After the end of last year brought the death of the beloved designer Azzedine Alaïa, the fashion world has now lost another legend, just over two months into 2018. On Monday, news broke that over the weekend, Hubert de Givenchy—the founder, of course, of his namesake house, Givenchy—died at 91, decades after revolutionizing haute couture in Paris and bringing it over to the States with the onscreen help of Audrey Hepburn and the presidential platform of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, who had all eyes on the White House in large part thanks to his shift dresses and pillbox hats.
Born in Beauvais, France, Givenchy worked under heavyweights like Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain, and Elsa Schiaparelli, making him equipped to debut his first haute couture collection in his mid-20s, in 1952. With the collection he markedly took quite a departure from other designers by putting an emphasis on separates. Just two years later, before he was even 30, he broke ground again by becoming the first designer to launch a ready-to-wear brand that also managed to be high-end.
Givenchy's high-profile clientele also helped to rewrite the fashion status quo. He and Audrey Hepburn came to epitomize the designer-muse relationship and essentially invented the concept of a brand ambassador. Hepburn inspired Givenchy's first perfume collections, an important moneymaker for the brand, and became the first celebrity to star in a fragrance campaign, which she in fact did for free. Their bond, which ended up lasting for four decades, was strong from the moment they first met, in 1953: Givenchy took charge not only of Hepburn's personal wardrobe but also of her most famous outfits showcased onscreen, from her photo-shoot ensembles as a burgeoning model in Funny Face to her famed black sheath dress and evening gloves in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Of course, Hepburn wasn't the only one to fall in love with the elegance of his designs: Princess Grace of Monaco, the Duchess of Windsor, Jane Fonda, and Marlene Dietrich were just some of the many wide-ranging names who opted to be outfitted in his ensembles. He managed to achieve that cult status by operating independently for more than three decades, before selling the house to LVMH in the late '80s (though staying on board as head of creative design until 1995). Even after he retired, the house never lost steam, thanks to a roster of talented designers such as John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, and Riccardo Tisci taking charge, with the latter adapting the brand to the Kardashian era over the course of a dozen years.
Former Givenchy Designer Riccardo Tisci on How He's Always Had Strong Opinions:
The house is now in the hands of Clare Waight Keller, the first woman to take its helm. Recently, she reflected on how thankful she was to have met Givenchy before his death: "Not only was he one of the most influential fashion figures of our time, whose legacy still influences modern day dressing, but he also was one of the chicest, most charming men I have ever met," she said.
In his later years, Givenchy pivoted to collecting 17th- and 18th-century sculptures, and took up residency in the 18th-century Château du Jonchet, about two hours west of Paris. He stayed true to worshipping his idol, Cristóbal Balenciaga, until his death, though he had long since well established his own design legacy. He'll also continue to have quite a different impact outside of fashion: Rather than sending flowers, his family has requested that his admirers donate to UNICEF in his memory.