Hubert de Givenchy, the iconic French fashion designer who founded the house of Givenchy in 1952, has died. He was 91.
On Instagram, the brand paid homage to the legendary couturier, writing that he was a “major personality of the world of French haute couture” and a “gentleman who symbolized Parisian chic and elegance for more than half a century.”
Givenchy, who was born in northern France, moved to Paris at 17 to study at the École des Beaux-Arts. In the 1940s, he worked alongside Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior, and was heavily influenced by the work of his idol, Cristóbal Balanciaga. He once told System Magazine that Balenciaga inspired him because of his “self-belief, his refusal to cheat, his simplicity, his honesty, and above all, his elegance.”
Before forming his own label, Givenchy worked under Elsa Schiaparelli for several years. He met Audrey Hepburn, his longtime muse, on the set of Sabrina, and would later design the famous LBD she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “Audrey was an exceptional person,” he told The Guardian in 2014. “She was someone who knew how to wear an outfit better than anyone.” Other famous clients of Givenchy included Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Vreeland, Lauren Bacall, and various royals. “Balenciaga would dress the age-old haute couture mothers, while all of their daughters embraced Hubert,” Pamela Golbin, chief curator of the Museum of Fashion Textiles in Paris, told the Washington Post.
The courtly, 6-foot-6 designer became synonymous with the idea of “separates,” an innovative new concept of dressing that liberated women and freed them from the constraints of structured silhouettes throughout the ’50s. His designs were widely rooted in class, elegance, and a sophisticated romanticism. The late French fashion designer Jean-Louis Scherrer once said Givenchy’s style “was for the well-heeled woman. Everything he did was always in perfect taste.”
In 1954, Givenchy branched out into high-end ready-to-wear, and in 1969, he launched a men’s line. He sold his label to luxury giant LVMH for $46 million in 1989 and retired in 1995. “Fashion today is ugly,” he told People magazine a year later. “There’s no elegance to it. No one is discreet.” John Galliano became his immediate successor; Alexander McQueen, Juien Macdonald, and Riccardo Tisci would all go on to lead the house.
Clare Waight Keller, the former designer of Chloé, was named artistic director of Givenchy a year ago, marking the first time Givenchy has ever been helmed by a woman. On Instagram today, Waight Keller wrote, “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. The definition of a true gentleman, that will stay with me forever.”
One of the first major retrospectives dedicated to Givenchy opened up in Madrid at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in 2014. Not only was the exhibit a dedication to his nearly four-decades-long career, but also an homage to haute couture, something he once said has come to an end. “The things they are selling don’t make sense,” he told The Guardian. “The times have changed. What will happen, I don’t know. And I probably won’t be here to find out.”
Still, Givenchy’s remarkable legacy has endured throughout contemporary fashion. Much like Demna Gvasalia often references Balenciaga in his collections, Tisci, who designed couture, ready-to-wear, and accessories for the brand for 12 years, frequently injected subtle nods to the late founder in his collections. His second couture collection for the house—presented in July of 2005—featured a take on Givenchy’s famous Bettina blouse. Waight Keller’s first couture collection for the house saw her riff on Givenchy’s “structure and graphism.”
At the opening of another exhibit dedicated to his work, Givenchy said, “I am happy because I did the job I dreamed of as a child.”
He is survived by his partner, Philippe Venet.