker. His interest in fashion began, in earnest, when he was ten years old and visited the "fashion pavilion" at the International Exhibition in Paris.Once home, he poured through copies of "Vogue" magazine, often singling out one man's designs - Balenciaga. After World War II and the liberation of Paris, Monsieur de Givenchy studied at the prestigious Beaux-Arts School in Paris.One day, he showed up at Balenciaga's studio, unannounced with his portfolio in hand and eager to learn. He was turned away as being too inexperienced.Undaunted, he was hired soon after by Jacques Fath (1945.)He later worked briefly for Lucien LeLong (1946,) where he met LeLong's assistants, Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain, and for Elsa Schiaparelli (1947-1951.)Mlle. Schiaparelli put him in charge of her boutique where he learned about accessories, an area that was to become important in Givenchy's own work.

Givenchy opened his fashion house, The House of Givenchy, near the Parc Monceau in Paris in 1952 across the street from his mentor and inspiration, Balenciaga.Lacking the funds for costly fabric, Givenchy's first collection was produced using plain, white, men's shirting material.His show was a huge success and earned him worldwide recognition.Particularly popular was the "bettina" blouse, named after Paris' top model of the day.This high-necked, full blouse with ruffled sleeves has become a fashion classic and is used today as a symbol for the "Galleries Lafayette," one of Paris' top department stores.

The two women most closely associated with Givenchy's fashion of the 50s and 60s are Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy.He designed the cream silk gown with an embroidered bodice that Mrs. Kennedy wore on the First Couple's state visit to France in 1961.He also designed for a sadder occasion.It was a Givenchy dress that the world remembers Jackie Kennedy wearing as she attended her husband's funeral in 1963.

Givenchy met Audrey Hepburn when she appeared at his studio, an awkward teenager looking for dresses to wear in her first big film, "Sabrina."He continued to dress her, both on-screen and off-screen, for forty years.She was his perfect image of a woman: thin, elegant, poised.Her always-perfectly-dressed image is quintessential Givenchy.His designs appear in her films "Funny Face," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "Charade," as well as "Sabrina."He won the academy award in costume design for his work in "Sabrina" in 1957.

Givenchy was the first designer to show a collection of women's "pret-a-porter" (ready-to-wear) clothes.Through this line, he introduced his "fun" clothes - leopard-print pantsuits and prints inspired by the modern artists Miro, Braque, and Rothko.Never, however, did he sacrifice his trademark elegance.He realized, before many of his colleagues, that women of the 60s needed less fussy, easier-to-wear clothes in this new age of air travel.To this end, he raised hemlines and introduced the "bag" dress - the streamlined, sheath dress that has come to symbolize fashion in the 60s.

Givenchy founded his men's line, "Gentleman Givenchy" in 1973. Throughout the 70s and 80s, the Givenchy brand expanded worldwide into many different areas.His Lincoln Mark V car design in the 70s sold out immediately.Today, the Givenchy brand encompasses fragrance, skincare, and jewelry as well as fashion.

Monsieur de Givenchy sold his fashion empire in 1988 to the french conglomerate, LVMH (Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton,) which also owns the fashion houses of Dior, Lacroix and Kenzo.The company pressured Givenchy to retire, which he finally did in 1995.

Today Hubert de Givenchy lives quietly at his estate, "Le Jonchet," outside of Paris.He is a renowned collector of antique furniture and of modern art.His fashion designs, especially those of the 50s and 60s, are still much sought after.Vintage Givenchy gowns can be seen frequently on the red carpet as well as in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Musee de Mode (fashion museum) in Paris.

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