Designer Hubert de Givenchy dead at 91

FRENCH couturier Hubert de Givenchy, a pioneer of ready-to-wear who designed Audrey Hepburn's famous little black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany's, has died at the age of 91.

The house of Givenchy paid homage to its founder in a statement as "a major personality of the world of French haute couture and a gentleman who symbolised Parisian chic and elegance for more than half a century."

"He revolutionised international fashion with the timelessly stylish looks he created for Audrey Hepburn, his great friend and muse for over 40 years," the house of Givenchy said. "His work remains as relevant today as it was then."

Legendary French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy has died at the age of 91. Picture: AFP/Carl De Souza
Legendary French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy has died at the age of 91. Picture: AFP/Carl De Souza

Givenchy was part of the elite cadre of Paris-based designers including Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and his mentor, Christobal Balenciaga, that redefined fashion in the wake of World War II.

A towering man of elegance and impeccable manners, he forged close friendships with his famous clients, from Hollywood screen sirens of the likes of Liz Taylor and Lauren Bacall to women of state, including Jackie Kennedy and Princess Grace of Monaco.

Born into an aristocratic family in the provincial city of Beauvais on February 21, 1927, Givenchy struck out for Paris in his late teens, in the wake of World War II.

Hubert de Givenchy worked with close friend Audrey Hepburn for 40 years. Picture: AFP/Pierre Guillard
Hubert de Givenchy worked with close friend Audrey Hepburn for 40 years. Picture: AFP/Pierre Guillard

Couturier Jacques Fath hired Givenchy on the strength of his sketches. He spent two years learning the basics of fashion design, from sketching to cutting and fitting haute couture styles.

After apprenticing with other top names, Givenchy founded his own house in 1952. His debut collection ushered in the concept of separates - tops and bottoms that could be mixed and matched, as opposed to head-to-toe looks that were the norm among Paris couture purveyors.

Working on a tight budget, Givenchy served up the floor-length skirts and country chic blouses in raw white cotton materials normally reserved for fittings.

This sleeveless gown Hubert de Givenchy designed for Audrey Hepburn to wear in Breakfast at Tiffany’s became the company’s most famous design. Picture: Supplied
This sleeveless gown Hubert de Givenchy designed for Audrey Hepburn to wear in Breakfast at Tiffany’s became the company’s most famous design. Picture: Supplied

"Le Grand Hubert," as he was often called for his 1.96 metre frame, became popular with privileged haute couture customers, and his label soon seduced the likes of Gloria Guinness, Wallis Simpson and Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran.

But the client whose name would become almost synonymous with the house was Audrey Hepburn, whom he met in 1953, when he dressed her for the romantic comedy Sabrina. Legend has it that Givenchy - told only that Mademoiselle Hepburn would be coming in for a fitting - was expecting the grand Katharine Hepburn. Instead, the diminutive Audrey showed up, dressed in cigarette pants, a T-shirt and sandals.

 

Thus began a decades-long friendship that saw Givenchy dress the star in nearly a dozen films, including the 1961 hit Breakfast at Tiffany's.

(The designer with supermodel, Iman. Picture: AFP/Olivier Laban-Mattei
(The designer with supermodel, Iman. Picture: AFP/Olivier Laban-Mattei

The sleeveless black evening gown she wore in the movie, complete with rows of pearls, elbow-length gloves and oversized shades, would end up becoming Givenchy's most famous look.

Aiming to reach a wider market, Givenchy launched a line of upscale ready-to-wear and accessories in the 1960s. Its commercial success soon enabled him to buy out his backers, making him one of only a handful of Paris couturiers to own their own label outright.

Hubert De\\de Givency with Yves Saint-Laurent. Picture: AFP/Pierre Guillard
Hubert De\\de Givency with Yves Saint-Laurent. Picture: AFP/Pierre Guillard

In 1988, he sold the house to French luxury conglomerate LVMH, the parent company of a stable of top fashion labels that now includes Dior, Celine, Marc Jacobs, Pucci and Kenzo.

Givenchy retired in 1995, and was succeeded by John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Julien Macdonald, Italy's Riccardo Tisci and its current chief designer, Clare Waight Keller, the first woman in the role.

Hubert de Givenchy in his shop in Paris in 1952. Picture: AP
Hubert de Givenchy in his shop in Paris in 1952. Picture: AP

Waight Keller, at the helm of the brand since last year, said on her official Instagram account she is "deeply saddened by the loss of a great man and artist I have had the honuor to meet." "Not only was he one of the most influential fashion figures of our time, whose legacy still influences modern day dressing, but he also was one of the chicest most charming men I have ever met," she wrote.

Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH, said he is "deeply saddened" by Givenchy's death. "He was among those designers who placed Paris firmly at the heart of world fashion post 1950 while creating a unique personality for his own fashion label," according to a statement released by LVMH.

Hubert de Givenchy, flanked by the women who made his clothes in 1995. Picture: AFP/Gerard Fouet
Hubert de Givenchy, flanked by the women who made his clothes in 1995. Picture: AFP/Gerard Fouet

The designer's longtime partner, the former haute couture designer Philippe Venet, announced his death through the Givenchy fashion house, saying he had died in his sleep on Saturday.

The pair lived in a Renaissance chateau near Paris.

"It is with huge sadness that we inform you that Hubert Taffin de Givenchy has died," it said in a statement to AFP.

The designer's "nephews and nieces share Mr Venet's grief," it added.

Hubert de Givenchy designed the world-famous “little black dress”. Picture: AFP/Gerard Fouet
Hubert de Givenchy designed the world-famous “little black dress”. Picture: AFP/Gerard Fouet

Racing's festive finish

Racing's festive finish

Christmas racing fun.

Motorcyclist airlifted after suffering serious injury

Motorcyclist airlifted after suffering serious injury

A man in his 40s has been airlifted to hospital with serious injury

Local Partners