When I visited a windswept Calais final June, I knew it will be an distinctive alternative to speak to Hubert de Givenchy. The nice couturier was displaying his work within the Cité internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode de Calais (the Museum of Lace and Vogue), on France’s northern shoreline. I used to be overwhelmed to be taught, within the designer’s personal phrases, the legacy of the shoppers and Parisian high fashion world that made him distinctive.
Right here is his story. Might he relaxation in peace.
Hubert de Givenchy, tall, noble and impeccably tailor-made, is telling me a narrative about dressing the Duchess of Windsor, whose husband gave up the throne of England for the girl he beloved.
“The Duke didn’t converse French – he spoke Spanish, German and, after all, English,” the couturier remembers. “He stated to me, ‘Givenchy, you realize, I actually like what you do for the Duchess.’ However simply as I replied, ‘Thanks, it’s very form of you to inform me that, it’s very encouraging,’ he abruptly requested me, ‘Why is the value so excessive?’”
Enter the Duchess, with a brand new bouffant hair-do by Alexandre, making an attempt to easy issues over: “Do you assume the value is so excessive for all the enjoyment and pleasure I provide you with with all the stunning attire Hubert has designed for me?”
Givenchy has a depraved twinkle in his eye as he relates extra tales of the women he beloved to decorate. The couturier is now 90 and gave up his couture home in 1989, after it had been purchased by LVMH. However he nonetheless has a exact reminiscence of the important thing moments in his lengthy profession and brings all to vivid life within the garments displayed within the Museum of Lace and Vogue in Calais, on France’s northern coast.
Whereas visiting gallery shows, I’ve usually thought “If solely these garments might converse.” However I wanted no magic spell to find why Audrey Hepburn selected a lacy, racy, little black costume for the Sixties film, The right way to Steal a Million; or to be taught what French President Basic de Gaulle stated to First Woman Jacqueline Kennedy as she glided into the Palace of Versailles in her swishing Givenchy costume, with its embroidered silk and pearl flowers.
“Jackie was very fashionable; her spirit was fashionable, she was a brand new picture for America as a result of he was a younger president,” Givenchy says as he conjures the younger couple to life, as they had been on the daybreak of the 1960s.
“It was not the identical relationship or friendship that I had with Audrey,” the couturier continues. “The American folks felt emotion for Jackie, however they most popular to have an American couturier design her attire after they got here to France for a state go to. Jackie requested for greater than 10 or 15 items, saying ‘I don’t know if I could be dressed by a French designer.’ We did all of the fittings in secret. Then after the occasion at Versailles, Jackie despatched me a little bit postcard to inform me that Basic de Gaulle gave her a really good praise. He stated, ‘Madame, this night you seem like a Parisienne.’”
Having the designer inform me, in his personal phrases, the story behind the 80 outfits on present, brings to life what might need been a pleasing however predictable exhibition. Comparable exhibits have already been held within the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, in The Hague and in Switzerland.
I gazed at two visions of the Duchess of Windsor: laughing over the black-and-white striped costume that each she and the Baroness de Redé had been sporting on the identical Paris occasion, and dressed for her husband’s funeral in a tiny coat, costume, and pillbox hat. The all-black outfit, produced by Givenchy by means of two days and nights of labor, was completed simply in time for the aircraft arriving to take the Duchess to an icy reception in England.
She greeted the designer with the phrases, “Hubert, it’s actually marvellous.” “However I stated, ‘No, it’s regular; it’s my job to do this,” Givenchy remembers. “Though there may be a variety of criticism concerning the Duchess, she was very amusing and entertaining.”
The idea of clothes as a direct relationship between couturier and consumer is now a distant reminiscence, however model Givenchy has continued to operate, first with John Galliano as designer (earlier than he went to Dior), then Alexander McQueen, Julien Macdonald, and extra not too long ago given a world hip and funky model by Riccardo Tisci, who has now handed the baton to incoming designer Clare Waight Keller.
In opposition to the present background, it’s laborious to know that just about each garment within the exhibition has a private story, whether or not it’s the white cotton froth of a shirt beloved by mannequin Bettina within the 1950s, firstly of Givenchy’s profession, or the black sheath costume, set off with pearls, worn by Audrey in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961.
The checklist of personal loans – from the Countess de Borchgrave to the Duchess of Cadaval and the Marquise of Llanzol – suggests a society so profoundly totally different to that of at present that it seems to belong to a special universe. And Givenchy, who retired in 1995, is aware of that not solely does he personally now not have shoppers, however that his vogue world now not exists. But he says, quite touchingly, that he continues to attract, as he has at all times achieved, however particularly in reminiscence of Audrey. A video tucked right into a slim alcove of the museum exhibits the designer and his colored pencils at work.
One costume that ticks all of the bins on this museum dedicated to the creation and therapy of lace (and housed in an unique lace manufacturing unit) is a voluminous but fluid ballgown from 1952 for the Versailles ball, made for the French mannequin and later actress, Capucine. Once I complement him on this, Givenchy’s remark is that Balenciaga was the couturier who knew higher than every other easy methods to use lace.
The general impression of Givenchy as a designer is that he favored to have a robust function mannequin to subsume into his personal work. His nice vogue hero was Cristóbal Balenciaga, however the 1980s Givenchy outfits – such because the scarlet costume printed with the motif of an ostrich feather fan as held within the mannequin’s hand – counsel a penchant for Yves Saint Laurent.
However Le Grand Hubert, because the French describe him, has a sublime enchantment – not least in a show of hats, feathered and flouncing – which might be a reminiscence of vogue’s as soon as consummate magnificence.