Hubert de Givenchy obituary

Audrey Hepburn glides through the credits of the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s in a black dress that is in no way little. It’s a long, narrow sheath, though she can still amble down Fifth Avenue unimpeded. The dress is sleeveless – yet gloves cover her arms far above her elbows – and collarless, with a striking back strap revealing her shoulder blades. Several generations have worshipped images of Hepburn in that dress as defining sophistication.

This was the work of Hubert de Givenchy, who has died aged 91. His clothes for Hepburn made her feel secure. “I put them on and I feel protected,” she said. He helped her to downplay the trampiness of Holly Golightly, who trips into Sing Sing prison in Givenchy’s lampshade hat, and shops at Tiffany’s in his tailored coat. No wonder Jacqueline Kennedy commanded Givenchy to outfit her state visit to Paris that year.

Givenchy had been brought up to enjoy textiles, to regard them as treats. He was the younger son of the Marquis of Givenchy, who died when the boy was three, and Béatrice Badin; and the pet of his maternal grandmother, Margaret Badin, widow of the director of the Beauvais tapestry workshops. That was his happy memory of childhood, his grandmother rewarding him for good behaviour by opening cupboards filled with fabric treasures, or allowing him to rummage in trunks and bundles. “My mother and my cousins played customers, gathered about the sewing machine.” His mother backed his decision to be a fashion designer, provided he did it to the highest standards. She introduced him to couture houses and sent him to study in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Givenchy in his Paris shop in 1952; after opening his own house at the age of 24 he initially showed his clothes on mannequins to save on the cost of hiring models.



Givenchy in his Paris shop in 1952; after opening his own house at the age of 24 he initially showed his clothes on mannequins to save on the cost of hiring models. Photograph: AP

As a postwar teen he worked briefly for Jacques Fath, Robert Piguet and Lucien Lelong before joining Elsa Schiaparelli in 1947. She had confidence in him, despite his youth, and told him to use up 900 metres of prewar, surrealist-print silks cluttering her stockroom. He did what he always did thereafter: hung up the cloth until he understood its properties, and then cut separates from it, amusing enough to sell well despite the stuffs being so out of date. “Never work against the fabric, it has a life of its own,” he said.

Givenchy was 24 when he opened his own house with financial backing from his brother-in-law, Louis Fontaine, who owned the Prisunic chain stores. There was only money enough to pay his few workhands (many of whom then stayed with him for life). He showed his clothes on plastic mannequins to save model hire and, not being able to afford the silks of his competitors, made a collection with the cotton toile (shirting) traditionally used for couture prototypes. This, plus the simplicity of his lines, and his philosophy that a dress should defer to a woman’s shape, not she to it, positioned him closer to American sportswear than to Paris couture.

His heroes were the unique dressmaker Madame Grès, who left him her personal collection of 300 gowns, and Cristóbal Balenciaga, who redirected clients to Givenchy when he closed his own house – despite the fact that Balenciaga was baroque in spirit, while Givenchy was a neoclassicist.

Givenchy’s freshness and vivacity were just right for the new world of the Vespa scooter and the beach bag. And they attracted the ultimate customer in 1953. When he was told Mademoiselle Hepburn had made an appointment, he assumed that meant Katharine the great movie star. In walked Audrey, who had just made Roman Holiday, the definitive Vespa movie, aged 24 but looking a teen in T-shirt, ballet flats and no make-up. She thought he could supply the believable sophistication she needed for Sabrina (1954), the Billy Wilder film in which a below-stairs girl returns from Paris transformed. There wasn’t time to create to order, so she chose from what was available and stood through three-hour fittings in service of exactitude. Her boat-necked Cinderella gown won a deserved Oscar, but not for Givenchy: his work was credited to the studio designer Edith Head.

Hepburn was mortified by that, but the episode established the Givenchy-Hepburn relationship, which lasted to her death in 1993. He made her costumes for the musical Funny Face (1957) and the thriller Charade (1963). By How to Steal a Million (1966), the partnership had become an in-joke — when Hepburn’s character asks why she must be disguised as an aproned charlady during a robbery, she is told: “It’ll give Givenchy a night off.”

Yet the next year, the studio dressed Hepburn in ready-to-wear clothes, and not from Paris, for the comedy Two for the Road. The mood had changed, and the big money had gone. She demanded Givenchy should design her period costumes for Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke, then withdrew from the project, and their only movie together after that was the made-for-television Love Among Thieves (1987).

Among Givenchy’s clients were also Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Leslie Caron, Maria Callas, Grace Kelly and the Duchess of Windsor – he stayed up all night to sew the black coat she wore to the Duke’s funeral. Although he never lacked wealthy customers, he was uncomfortable with the extravagant showmanship of couture from the mid-1970s: the “impossible, crazy clothes” that did not “think about the life of a woman”, and were careless, almost contemptuous, of textiles. He remained commercially astute, selling his perfumes to the Veuve Cliquot champagne brand in 1981, and the couture house in 1988 to the LVMH luxury conglomerate, which later acquired the perfumes, too.

