“Givenchy has long been a classicist, one of the last of the old school of haute couture, where gorgeous clothes were made for a woman to live in, not to decorate her,” fashion journalist Dana Thomas wrote in The Washington Post in 1995. “His clothes moved with a woman’s body, rather than restricted it.”
Givenchy, a fashion pillar of romantic elegance, liked to call himself the “eternal apprentice”, who constantly searched for new inspiration and ideas.
‘Bettina blouse’ and separates
Givenchy’s favourite model, publicist Bettina Graziani, became the fashion muse for his first collection. It was here he debuted the notion of haute separates, tops and bottoms that could be mixed and matched, as opposed to the head-to-toe looks that were the conventional consensus among Paris couture purveyors. It was a departure from the rigid and constricted lines of Dior’s New Look – with women embracing the simpler cinched waists and floaty silhouettes.
Part of the collection, the “Bettina blouse” was an experiment of white broadcloth with tiers and flamenco eyelet ruffles at the sleeve that gave women a new sense of fashion liberation; the idea that they could define their own style, rather than follow the fashion rules dictated in that era.
The famous collection also included the iconic white gown with black embroidery that Hepburn wore in Sabrina. You only have to look at today’s runways including Yves Saint Laurent, Chloe, Miu Miu, Dior and yes, even Givenchy at Paris Fashion Week, as well as our own work and going-out wardrobes to explore the everlasting impact.
Operating on a tight budget, he used cotton materials to make some blouses as well as inexpensive men’s shirting material, asking customers to select their preferred fabric in those early days.
Hepburn exhibited in Funny Face, among other movies, Givenchy’s refined visions of sporty day clothes with sweaters and tailored pants, understated tailoring with head scarves and short tweed skirts as well as his grand occasion dressing.
Little Black Dress and uneven hemlines
The designer was famously quoted as saying, “The dress must follow the body of a woman, not the body following the shape of the dress.” Although Givenchy did not invent the “little black dress” per se (given Coco Chanel preceded with designs), his striking bateau neckline, subtle cinched waist and crescent-shaped cutout is a design was a statement for its time and is still worn by women today.
On the beauty front, he was also one of the first to create a “celebrity fragrance”, L’Interdit (French for “forbidden”), which was designed for and later endorsed by Hepburn.
Givenchy is also renowned for his uneven hemlines, creating dresses from air-borne chiffon or organza that were short in front but swooped to the floor or beyond at the back. This look, similar to that of Audrey’s dress in Sabrina, is still a considered a staple on the red carpet.
Jackie Kennedy Onassis also famously wore a black suit and veil designed by Givenchy to the funeral of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, which, with its pill box hat and veil, has become one of the most iconic outfits of the 20th century.
Under the mentorship of Spanish powerhouse Cristobal Balenciaga, his work began focusing on the simplicity and purity of line. It was in his “golden years” of the 1950s and ’60s that Givenchy and his mentor were described as “undisputedly the world’s most prophetic designers”.
It was in this era he introduced the Sabrina bateau neckline, and the revolutionary chemise or shift dress, both acclaimed as “genuinely new shapes in fashion”. The era’s strict lines became redefined by offbeat nonchalance, which other fashion houses including Chanel and Dior continue to exhibit as worldly sophistication.
The Givenchy label was sold to the LVMH luxury group in 1988 but Givenchy remained head of creative design for seven years. A succession of well-known successors followed: John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Julien Macdonald, Riccardo Tisci and the label’s first female creative director, Clare Waight Keller.
More recent fans of the brand include Margot Robbie, Julia Roberts, Jessica Chastain, Rosamund Pike, Gal Gadot, Rooney Mara and the Kardashian clan.
Givenchy leaves a legacy as the pioneer for flattering and understated elegance, an aesthetic summed up with a motto he followed with his teacher Balenciaga, “Make it simple, make it pure.”
Nicole Economos is online producer for Daily Life, Sunday Life & GW.
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