The Timeless Philosophy of Hubert de Givenchy

The Timeless Philosophy of Hubert de Givenchy


And so, with the passing of Hubert de Givenchy, fashion, which is always moving and ever changing, is prompted to pause and reflect. First, on the man himself, his life and his legacy, and second, on the movement and change that has taken place in fashion because of Givenchy, and in spite of him.

What follows is an homage to Givenchy, organized in parts corresponding to the major forces that inspired and shaped a man who, in turn, profoundly shaped fashion. 





his beliefs


no. 1: fashion begins with fabric


"When I was a schoolboy, my grandmother rewarded me for good grades by showing her treasures—whole cabinets filled with every kind of fabric, all of which left me utterly dazzled. Could I have sensed that one day fabrics in the hundreds and thousands of metres [sic] would pass through my hands?" 

- via The Great Fashion Designers


"The fabric is the thing that inspires you first. Then comes the creation (of the design) and knowing how to give the fabric its best possible value."

- via Vogue on Hubert de Givenchy


"During those many years of couture collections, there were always fabrics which I liked more than others. The allure, the odour [sic] of the silk, the feel of a velvet, the crackle of a 'duchess' satin—what intoxication! How truly wonderful! The colours [sic], the sheen of a faille, the iridescent side of a shot taffeta, the strength of a brocade, the caress of a velvet panel—what bliss! What extraordinary sensuality."

- via The Great Fashion Designers


"Never work against the fabric, which has a life of its own." 

- via The Great Fashion Designers


"Fabric is the most extraordinary thing, it has life. You must respect the fabric."

- via The Independent



no. 2: fashion should liberate women



"I've dreamt of a liberated woman, who will no longer be swathed in fabric, armour [sic] plated. All my lines are styles for quick and fluid movement. My dresses are real dresses, ultra-light, free of padding and corseting, garments that will float on a body delivered from bondage." 

- via The Great Fashion Designers



no. 3: simplicity is key


"The little black dress is the hardest thing to realise [sic], because you must keep it simple." 

- via The Independent




his mentor: cristóbal balenciaga



"By then my house had already been established. Nevertheless, that first encounter with M. Balenciaga, a man I had admired since my youth, left me in a state of shock. His influence on my work was immense, and yet I realised [sic] I still had everything to learn. I had to acknowledge that, fundamentally, I knew very little about my profession." 

- Givenchy on meeting Balenciaga for the first time in New York in 1953, a year after the start of his own design house via The Great Fashion Designers


'I remember one day we were looking at the dummies of some of his clients; one was the shape of an old woman, her back was stooped with rounded shoulders and she had a big stomach and hips. While I watched, Balenciaga took a piece of muslin, pinned it to the dummy, and began to work with it. By seaming and cutting on the bias of the fabric he gradually made the stooped dummy straighten, the round hips and stomach disappear. The proportions became almost perfect. It was like a miracle.

- via The Telegraph


"He taught me it isn't necessary to put a button where it doesn't belong, or to add a flower to make a dress beautiful. It is beautiful of itself." 

- via The Great Fashion Designers 


"Today as I was working I could feel Balenciaga's hand on my shoulder. He was saying: Subtract. Make it simple. Make it pure." 

- via Vogue on Hubert de Givenchy



"Balenciaga was my religion. Since I'm a believer, for me there's Balenciaga and the good Lord."

- via British Vogue




his muse: audrey hepburn



hepburn on givenchy

"His are the only clothes in which I am myself. He is far more than a couturier, he is a creator of personality."

- Audrey Hepburn quoted in 1956 via Hollywood Goes Shopping


givenchy on hepburn

"Audrey wore clothes with such talent and flair that she created a style, which in turn had a major impact on fashion. Her chic, her youth, her bearing and her silhouette grew ever more celebrated, enveloping in me a kind of aura or radiance that I could never have hoped for." 

- via The Great Fashion Designers


on the givenchy-hepburn relationship

"Perhaps no two artists have had a greater impact on contemporary fashion than Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy. Together, they popularized trends that brought fashion into the modern age, including the steadfast Little Black Dress. Over the course of their forty-year friendship and professional partnership, Audrey Hepburn became a style icon. The looks she wore came to be regarded as 'timeless,' and she continues to be the ultimate fashion role model for millions around the world. This enduring boon to the fashion world all sprang from Audrey and Givenchy's brilliant, collaborative partnership, which began at the start of their careers, when they were merely in their mid-twenties."