Givenchy is applauded by his models after presenting his final High Fashion collection in 1995.



Givenchy is applauded by his models after presenting his final High Fashion collection in 1995. Photograph: Reuters

Givenchy kept his patience, just, with LVMH’s head, Bernard Arnault, until his formal retirement in 1995, and thereafter spoke of Arnault’s designer appointments (including John Galliano and Alexander McQueen) with distant politeness. “C’est la vie,” he told commiserators. “Happily, for many years we had a wonderful time, beautiful fabric, beautiful people.”

He had long since set up an alternative life as an “amateur d’art”, buying from artists he had met, Miró, Picasso and the sculptor Diego Giacometti. His real passion, though, was for the very best French furniture of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and over the decades his Paris apartment became a miniature Versailles. But he sold his collection in 1993 – too museum-like – and lived mostly in Le Jonchet, his manor house near Tours, with its gardens edged by 36,000 box bushes and its white roses in memory of Hepburn.

Givenchy was awarded Paris couture’s Golden Thimbles in 1978 and 1982, and there were major exhibitions at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, in 1982, and the Musée de la Mode in Paris, in 1991.

He is survived by his partner, and fellow couturier, Philippe Venet.

Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy, couturier, born 21 February 1927; died 10 March 2018

Déjà you? The rise of the five-year trend

So there I was, perched on my gilt chair at the Paris haute couture shows one evening in January, waiting for the Givenchy show to start, fiddling with the satin ribbons that cinch the wrists of my favourite new Mother of Pearl sweater, idling the time away with a little light screen-shopping. I zoomed in on a new-season Ellery dress whose sleeves, curled and trailing like a lemon zest twist in a cocktail glass, caught my eye, but then I was distracted by the heavenly black Givenchy blouse being worn by the PRs, with frothy tulle sleeves that look like tremendously chic angel wings.

Sleeves are having a moment. But here’s the weird part: sleeves have been having a moment for five years. Towards the end of last year, we were at fashion week swooning over puff-sleeved gothic blouses on Stella McCartney’s catwalk, while wearing Versace knits with POWER or UNITY emblazoned from elbow to wrist. “The Statement Sleeve – STILL!” proclaimed Vogue in its spring trend report, reporting on the poet sleeves and trumpet flares that abounded a year ago. And the year before that, sleeves made headlines both at London fashion week (virago sleeves at Erdem) and during the presidential campaign, when Melania Trump wore bell-sleeved Roksanda. And two years before that, the Alexis Colby statement sleeve was already being championed by Olivier Rousteing, at the height of Balmania.

This is not, surely, how fashion is supposed to work. Spring comes along and kicks the winter look into touch, as surely as day follows night and with the same ones-and-noughts contrast. Out with the old, in with the new: that’s the whole point. What’s hot, what’s not; what goes up (hemlines) must come down; keep up at the back. This is both the business model and the manifesto of fashion.

Outsize earrings are back on the catwalks in 2018, despite many previous outings in recent years. Earrings by Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana pictured.



Outsize earrings are back on the catwalks in 2018, despite many previous outings in recent years. Earrings by Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana pictured. Composite: Getty

Not any more, it seems. The midi-length skirt caused a sensation when it swept across fashion weeks during the spring/summer 2014 shows; four years later, hems haven’t budged an inch. (“Midi skirts make up the largest proportion of our skirt sales and we don’t see that stopping,” says Lisa Aiken of net-a-porter.com.) Trenchcoats have been top sellers for so long now that retailers struggle to remember what they sold before everyone wanted a trench. Outsize earrings have slowly, surely, edged out every other fashion jewellery category. “The trend cycle is diverging down two separate paths,” says trend forecaster Chrissy Hilton-Gee. “We still have high-speed fashion with a short turnaround – but we also have these slow-burning trends that shift very subtly, influenced by consumer lifestyle rather than fashion industry diktats.”

A five-year period is a fundamentally different proposition from a six-month one. Five years is a term in government. It’s a university degree. You can conceive, have a baby and be standing at the school gates waving that baby into reception in five years. This is a weighty, meaningful length of time. A five-year trend is an entirely different concept from a flash in the pan. This is where fashion gets real.

The long-life trend “can be a great piece, like a trench, or a fabric, such as velvet,” says Lydia King, director of womenswear at Selfridges. Vanessa Spence, design director at Asos, nominates the floral tea dress, which “has been around in various guises for a few seasons, and still looks really new”. “Midi-length dresses, trenchcoats, floral prints, animal prints,” adds Coco Chan, head of womenswear at online retailer stylebop.com. And “the high-fashion sneaker isn’t going anywhere,” points out Tiffany Hsu, buying director of mytheresa.com.

