Givenchy: Everything You Didn’t Know
We have all heard something about Givenchy, haven’t we? It’s the brand used by many artists around the globe and whether we admit it or not, we all would love to have a Givenchy accessory or piece of clothing.
But what do we know about this brand beyond its popularity? How did it start? How it became one of the most famous fashion houses in the world? I already brought you an interesting post about Gucci, so I decided to investigate a little more about similar brands to see what’s underneath.
And as I expected, there is so much history behind this name that I brought you the most interesting facts about Givenchy. Think there’s not much to learn from it? Think twice.
A Travel In Time
He was born into a Protestant family with Italian roots, quite traditional actually. However, his father, Lucien Taffin de Givenchy was the Marquis of Givenchy, which basically made his family an aristocratic one.
Lucien died of influenza in 1930, 3 years after Hubert was born. He and his brother Jean Claude were raised by their mother, Béatrice Badin.
We would expect that coming from a wealthy family, Hubert wouldn’t have such a bad life. But the aristocratic life has many responsibilities and duties towards society.
Hubert’s grandmother was Marguerite Dieterle Badin, the widow of Jules Badin, a well-known European artist and the owner and director of the historic Gobelins Manufactory and Beauvais tapestry factories, both were really important French tapestry workshops.
Hubert’s family, as you may see, has a long line of artistic professions; even his great-grandfather designed sets for the Paris Opera. And of course, he couldn’t be left behind, so when he turned 17 he moved to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts.
He wasn’t always seduced by art, he actually considered a career in law, but he eventually made it to the fashion world.
His firsts designs were done for Jacques Fath, one of the top 3 fashion designers in the postwar haute couture in 1945. But Givenchy’s designs were so beautiful that it only took him one year to work with Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior!
With a modest business plan and many stunning fashion designs, the first Givenchy design house opened in 1952; it was in Paris and his first collection was named after Bettina Graziani, a well-praised model of the time who had become Givenchy’s muse.
Hubert was the youngest designer of the Parisian fashion scene, he was only 25 years old when his name was out there in the streets giving people something to talk about, and many clothes to desire.
Why? Well, because he knew he wanted to do something different. Givenchy’s designs were not conservatives at all, because he knew there were enough designers in Europe doing exactly that, beautiful clothes, but they were not innovating.
Givenchy fell in love with her gorgeous face (who wouldn’t?) and her sense of fashion; since then Hubert designed most of the clothes Hepburn wore in movies like Love in the Afternoon, Charade, Paris When It Sizzles and How to Steal a Million.
It was a symbiotic relationship, he got inspired by her and her roles had many of Givenchy’s fashion sense. Even in 1957, he created a fragrance in her honor called L’Interdit. This campaign was the first that showed a female face in a fragrance ad, and she did it for free.
The World Is Changing…
But Audrey wasn’t the only popular woman who nourished Givenchy’s fashion style, among the list we also find the first lady Jackie Kennedy (just like Gucci did), the Princess Grace of Monaco, Wallis Simpson who was Duchess of Windsor and Babe Paley.
Actually, the list goes on and on: Grace Kelly, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Jane Holzer, and many more enjoyed Givenchy’s designs and became regular clients of the brand.
This tells us that the world was changing, women of the time were getting tired of conservative and boring designs, they were demanding more from the world, and Givenchy gave it to them.
Despite being friends with notorious women from that time, Givenchy made a friend that would change his life forever: Cristobal Balenciaga, a Spanish fashion designer that was known as “the master of us all” by Dior and “the only couturier in the truest sense of the word” by Coco Chanel herself.
“Balenciaga taught me everything I know. He taught me to care for the details, that is was not necessary to sew on a button where it had no use, or to add a flower to make a dress beautiful… no unnecessary detail.”
Notice here that, sometimes we think the fashion industry is all about rivalry and fierce competition, but when you dig deep enough, you notice that designers actually learn from each other.
Maybe they do not share all their secrets, maybe they prefer not to show all of their new designs to other designers, but they are not evil greedy monsters. Givenchy was friends with many fashion designers that were his direct competition in the business, but friendship and admiration always floated between them, and Balenciaga was his best teacher.
