Thursday, 20 February 2014

On This Day In Fashion History...

...Icon-maker, Hubert de Givenchy Was Born

On 21st February 1927, Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy was born in Beauvais, France. With a name like that, he was obliged to do great things and he did not disappoint, going on to become one of the most influential and pioneering couturiers of the mid twentieth century.

Inheriting his title from his father, the Marquis of Givenchy, the young count's creative talents were the legacy of his mother's bloodline, who were influential in raising him following the death of his father in 1930.

It was a trip to the 1937 World's Fair in Paris that first inspired dreams of a career in fashion and in 1944, aged seventeen, Givenchy took himself to Paris where he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to learn his craft.

He followed this with stints designing for some of the most significant fashion houses of the era beginning with Jacques Fath in 1945, then Robert Piguet and Lucien Lelong in 1946 before designing separates for the boutique of Elsa Schiapparelli from 1947 to 1951.

By 1952 he was ready to launch his own design house. His debut collection focused on separates: light, floor-length skirts and beautiful blouses. They were pieces that could be mixed and matched to suit the wearers personal style - a novel idea in a time it was the couturiers that issued head-to-toe style dicta.

He was the youngest couturier in Paris coming up with a new way of dressing for a new generation of women. Post World War II, boutiques were becoming increasingly popular: more accessible than haute couture salons, they offered more affordable goods and were the forerunner of ready-to-wear. Givenchy incorporated the spirit of the boutique with the quality of couture, and in 1954 became the first couturier to launch a pret-a-porter line.

He was greatly influenced by Cristobal Balenciaga. ("Balenciaga was my religion," Givenchy told WWD in 2007.) Under Balenciaga's mentoring, Givenchy's focus increasingly grew towards purity of line. In 1957, the pair independently launched the 'sack' silhouette.

Contrary to the fitted shapes of the time, the sack ignored the waistline. By-passing the curves of the female form, it's beauty came from the shroud of mystery it created about the body that lay beneath.

His youthful spirit encouraged raising hemlines too, as he urged women to show off their legs - it was the precursor to a trend that would rise to extreme heights in the ensuing decade.

The 1950s and 60s were Givenchy's golden era and the essence of his style has been immortalised by the great women that he dressed. The most significant of which was Audrey Hepburn who became both his friend and his muse. Dressing the actress both on and off-screen, he must be credited with securing her place as a fashion icon. "His clothes are the only clothes in which I am myself," said Hepburn of Givenchy. "He is far more than a couturier, he is a creator of personality."

Dressing her first for the Sabrina (1954), he went on to perfect the little black dress, which created a cinematic legend of its own in Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961). "The little black dress is the hardest thing to realise," he told an interviewer in 2010. "Because you must keep it simple."

Simplicity however, was what Givenchy did best - "Clutter is not Givenchy's thing," remarked Vogue in 1969. "Purifying and refining are."

This look did not transcend well into the seventies and eighties. His less-is-more, classic style did not fit with a decade that listed flower power, punk and glam rock amongst it's key influences or with the power-dressing, label flaunting, cashed up fads of the 1980s.

Inspite of his critics, Givenchy persisted with his principles. In 1988 he sold his label to LVMH but held his position as head of one of the great couture houses of Paris until his retirement in 1995.

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