It was announced yesterday that French fashion designer Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy passed away on Saturday 10 March at the age of 91. The news was confirmed by former couture designer Philippe Venet, and the official Givenchy twitter account tweeted the news yesterday:

The leading gentleman of haute couture once said that ‘dressing a woman is to make her more beautiful—isn’t that the point of it all?‘, proving that a life well lived is a life with a purpose fulfilled, as his Midas touch clothed some of the most beautiful women of the golden era of haute couture – Bettina Graziani, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Gloria Guinness, Mona von Bismarck, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis amongst others. After working alongside (now) couture giants Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior post-World War II, Monsieur Givenchy started his career in 1952 at the age of 25 under the mentorship of Elsa Schiaparelli. 

‘The little black dress is the hardest thing to realise, because you must keep it simple,’ is one the famous quotes the father of the LBD gave us. His career was also characterised by his friendship with Oscar-winning actress Audrey Hepburn, which was dubbed iconic in fashion – and cinematic – spaces. In 1961 Hepburn and Givenchy created a moment in cinema that thousands of women with aspirations of unprecedented levels of glamour still hold dear to their hearts today. (Including me – I’m ‘thousands of women’.) That moment was the opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, described in Business of Fashion as follows:

‘Holly Golightly approaches the titular Fifth Avenue jeweler wearing oversize sunglasses, four strands of sparkling pearls, long evening gloves and a black Givenchy dress — a slender, shoulder-baring column — that looks startlingly out of place for the early morning hour.’

Audrey Hepburn reportedly insisted on seeing Givenchy’s designs while they were still in progress, and these are just a few of the gems that came from their sartorial friendship:

Audrey Hepburn Givenchy tribute

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Audrey Hepburn remembering Givenchy

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Audrey Hepburn remembering Givenchy

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Lifetime Achievement Award for the Arts honouring Hubert de Givenchy, 1988:

Audrey Hepburn Givenchy tribute

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Lifetime Achievement Award obtained, Givenchy packed up his couturier tools in 1995, but never walked away from fashion. You’ve probably already spared five minutes over your morning coffee to muse over the French couturier’s legacy of elegance and the women he dressed, so consider this more of an ode to the way Givenchy democratised fashion rather than a mere biography. There are three ways in which I’d like to think Count Hubert governed couture somewhat differently from his French counterparts – the introduction of ‘separates’, black models on the runway, and his dedication to the beauty of women.

Givenchy’s Separates

1940s women’s style was all about creating a ‘typically’ feminine silhouette, and the way this was achieved was through A-line dresses with cinched waists and padded shoulders. But in 1952 at the advent of his fashion career Hubert de Givenchy introduced the concept of separates – skirts, blazers, pants, and blouses which could be worn in different combinations, no longer confining women to the banality of ‘a dress a day.’

Givenchy runway 1990s

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Givenchy runway 1990s tribute

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Givenchy runway tribute

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Models of colour in early Givenchy

Before the need to diversify the fashion industry became increasingly urgent with each decade passing, before it became commercially lucrative to include people of colour in ad campaigns and on the runway, and before inclusion became a ‘trendy’ tactic employed by the industry to hush the voices calling them out, Hubert de Givenchy had black women modelling his collections at fashion shows as early as the late ’70s. And I hate to applaud a fish for swimming, but this is truly a small victory worth mentioning for the representation of black women in the industry.

Givenchy spring 1991

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Givenchy 1979 runway

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Hubert de Givenchy collection

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The original body positive quote

‘The dress must follow the body of a woman, not the body following the shape of the dress.’

Today this is a common social media phrase which goes a something a litle like this – ‘if you want a bikini body, put a bikini on your body.’

Givenchy bikini 1979

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He made clothes which made women look and feel beautiful, and seemingly, he affirmed them too by removing the pressure of trying to ‘fit into clothes’ off and (arguably) creating clothes for the existing body instead.

And that is the point of it all! Thank you for your legacy of fun, dramatic, yet tres elegant fashion Hubert de Givenchy.