HUBERT DE GIVENCHY ON LUXURY
By Crash redaction
MEETING HUBERT DE GIVENCHY
BEFORE BECOMING ONE OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST DESIGNERS AND STYLING SOME OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN (GRACE KELLY, LAUREN BACALL…), HUBERT DE GIVENCHY WAS A WAR PHOTOGRAPHER. TODAY WE REMEMBER OUR MEETING WITH THE MAN WHO MADE AUDREY HEPBURN AN ICON…
WHAT IS LUXURY FOR YOU TODAY? WHAT MEANING DOES IT HAVE FOR YOU?
Today, luxury has become the search for accessories. The more accessories, the more we invent. I never would have imagined so many shoes, so many shapes, and so many things that could really injure us they are so high, so convoluted… There has been an innovation, creation. But do we really need all of that? Luxury has become everything that is flashy, everything that can be seen. For me, on the contrary, luxury is simplicity, discretion, refinement. It is the black dress that one looks at and notices the finishes, the details, the aplomb… Now, unfortunately, what we call luxury is the heaping up of accessories, of jewelry, of diamonds… For me, a luxury item is above all a refined item. For example, having a silk blanket, overstitched with proportions, and feeling good, having nicely ironed sheets and sliding into them when you are tired, that’s luxury. It’s a definition different from the idea given off by current advertising. Luxury is the essential, things we mustn’t show. A handkerchief perfectly ironed and puffed without flattening it, a perfectly accomplished dish, a swollen soufflé, perfectly golden.
SO PLEASURE, IN FACT?
The ironed sheets is a good example because I love my bed, of course, like many people, but when you have a bed which hasn’t been ironed well, which is wrinkled and all that, you don’t want to sleep in it. In my couture house, I used to ask that the towels be perfectly ironed. Luxury doesn’t get noticed, but we experience it. A woman moderate with her makeup, balanced, is really pleasant. Luxury should be a joy, a vision of happiness, a vision of the touch.
I AGREE, I DON’T LIKE THE OSTENTATION IN FASHION AT ALL, THE FLASHINESS.
In the past, in the old Vogues, the Harper’s Bazaar, Diana Vreeland would do many things for Vogue with famous models, we would linger on the page and stare at one picture and we would come back to Madame Grès’ dress, how well-crafted it was… Not only the dress but the girl too, who was well chosen, the lighting as well, the photographer. It was an object of art. The magazine that I find to be one of the most luxurious today is what Franco Maria Ricci does for FMR, that Italian revue is extraordinary. Each page is a masterpiece.
IN REGARDS TO GASTRONOMY, HOW DID THE ENCOUNTER WITH LENÔTRE COME ABOUT? THE LOG?
For me, it’s precisely an encounter with luxury. When the Lenôtre house suggested I create a Christmas yule log, the ideal log came to me naturally. It would be a small prodigy of confectionery! My favorite animal being the stag, I didn’t hesitate. Two transparent stag heads would adorn each side of my chocolate log, chiseled like a sculpture and fastened with a delightful gold ribbon. The log is placed on a mirror tray , the whole thing illuminated, as if incandescent from the inside. With the same technique as master glassblowers, the stag heads are made with liquid sugar, and the gold ribbon in stretched sugar, exactly like at Murano. The log is dusted with 22 carat gold. Placed on a homemade layered pailleté for the crunch, an exquisite chocolate biscuit blends the refine- ment of a cream of Tanzanian, Ghanaian, and Sao Tomé cocoa with a suave milk chocolate and Earl Grey tea parfait…
CAN YOU RECOUNT YOUR HISTORY? HOW DID YOU GET INTO FASHION?
We are born with a passion, I think. When I was little, I had a very pretty mother who liked to dress up, and lots of cousins who bought patterns, who made their own dresses, that influenced me. I lived in an environment of “people who liked dresses, who made dresses.” Seeing my mother dress, touch the folds of her dress, going with her to buy fabrics. My grandfather was a great collector. He was administrator of the Gobelins and Beauvais tapestries and had an extraordinary collection of fabrics and costumes. When I got good grades, my grandmother would open the cupboards for me in which were stored all kinds of fabrics, of costumes. At a young age, I wanted to be an architect or couturier. It wasn’t my mother’s idea. I would look at the fashion magazines bought for inspiration. Every time, I would look at Balanciaga’s clothes because I thought it was elegance at its purest, at its strongest. The construction of his clothes, the hats, the volumes… At the age of 17, I left for Paris with a few sketches to meet Mister Balenciaga, who didn’t meet with me, as you can imagine. I met him much later, three or four years after I opened my couture house. But in the meantime, I got in at Jacques Fath’s, the trendy post-war couturier. I worked in four couture houses, a fascinating apprenticeship at Jacques Fath, Robert Piguet, Lucien Lelong, and Schiaparelli. At the age of 24, maybe it was a bit fast, but I wanted to open my own couture house. At that moment, I got the idea to make blouses, skirts and the Bettina blouse worn by the famous Bettina, that was the start of what was to become my couture house. As soon as my house opened, the great fashion priestesses Carmen Snow, Bettina Ballard, and Diana Vreeland told me, “No, you are not going to open a boutique and you will continue to make dresses like that.” And that’s what I did. I was privileged; I had a very important clientele thanks to Jackie Kennedy, who was the first lady of the U.S., and Audrey Hepburn who is always so modern.
SUCCESS CAME FROM THE U.S.?
Completely. I had a good French clientele, but everyone wanted to look like Jackie Onassis, she wore my clothes before she became first lady of the U.S., then it was Audrey Hepburn with “Sabrina.” I dressed Audrey for all her movies. Mrs. Whitney, Mrs. Du Pont de Nemours, these rich Americans wanted to look like her, too. It was an extraordinary privilege in my career, even for my perfumes. I was the first to ask a woman to represent a perfume. When I told Audrey that I was going to launch a fragrance, which would be called “L’Interdit” and that it was exclusi- vely for her, she immediately said yes. Then we took this wonderful Irving Penn photo “L’Interdit, exclusively for Audrey Hepburn.” We continued to sell “L’Interdit” for years. Audrey was not only my flag-bearer, she was also a friend. She went everywhere with me. It was not even for financial reasons, she never wanted money. I only had to ask and she was game. She gave me ideas, we talked about her movies… I followed her; I saw her shoo- tings, her costumes, and the directing of her cult movies. All the way to her funeral, it was a love story, but also a story of friendship, of creativity, and happiness.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE EVOLUTION OF THE GIVENCHY BRAND? DO YOU FOLLOW THE DEVELOPMENTS?
No. I think when you turn a new leaf; you have to really turn it. I have very good relations with Mr. Lorenzo in Perfumes who has the thoughtfulness to present me all the new products. I find that most elegant of him, so we meet and he shows me the latest perfumes for men and women. I have not been back to avenue Georges V since the day I left the house. That’s the way it is. DON’T YOU MISS IT? I do. I often dream that I design collections, that we are in the middle of the hubbub before the première and that it’s a nightmare. I tell myself we will never be ready and, thankfully, I wake up and realize there won’t be a runway show at 10 AM at the Grand Hôtel. But it was such a joy. I could have continued for several years, but when I sold my business to Henry Racamier, owner of Louis Vuitton, it wasn’t the same. Racamier wanted to buy the couture and the ready- to-wear after the perfumes. Since I had no children to take over the couture, I sold. There was already a change that was felt. No longer the same needs, no longer the same desires…