The Fashionable Friendship of Audrey Hepburn And Hubert de Givenchy

  • 24 Mar - 30 Mar, 2018
  • Mag The Weekly
  • OBITUARY

One of the greatest haute couturers, French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy passed away at the age of 91, on March 10, 2018. As the fashion world is mourning his demise, here is a rundown on one of the world’s first designer-muse relationships – in Givenchy’s case it was with Audrey Hepburn that was imitated but unmatched.

Before there were ‘faces’, before there were ‘brand ambassadors,’; before there was E!’s Live from the Red Carpet, before American Gigolo and Armani (before Cher and Bob Mackie or Alessandro Michele and Jared Leto), before there were Los Angeles offices and celebrity liaisons for every fashion brand, before there were influencers, there were Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn.

Decades long friendship: Hepburn with Givenchy in his workshop in Paris (above). At the Eighth Annual Night of Stars Fashion Gala at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City, 1991 (below).

The original designer and his actress muse defined a relationship that has become the gold standard for almost every brand. And though almost every obituary and headline since the news of Mr. de Givenchy’s death has referenced the relationship as core to his career, its impact went far beyond what it meant for the individuals involved. Arguably, on the model of their 40-year relationship, an entire fashion/Hollywood industrial complex has been built.

Hepburn in Funny Faces wearing Givenchy

Mr. Givenchy and Ms. Hepburn found each other before either was really famous – the designer had only recently opened his maison; her first major movie had yet to be released, and they stuck with each other through seven films, from 1954 to 1987. He designed the white dress she wore when she won her Best Actress Oscar in 1954 (for Roman Holiday). The dress is today deemed one of the best Oscar dresses in history and it actually went up for auction in 2011, selling for £84,000. In 2016, the Gemeente museum in The Hague had an entire retrospective devoted to his work for the actress, called ‘To Audrey, With Love.’

In the show, Ms. Hepburn was quoted as saying of the relationship: “Givenchy’s clothes are the only ones I feel myself in. He is more than a designer. He is a creator of personality.”

It’s as good a description of the role that clothes can play in building an image as any you may have ever heard.

It return, she made him synonymous with a certain kind of elegance that could be both, gamin and languid, encapsulated in the idea of the little black dress. Other designers made them, but when Audrey wore them on screen, as she did in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Sabrina, she amplified the effect to such an extent that it echoed, not just around the world at the moment the film debuted, but over time.

When Mr. de Givenchy introduced his perfume, L’Interdit, in 1957, Hepburn was its face because he made it for her, not because she was paid.

Audrey Hepburn first met Hubert de Givenchy when he agreed to supply her with three pieces from his spring/summer collections to be worn in the 1954 film, Sabrina. This is one of the pieces she chose.

And that is part of why the relationship worked so well: It was so mutually beneficial not just as a friendship, but as a professional signifier. When women bought Givenchy, they were also buying into a belief in long term investment in elegance. That is why, as Hubert’s peers became known for their symbols, the pearls and camellias of Chanel, the New Look and Bar jacket of Dior he was forever known for his muse.

AUDREY HEPBURN

He did more than just dress Ms. Hepburn, of course. He dressed other famous women, including Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor. He was one of the first designers to create high-end ready to wear and a signature scent and to see the future coming to fashion and sell his brand to LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton in 1988, when it had barely achieved conglomerate status. And he was an exacting tailor. But his relationship with Ms. Hepburn loomed over it all, so much so that you would think he might have chafed against it, though he never did.

Ever since their first meeting in the 1950’s Givenchy and Hepburn became lifelong friends. She once described him as her 'best friend' and he said that he saw her as a 'sister'. Hepburn always favoured his designs for her films and outside of the films as well. From Cecil Beaton photo shoots for Vogue to award ceremonies, Hepburn was rarely seen wearing any other designer. Naturally Hepburn also chose Givenchy, for her wedding outfit she wore to marry her second husband Andrea Dotti in 1969 and right up until her death in 1993, she favoured Givenchy's designs above all others.

It's a story of great friendship and a partnership that enabled Audrey Hepburn to become one of the best loved Hollywood icons of all time; her grace, class and beauty was enhanced by the clothing designed by Hubert de Givenchy and together they created a style icon.

Perhaps, it’s impossible to recreate what Mr. Givenchy and Ms. Hepburn had. The digital world moves too fast; people’s attention spans are too short; we know too much about celebrity behaviour for it to have the same mystique and allure; no individual or brand wants to depend so much on the other. Perhaps that’s history.

But theirs was a relationship that had content. And even today especially today, content matters.

Audrey wears a Givenchy gown at the 26th Annual Academy Awards, 1954. She took home the Best Actress Oscar for Roman Holiday.

GIVENCHY ON FASHION TODAY…

I don’t think the creations today are fashion anymore. Since Yves Saint Laurent stopped making his couture everything changed. Amongst young creators it would be nice to have new images and a new vision of fashion. At the time it was a fashion that was very elegant, with shoes, matching dresses, and so on. It’s difficult to find a fashion that is chic, harmonious and refined with modern times.”

Audrey Hepburn wearing Givenchy for her wedding to Andrea Dotti in 1969
Paramount gave Givenchy $30,000 to design costumes for Audrey’s character in How To Steal A Million (1966). He creates the perfect 60’s mod look – little white dresses, round sunglasses and a plethora of pillbox hats.


Givenchy-Hepburn - A relationship that had his own fragrance

Audrey and Hubert were close friends for most of their lives, and in 1957, Givenchy asked his master perfumer to create the now-famous fragrance, L’Interdit especially for her. The name means ‘The Forbidden’; and, like Audrey herself, it is both, delicate and complex, as well as demure and devastatingly sexy. Miss Hepburn wore L’Interdit exclusively as her very own private perfume; and then, in the early 1960s, Givenchy made it available to the world… Citrus, peach and strawberry swirl with rose, jasmine and violets to sway above sandalwood, amber and vetiver: a fragrance worthy of a silver screen goddess – or any woman who seeks to beguile her leading man!

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