Hubert de Givenchy, the aristocratic French fashion designer whose understated style represented a golden age of elegance, has died aged 91, on Saturday at the Renaissance chateau near Paris that he shared with his partner and fellow designer, Philippe Venet.
At 6ft 6in tall, Givenchy was a giant of haute couture in every sense. Not only did he physically tower over his peers but his designs were considered by many to be way over the heads of his rivals in their elegance and sophistication.
He created on- and off-screen wardrobes for Hepburn for films including Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Funny Face. His enduring muse and client, Hepburn inspired Givenchy’s first perfume, L’Interdit, and is credited with the designer’s subsequent success and popularity in the US.
“Givenchy’s clothes are the only ones in which I feel myself. He is more than a designer, he is a creator of personality,” Hepburn said.
Givenchy, who learned his trade from another fashion master, Cristóbal Balenciaga, produced restrained designs of what admirers called an “extreme elegance” that became his trademark. His creations were eagerly awaited and sought out by the titled and wealthy in the 1950s and 60s, including Princess Grace of Monaco and Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor.
Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy, to give his full name, was born in 1927 in Beauvais, north of Paris, to an old aristocratic Protestant family. His father died when he was aged two.
The young Givenchy was fascinated by his grandfather’s collection of cloths and clothes from around the world, treasures he was only allowed to view if he did well at school. Developing an interest in fashion, he became obsessed with the idea of meeting the haute couturier he admired above all, Balenciaga.
Family legend has it that after running away from home aged 10 in a failed attempt to track down his idol and show him his own designs, Givenchy persuaded his family to allow him to abandon their idea for him to become a lawyer and let him enter the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1945 at the age of 17.
“Balenciaga was my religion, and because I am a believer, for me there is Balenciaga and the Lord,” he said later.