Frankly, the two-seasons-a-year model was broken anyway. Fashion week became a victim of its own success a decade or two ago. Once the looks on the catwalk started getting beamed all over the world immediately, it was tricky to make them feel exciting six months later. Catwalk shows were conceived as industry previews, the secrets of fashion week heavily guarded against “spies” who might reveal the “new look” before it was ready to hit newsstands and shop windows several months after the event. Even within the industry, secrecy was once the norm: in the 1950s, the legendary fashion editor Carmel Snow would maintain a poker face in the front row, alerting her assistant to make a note of those looks she planned to feature in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar via a sly dig in the ribs. Now, catwalk looks are on Instagram within moments of hitting the catwalk, and copies are on sale on the high street within a matter of weeks, several months before the actual collection arrives in designer boutiques.

And besides – for reasons both selfless and self-centred – women are no longer content to be instructed to change what we are wearing at arbitrary intervals. The impulse to be proud of what you buy is as strong as ever, and sustainability is now as much a status issue as an oversized beribboned shopping bag once was. “There is less of a throwaway culture than we used to see,” Lydia King says. “Our customers want a long-lasting piece that will still be relevant the next season.” Six months is a ludicrously short lifespan for any piece of clothing; five years, on the other hand, is a realistic time frame in which a frequently-worn piece of clothing may well wear thin, or fray, or otherwise give out.

Not going out of fashion any time soon: the trenchcoat. Coats pictured here by Céline and Maison Margiela (centre).



Not going out of fashion any time soon: the trenchcoat. Coats pictured here by Céline and Maison Margiela (centre). Composite: Getty

The 21st-century mindset is that personal taste takes precedence. “The modern attitude, in all areas of life, is that we look for what suits us, rather than wait to be told what to do,” says Lizzy Bowring, head of catwalks at trend forecasting agency WGSN. In other words, “We cherry pick.” At Harvey Nichols, “If customers like wearing something, they don’t stop wanting to wear it just because the designer has a new collection out,” says Hazel Catterall, the store’s head of womenswear buying. The modern woman wants “easy ways to make a relatively boring top or shirt into a standout. That is why sleeve detailing appeals to the magpie in all of us – it’s that eye-catching glint that transforms a run-of-the-mill piece into something special and noteworthy, while being easier to wear than bold pattern or colour.”

“That old word ‘consumer’ is terrible,” muses trend consultant Anne Lise Kjaer. “No one thinks of themselves as a ‘consumer’. We are moving toward a more human-centric way of thinking about the interactions we have with fashion brands. Take the success of Phoebe Philo’s Céline. That look was about who you were as a person.”

The kind of whimsically themed collections that were once fashion week bread and butter – “Geisha meets Motocross”, “Dolly Parton goes raving”, “Alpine hippy” – have fallen away in favour of words such as minimalism, utility and athleisure which chime with the way we live now. Alessandro Michele at Gucci and Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga have forged a new model of an agenda-setting brand that is based on “repeating and developing ideas that women respond to, rather than starting from scratch each season,” Lisa Aiken says.

The trends that go the distance, says Natalie Kingham, buying director of matchesfashion.com, are “pieces that stand the test of time because they work hard. Cross-body bags and year-round boots, for instance. The trends that are fussy, complicated and uncomfortable tend to be the ones that burn out quickly – like super high heels and over-long trousers that drag in the rain.” The industry is recognising “that fashion and comfort aren’t mutually exclusive,” says Maria Milano of Harrods womenswear. “Realistic dressing has introduced new long-term trends. For instance, flats were once reserved just for daytime or commuting – but an embellished flat is now often the most chic choice for evening.”

The high street has shifted gear from the relentless churn of new trends to a drip feed of newness. At Topshop, “the sleeve has been a focus for the last few seasons, but we are still seeing some dramatic new shapes, from extreme puffs and deep cuffs to extra-long lengths,” says head of design Mo Riach. At Marks & Spencer, the design studio talk is of “updates” to foundation looks; of “nodding” or “tapping into” trends rather than following them.

Sleeves, still having a moment … as seen here on Natalie Portman in 2017.



Sleeves, still having a moment … as seen here on Natalie Portman in 2017. Photograph: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for TNT

With its starry cast of influencers showing off their look-of-the-day on the beach, on picturesquely graffitied urban streets or just in their bedroom mirror, Instagram has lifted fashion off the catwalk and put it in a new context. “There is a much stronger sense of the importance of personal style,” Coco Chan says. Social media celebrity happens, for the most part, organically – which makes for a slower tempo than the all-change-every-six-months of old. A decade ago, supermodels starring in advertising campaigns destined for glossy magazines were paid to look completely different from last season, but on social media, an immediately recognisable personal brand is all-important. So savvy influencers are motivated to stick to a recognisable aesthetic. It is in their interest to make consistency look desirable.