A Little More Than Just Clothes
Givenchy created a revolution for women’s clothing in the 50s, his designs were not meant to make them beautiful but stiff, he wanted to give them the power to actually move with a fancy dress, to express who they were through fashion.
This was a huge deal because back then, women were seen as an accessory, something men used to show off to their friends and coworkers. But with his fashion sense, and the feminist revolution of the time, women were more in control of their bodies, of how they wanted to be seen instead of just looking pretty for someone else.
You may not remember it entirely, but ask your mother how she dressed back in the 50s. Givenchy’s idea of beauty was not distant from elegance, but he did want to offer comfort and uniqueness.
Just like the Washington Post said in 1995:
“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 decorate her. His clothes moved with a woman’s body, rather than restricted it.”
In the 70s Givenchy took a step further and launched his fashion line for men, it was a clear influence of his friendship with Balenciaga.
Under the name “Gentleman Givenchy”, the boutique opened in November 1969 in Paris, and by 1971 he came up with a collection of embroidered coats in honor of Georges Braque and Joan Miró.
It was such a success, and men were so interested in fashion that Givenchy, along with other designers, were now offering exclusive shoes, jewelry, upholstery, ties, tableware and kimono designs.
And in 1976, his hard work took Givenchy Inc. to the famous Fifth Avenue in New York City.
What makes this brand so desirable in our days? If you check their collections, they are all quite simple, actually. And that is Hubert’s secret, to keep it simple.
To his understanding, everybody is born with a small percentage of elegance, his clothes only make it more notorious.
Hubert had a lot of respect for his work instruments, such as cloth. Your mind can come up with a million crazy ideas for a dress, but if you can’t find the exact type of fabric your idea needs, then the design is simply incomplete.
He always insisted on respecting the fabric, because to his eyes, it was the most extraordinary thing in the fashion world. And if we notice how simple Givenchy’s designs are, we notice that he actually loved creating from the most basic aspects.
He even said that the hardest thing to create was a black dress because it is elegant by nature and you must keep it simple to preserve its essence.
That’s what Hubert tried to do with his company until 1995, the year he retired. He sold Givenchy to Louis Vuitton in 1988 and retired in 1995.
Since then we have seen many changes in the way Givenchy had been making fashion, when Hubert was questioned about this he was a bit evasive about it, and of course, when you sell your company you give consent to other people to put some of their soul into your previous work.
“I think when you sell your company and are no longer the master of driving it, it’s quite difficult.”
Despite this, Givenchy was never angry or resented any of the decisions made after he left the office because he understood that times change, just like people.
Today, Givenchy designs are more colorful and flashy, but they still keep that respect for the fabric Hubert taught them, and if you compare their designs with other fashion houses, they still do their best to keep it simple, even though today’s glamour is not about it.
“Every approach is different, and you must accept the reality.”
In 2012, the company was worth more than $900.000 million, with net incomes superior to €11.5 million.
Hubert de Givenchy died on March 10, 2018.
First of all, despite coming from an aristocratic family, a man becoming a fashion designer in that time was not 100% accepted, but his mother understood him very well and saw his talent, so she supported him all the way.
However, this didn’t mean she gave him the family money to start his company. Hubert started with personal investments, and he was so talented and passionate about his job that he rapidly became famous in France.
And, at least, during his years as the head designer of Givenchy, he kept true to his origins. He wanted fashion to be simple, yet elegant. And that was what Givenchy was about until his retirement.
I also believe it is admirable the way he took the changes in his company after he sold it to Louis Vuitton; any other man would have rejected the idea of making significant changes to the roots of his company, but he knew it was the time to adapt.
And that I find respectful. Keeping yourself true to your origins is an important thing, but I also believe it is quite important to know when it’s time to change, and Hubert understood that very well.
Another thing I find quite interesting is the fact that the relationship between designers goes beyond greed and jealousy. Many designers become friends because they share a passion and, even though they run different business that competes with each other, deep down they are willing to let that aside and enjoy from each other’s knowledge.
If people that live in one of the fiercest industries can sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee sharing memories, then we can all do it. Something perhaps some politicians may like to learn soon.