- via Audrey and Givenchy: A Fashion Love Affair






his designs


Givenchy's First Collection (1952)

With his debut collection in February 1952, Givenchy instantly jolted the fashion world with the introduction of separates for the modern woman. The collection was rooted in the classic principles he admired in Balenciaga, but remarkably fresh, giving women the freedom of both movement and styling, as the pieces in the collection were designed to be mixed and matched.


The Bettina Blouse

Perhaps the most iconic piece from Givenchy's debut collection was the Bettina blouse, named after one of the first major models in Paris, Bettina (they went by one name then; later she was Bettina Graziani) . The blouse, made of white linen, with ruffled sleeves featuring black eyelet details, caused an immediate sensation. 



Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina (1954)

The film represented the start of the decades long friendship and collaboration between Givenchy and Hepburn. As the story goes, a Mademoiselle Hepburn rung up Givenchy and asked him to dress her in an upcoming film. Expecting Katharine Hepburn, Givenchy was puzzled when a gamine actress showed up to his atelier, dressed in slim trousers and ballet flats. He was preparing his collection, and declined her request. Fate had its own plans, and eventually, Givenchy invited Hepburn to view a few samples from the previous seasons' collection, launching a deep personal friendship and professional collaboration that lasted four decades and shaped modern fashion.



Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

The collaboration between Givenchy and Hepburn reached its apogee with the wardrobe for Breakfast at Tiffany's, which became a cultural touchpoint, transcending both film and fashion.



Dressing Jackie Kennedy (1961)

For the occasion of the Kennedy's state visit to France in 1961, Jacqueline Kennedy contacted Hubert de Givenchy about dressing her in the tradition of French haute couture. Recalling the story to Suzy Menkes for a 2016 interview in Vogue, Givenchy says:

"...When they came to France for a state visit. Jackie asked for more than 10 or 15 pieces, saying ‘I don’t know if I can be dressed by a French designer.’ We did all the fittings in secret. Then after the event at Versailles, Jackie sent me a little postcard to tell me that General de Gaulle gave her a very nice compliment. He said, ‘Madame, this evening you look like a Parisienne.’”





his legacy


"Balenciaga had a sense of the construction of clothes. He did things that were intelligent, which isn't the case today. People are interested in glitz. Fashion's over. There are bags and shoes that are more and more ugly. That's all. There are perfumes and everyone talks of luxury. But for me, luxury is, in part, to be well dressed."

- via British Vogue



When the life of a great man ends, we often talk about eras coming to a close and times changing and so forth. We get reflective, and we seek meaning in loss. The death of Hubert de Givenchy has been no exception, but the truth is, fashion changed a long time before his death, and Givenchy knew it. He recognized it in the air. The world he created in, and the women he created for, had both changed. The industry he adored, the one he shaped with his own hands, had less and less room for his philosophy on what fashion meant, on what it should do for women. In 1988, when Givenchy sold his company to LVMH, the fashion of Givenchy was already a thing of the past.

In reflecting on Givenchy's life and legacy, it is this that interests me. Despite giants like Givenchy and Balenciaga and Vionnet creating a foundation for a fashion rooted in fundamentals and technique, why did we move away from the philosophy that fashion starts with fabric, great design, and quality construction? These timeless principles go beyond creating clothes that work for women, they create women. Fashion is capable of this. And Audrey Hepburn dressed in Givenchy is proof. 

Why then have we reduced fashion to its lowest common denominator? Why have we replaced sumptuous fabrics with polyester and pulled out seams from clothing and equated modern chic with wearing jeans and a t-shirt, but carrying the right bag? As women who desire fashion and consume it, did we demand these changes? Or did the fashion industry push them onto us, with the aim of selling us more? 

Perhaps the way we to honor Hubert de Givenchy is to take the advice of another great fashion visionary, Diana Vreeland: let's demand more of fashion. Let's care more about clothes. Let's ask for the things Givenchy believed in: fabric, fit, and a relationship with fashion that enriches every facet of our life. Audrey Hepburn once said, "I rely on Givenchy in the same way American women depend on their psychiatrists." How telling. When fashion is defined by attention to the fine detail of clothes, it ends up being not about clothes at all in the end, but about the woman wearing them. 




Drusilla Beyfus (2015). Vogue on Hubert de Givenchy. ABRAMS

David Desser; Garth Jowett (2000). Hollywood Goes Shopping. U of Minnesota Press. p 172.

Cindy De La Hoz (2016). Audrey and Givenchy: A Fashion Love Affair. Running Press.

Brenda Polan; Roger Tredre (2009). The Great Fashion Designers. Berg. pp. 95–98.

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