Hubert de Givenchy was born on 21 February 1927 in Beauvais, France. The son of a prosperous family, he attended college at Beauvais and then moved to Paris. In 1944 he took a position as an apprentice designer at the couture house of Jacques Fath while studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In the late 1940s and early 1950s he took a series of jobs as an assistant designer-first with Fath, then with Lucien Lelong, Robert Piguet, and Elsa Schiaparelli. Givenchy's years as an assistant designer encompassed the period of the New Look and perhaps instilled in him a sense of romanticism that was to characterize his work for over four decades.
Givenchy opened his own couture house in 1951 and made an immediate mark with his design of the "Bettina blouse," a simple white cotton shirting blouse named for Fath's favorite model, Bettina Graziani. Givenchy was quickly recognized as an innovative talent for his system of designing his creations-including evening gowns-as compositions of separate and interchangeable elements. In 1953 he met Cristóbal Balenciaga, who quickly became his mentor and lifelong friend. Givenchy moved his business in 1955 to 3, avenue George V, across the street from Balenciaga's atelier, and the two men were in almost daily contact thereafter. In 1954 Givenchy opened his fragrance business, Société des Parfums Givenchy. He designed his first outfits for the actress Audrey Hepburn that same year. She quickly became his most famous model and muse and looked so enchanting in his creations in a series of films-beginning with Sabrina in 1954 and continuing with Funny Face (1957), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), and others-that she made Givenchy a household name. The designer was generous in acknowledging Hepburn's role in his career, remarking that "often ideas would come to me when I had her on my mind. She always knew what she wanted and what she was aiming for. It was like that from the very start." Givenchy also became known as one of Jacqueline Kennedy's favorite designers; he designed the dress that she wore to President Kennedy's funeral.
Signs of Givenchy Style
Givenchy's style was characterized by bright cheerful colors and a youthful femininity. Yet his simple tailleurs, cocktail dresses, and evening dresses were also the height of chic, emphasizing line more than decoration. "You have to know when to stop," he once said. "That is wisdom."
Modern Times at the House of Givenchy
Givenchy expanded his business in the late 1960s and into the 1970s to include women's ready-to-wear clothing as well as a line of menswear. He sold his company to the French luxury conglomerate LVMH in 1988 but continued to serve as head designer until his retirement in 1995. His first successor was John Galliano, who departed in 1996 and was replaced by Alexander McQueen. McQueen in turn left the company in 2001 and was succeeded as artistic director by Julien McDonald.
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