Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy founded his eponymous haute couturier business in Paris in 1952 having previously worked alongside Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior. His elder brother, Jean-Claude, became President of Parfums Givenchy with early fragrances being developed for Hubert’s muse, Audrey Hepburn, for whom he designed an iconic black dress worn beautifully in “Breakfast at Tiffanys”.
The brothers – I suspect reluctantly – divided the House of Givenchy in 1981, with the perfume business going to Veuve Clicquot and, in 1989, fashion going to the staggeringly successful LMVH business. LMVH subsequently acquired Parfums Givenchy.
An elegant and tall M de Givenchy with piercing blue eyes was very noble. I am proud to say that I played a very small role in the dramatic personae of his iconic business in the early 1980s.
In 1980 I moved to Paris. I had read Clive Davis book on working at CBS and was enraptured with the idea of working with such an exciting American company. CBS’ European HQ was in Paris, a city that I have always adored. My hopes of working with this giant in the communications market were dashed but later history would complete that particular circle.
Ok so I was in Paris, I had a law degree and a couple of phone numbers. A friend from college had a brother who was a partner at a Law Firm on the Champs Elysees upstairs from what was the Bank of America and Monoprix supermarket that subsequently housed a Virgin Megastore. To my remarkable good fortune I was given a job with the firm.
The firm’s roots were deep in old French aristocratic families and they specialized in representing couturier clients – many of whom became “brands”. There I met the people including Pierre Cardin, the master of brand licensing, Karl Largerfeld, who then worked for Chloe and brothers, Hubert and Jean-Claude De Givenchy.
Hubert’s “atelier” was on Avenue Georges V – where th boss always wore a white lab-coat – for this impressionable 21 year old it was an Aladdin’s Cave. A heady combination of barely-dressed, striking models, celebrity clientele and the high art of French fashion design with wonderful fabrics.
Knowing my appreciation of his working environment, on the smallest pretense his team would call me over from the Law Firm’s office to his atelier just to lap up the atmosphere!
The firm employed me as a “Stagiere” – akin to a para-legal – that combined translating documents, standing in queues at the Company’s Registry, seeking signatures of clients to a variety of agreements, catching white Pugeot 504 taxis in the Spring sunshine on the Quai Dorsey and, almost every Friday, eating remarkably good Cuz cuz Royale in the Moroccan restaurant on Rue de La Boetie.
Ever encouraging I spent a lot of time assisting Hubert with legal matters. I was very touched as my “Stagiere” contract approached its end, Hubert called me to his office, said some very kind things and presented me with a huge bottle of his signature Givenchy “For Gentlemen”.
I was very sad to hear it announced that Hubert de Givenchy had passed away on 10th March 2018. He was a hugely talented designer, very charming and massively inspirational.
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Photo credit – with grateful thanks – Rex Features, LMVH.