That whole thing about necessity and invention, well, it turns out it has legs. Case in point: the earliest collections from legendary French designer and Balenciaga disciple, Hubert de Givenchy. He may have been born into nobility—he’s technically a count—but he was still scrapped for cash when, in 1952, he debuted a line of skirts and blouses in Paris. So, instead of the fine textiles typical of the era, he fashioned them from relatively inexpensive cotton. A decision driven purely by cost? It’s possible. But the move is now hailed as a precursor to the democratization of high fashion, nonetheless.
A full ready-to-wear collection followed two years later, but it was an accidental encounter in 1953 that may have been the most important milestone in the formative years of the fashion house. Expecting Katharine, Givenchy took a meeting to fit a Hepburn. Turned out, it was Audrey, who was shooting Sabrina at the time. The meeting sparked a 40-year designer/muse relationship that counts, among its many achievements, the birth of 60s ingénue style and the first instance of an actress selling a scent (L’Interdit). By 1973, already firmly established as a core player in the Parisian revitalization of modern elegance, Givenchy was ready to launch a men’s collection. The muse for that one? The man himself. If that sounds a little much, just check out the picture here—it wasn’t. Hubert could dress.
Unfortunately, after it was acquired by luxury behemoth LVMH in 1988 and Givenchy (the man) stepped down in 1995, things got a little rocky at Givenchy (the label). Critics bemoaned inconsistent output as designers came and went just a little too quickly. But in 2005, the brand regained its footing, bringing in Italian Riccardo Tisci for womenswear, and charging Savile Row tailor Ozwald Boateng with breathing new life into menswear. Boateng established a definitive silhouette and style for the gents—his unmatched knowledge of fit and fabric helped just a bit—but moved on once that work was done, leaving Tisci at the helm of both divisions in 2009. Now, with Tisci’s hard-edged gothic influence giving the traditionally conservative menswear line some teeth, Givenchy sits, once more, at the top of the high fashion heap.