“If you are kicking yourself for not buying a velvet dress or a padded jacket last season, don’t worry,” Lydia King says. “More collections than ever are focusing on these for 2018.” Not got round to buying a floral tea dress yet? You haven’t missed the boat, “layered over jeans and white ankle boots”, Vanessa Spence says. Natalie Kingham tips a trouser suit (“Because you can wear it as separates, it works really well as a long-term buy”) and Lisa Aiken a trenchcoat (“They don’t date, they don’t go out of season”). Me, I’ve got a hankering for a spiral-sleeve dress. But maybe I said that already.

The big picture: London Fashion Week, February 1998

With the 2018 event now in full swing, we revisit a telling Martin Parr shot from 20 years ago

British Fashion Week, February 1998






Photograph: Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Martin Parr is the kind of quick-witted photographer who catches life on the run, his shutter clicking faster than the human eye can blink. To coincide with London Fashion Week, which began last Friday, here is a deft act of espionage from backstage at the same event 20 years ago. Parr probably didn’t know what he’d snatched until he developed the film and saw that the flustered accidents of a moment had come to rest in a parable, showing how the beauty industry goes about its tortuous, tormenting work.

Makeup has already transformed the model into a doll: the waxen complexion, with a sickly jaundiced tone around the eyes, and the pursed, painted lips that are smaller and more infantile than her own. Now the hairdressers take over, knotting and coiling and pinning and teasing, with a can of eco-unfriendly aerosol spray ready to freeze her mane. They are technicians, busy on the assembly line; she is their manufactured product, as glassy-eyed as the lens of Parr’s camera.

What makes the photograph so piercing is the intrusion of that grasping, prehensile hand, ready to do some stern manipulating if the subject doesn’t consent to being reduced to an object. This detail makes the scene faintly scary: the bride of Frankenstein is being prepared for exposure to a battery of cameras on the catwalk, and at the end of all this cosmetic primping she will be a blank-faced, strutting mannequin. That’s what fashion does: it refashions our bodies, and turns human beings into dress dummies.

The big picture: London Fashion Week, February 1998

With the 2018 event now in full swing, we revisit a telling Martin Parr shot from 20 years ago

British Fashion Week, February 1998






Photograph: Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Martin Parr is the kind of quick-witted photographer who catches life on the run, his shutter clicking faster than the human eye can blink. To coincide with London Fashion Week, which began last Friday, here is a deft act of espionage from backstage at the same event 20 years ago. Parr probably didn’t know what he’d snatched until he developed the film and saw that the flustered accidents of a moment had come to rest in a parable, showing how the beauty industry goes about its tortuous, tormenting work.

Makeup has already transformed the model into a doll: the waxen complexion, with a sickly jaundiced tone around the eyes, and the pursed, painted lips that are smaller and more infantile than her own. Now the hairdressers take over, knotting and coiling and pinning and teasing, with a can of eco-unfriendly aerosol spray ready to freeze her mane. They are technicians, busy on the assembly line; she is their manufactured product, as glassy-eyed as the lens of Parr’s camera.

What makes the photograph so piercing is the intrusion of that grasping, prehensile hand, ready to do some stern manipulating if the subject doesn’t consent to being reduced to an object. This detail makes the scene faintly scary: the bride of Frankenstein is being prepared for exposure to a battery of cameras on the catwalk, and at the end of all this cosmetic primping she will be a blank-faced, strutting mannequin. That’s what fashion does: it refashions our bodies, and turns human beings into dress dummies.

City limits: the pick of London Fashion Week – in pictures

Both of these young designers love creating dresses for special occasions, especially if decorated with flowers, tulle and sparkle. Antonia wears dress, £1,100, Molly Goddard,
doverstreetmarket.com Shoes, £505,
marquesalmeida.com Djerra wears top, £1,740, skirt, £1,875, and shoes, price on request, all
erdem.com

Youth and beauty in Monrovia – in pictures

After bearing witness to years of civil war and the devastation of the Ebola virus, the youth of Liberia can scarcely remember a time when their country was not in crisis. Now young people are stepping into a rebuilding process that aims to create a stronger state. The photographer Hugh Kinsella Cunningham found a nascent beauty industry exists in Monrovia to cater for this generation, and fashionable youth can be seen asserting their image, reflecting pride and hope for their country and culture

Beehives, bobs and blow-dries – in pictures

In Your Dreams, January 1955. Jean Rayner, 14, a ‘probationary’ Teddy girl, one of a series of photographs entitled
Last of the Teddy Girls, taken by the film director Ken Russell.