A match made in heaven

If Hubert de Givenchy had not met Audrey Hepburn, their stories could have been not anywhere as perfect.

Одри Хепберн в платье Givenchy, 1955 год. Фотограф Норман Паркинсон для журнала Vogue.
Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy dress, 1955. Norman Parkinson for Vogue.

If Hubert de Givenchy had not met Audrey Hepburn, their stories could have been not anywhere as perfect.

Audrey Hepburn and Hubert Givenchy out for a walk. 1980s, Paris

In his recent interview Hubert de Givenchy, now 88, recalls his arrival to Switzerland to say his last goodbye to Audrey Hepburn not long before her death. He entered her bedroom; she could not get up, but on the armchair near the bed there lay a dress, his dress. She pointed at the dress, smiled and said: "As always".

Одри Хепберн в платье Givenchy. 1954 год, фильм «Сабрина».
Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy gown in the movie "Sabrina" (1954)

They had been friends all her adult life. Audrey Hepburn was brought to Givenchy's atelier in 1954 in her pre-Sabrina days when she was already famous but was still confused with Katharine Hepburn, the ultimate Hollywood star of the 40s and 50s, as he'd also done. "Katharine Hepburn? Here?" he said. But instead of Katharine he saw someone completely different: a waif-like, extremely delicate and modern looking girl. Audrey was almost unrivaled in capturing the spirit of the new times: fresh, youthful and cheerfully nonchalant. "Roman Holiday" is in fact exactly about this new look, it tells the story of a noble princess who runs away from a constricting palace just to cut her hair short, change a heavy train for a lightweight dress, ride a scooter and dance to a guitar. And Audrey Hepburn perfectly embodied both this free-loving spirit and nonchalant style. The new style.
Юбер де Живанши в окружении моделей в мастерской, 1927 год.
Hubert de Givenchy surrounded by models, 1927.

The same new style was heightened by Hubert de Givenchy himself. The new Parisian fashion house emerged when the city already started to get bored with its favourite postwar couturier Christian Dior and his stiff rules, corsets and crinolines. The spirit of the time was changing and there were people who could feel and express it better than Dior. Givenchy was one of them, he belonged to this galaxy of young Parisians creating the new fashion. Many of them were in one way or another entwined with the greatest genius of all time Cristobal Balenciaga, whose late futurist style defined the entire 60s fashion. André Courrèges and Emmanuel Ungaro worked as apprentices in his atelier, and Givenchy was a close friend of his, their fashion houses so closely located, that they often visited one another.

Модель в шляпе Givenchy. Фотограф Франк Говарт, 1958 год, Париж.
Givenchy hat (1958). Photo by Frank Horvat

Nonetheless Givenchy’s own style was far from futuristic: no plastic dresses, no metal, no unthinkable minis, no crazy designs. Classic and elegant to the bone but far more soft and loose, than Dior’s elegance, it felt natural and fresh rather than constrained and artificial. However if Givechy learned something from Balenciaga, it was simplicity, simplicity that is so incredibly difficult to achieve and which Balenciaga mastered like no other.

Одри Хепберн в платье Givenchy, кадр из фильма «Завтрака у Тиффани», 1961 год.
Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy gown in a famous scene from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961)

It’s difficult to say if the story of Pygmalion and Galatea (or "My Fair Lady" in which Audrey will star later) is relevant to their relationship, probably not. Indeed, Givenchy shaped Audrey Hepburn’s style both in life and on screen. He created her most iconic looks: a bustier train dress from "Sabrina", a black dress with a massive crystal necklace and a black hat with oversized glasses and a silk scarf from "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" and slim trousers and a sweater from "Funny Face", also black. But Audrey’s personality was so distinctive, both internally and externally, and she wore his designs so perfectly, that she literally became the embodiment of Givenchy style. Saying Audrey makes us think of Givenchy and saying Givenchy makes us think of Audrey.

Одри Хепберн и Юбер де Живанши на примерке.
Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy at a dress fitting. 

Hepburn with her touching youthful look of a Bambi fawn, remarkably thin, flat-chested and spindle-legged was certainly an ideal model for extremely refined, very Parisian Givenchy designs with nuanced details. She had a long neck and Givenchy made her a slightly retreating collar to highlight her neck (similar collars with a neck sticking out like a flower from a vase were Balenciaga’s favourites), she had thin and delicate wrists and Givenchy made her dresses, jackets and coats with 7/8 sleeves, as a matter of fact another reference to Balenciaga. She had a super slim waist and Givenchy devised for her tulip-skirted dresses, clinched at waist, and sheath dresses with a bodice and bateau neck complimenting both waist- and neckline.

Кутюрное платье Givenchy, 1960-е годы.
Givenchy couture gown, 1960s

This exact style of dress is now available at Vintage Voyage. Made of hard black silk jacquard with red flower pattern (Givenchy especially fancied such classic combinations), it is tailored in such a way as to make any waist look narrower and flat as a stiletto. Bateau neck reveals the neck and collarbones – just like Givenchy's designs for Audrey. And this is, in fact, the essence of Givenchy style: breathtakingly complicated simplicity based on surgically precise fit and obsessive attention to every detail.

Иви Николс, Софи Малагат Литвак и Беттина в нарядах Givenchy, 1952 год.
Ivy Nichols, Sophie Malagat Litvak and Bettina in Givenchy's interchangeable tops and skirts, 1952. 

The delicacy of Givenchy’s style might turn out to be not only his advantage, but also a drawback so ephemeral was it. And his meeting with Audrey proved to be a landmark: thanks to her all his nobility and finesse have not just acquired clear lines, but also an absolutely recognizable face. He understood that her beauty should be handled with care, so ruinous could be overflow of details and heavy design. And he has never let his designer ambitions overshadow her personality. It is difficult to imagine, who else could treat this in all senses slim and tender girl with such awareness and care.

Одри Хепберн и Юбер де Живанши, 1986 год.
Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy, 1986.

This type of union is quite uncommon in the fashion history and is even more rare when it's based on a close human relationship, and not just a tribute to a marketing contract. Nowadays when celebrities are tightly tied to renowned luxury brands, when there’s a contract behind almost every red carpet appearance, the story of Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy remains the most famous example of this kind of collaboration. And, probably, the most sincere.

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Author: Elena Stafyeva


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