News of his passing was announced by his family via French news wire AFP on Monday.
One of his most famous clients, and dearest friend, was Audrey Hepburn, whom Givenchy met when she was still a relatively unknown, underpaid actress. Offered the opportunity to choose her own wardrobe for the upcoming film Sabrina, she requested to see the couturier à la mode who, standing at a rangy 6”6, towered over the postwar Parisian fashion world both literally and figuratively. (French newspaper L’Express famously said Givenchy was to fashion what Françoise Sagan was to literature and Bernard Buffet to painting: successful, glamorous, gorgeous and very, very French.)
Givenchy and Hepburn’s alliance sparked a style so parroted that Cecil Beaton once remarked, acidly, “nobody ever looked like her before World War II. Now thousands of imitations have appeared. The woods are full of emaciated young ladies with rat-nibbled hair and moon pale faces.” Indeed, the actress and couturier were so close that the Funny Face star made him mediator of her will shortly before her death in 1993.
Givenchy didn’t fall into this world of fame by virtue of just luck – he was helped along the way by another kind of fortune. Born in Beauvais, France, in 1927, he was the younger son of Béatrice and Lucien Taffin de Givenchy, the marquis of Givenchy (who died when he was just two years old), and the grandson of Jules Badin, the director of the Gobelins tapestry works.
Givenchy’s experiments with shape were weighted with a symbolism that is hard to understand today. Alongside Paris’s other enfants terribles working in the years after the war, he was striving for beauty and form to try and move beyond the horrors that had passed, but remained pervasive.
As the decades passed, Givenchy did not falter in his bold, pioneering approach. Beyond linking couture with Hollywood cinema, he anticipated the move towards celebrity endorsement when he made Hepburn the face of his fragrance. He launched the first ever luxury ready-to-wear line, put his name to menswear, accessories, and even the Lincoln Mark V Givenchy car, complete with a new, forward-place, front-vinyl roof. And, in 1988, he became one of the first ever designers to sell his house to a big corporation, before retiring under a decade later.
Since then, he has been succeeded by the likes of John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and the Italian designer Riccardo Tisci, who is thought to have rescued the brand from the brink of bankruptcy by reframing Givenchy’s contemporary spirit for a modern age, achieving notoriety for his emphasis on streetwear, sexy, high-octane shapes, and forming close relationships with high-profile celebrities, ranging from Madonna to Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.
Givenchy’s descendants have all been luminous talents, each hallmarking the house with their own distinct stamp, but none, perhaps, have been able to eclipse his gift for using traditional tailoring to create pure, poetic clothes that empowered his clients so that, like Hepburn, they felt as if they could play the parts they wanted to be.
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. My deepest thoughts are with his loved ones in this difficult time."