Hubert de Givenchy

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Jaques of London Croquet Set

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In 1977 my parents moved South, back to their natural habitat of the Home Counties. My Father returned to work at Shell Mex House in London’s The Strand –  see our earlier post on the iconic Shell Globes – and after experiencing the fiercely hot summer of 1976 he abandoned the idea of living in London. Heading south along the A3 to house-hunt deep in Stockbroker Belt with manicured lawns my parents bought a beautiful 1920’s house.

A previous owners had been a Partner of the John Lewis Partnership so it was full of retro taps, woodwork and cast iron radiators. The vendor was head of a family book-binder business that had provided velum to William Morris’ Kelmscott Press and many of his Arts and Crafts kin – see our previous post here The Arts & Crafts Movement and had covered the chairs of the United Nations Chamber in New York.

He had a very keen tennis playing wife and a number of kids as a result he turned part of the garden into a hard Tennis court and created a flat, well drained area to the North of the house – a Croquet Lawn. Croquet was new to our family. Whilst it counjours up images of ladies in diaphanous linen, Dunlop Green Flashes, sipping Long Island Iced Teas and eating crustless sandwiches, it’s actually a game of some skill that necessitates practice.

Harrod’s Sports Department proved to be an invaluable resource and we discovered that Jaques of London not only made the very best and rather beautiful Croquet sets but they also invented the game in 1851 – or at least devised a variation of a ball and mallet game called “Paille-Maille”. In 1862, Jaques wrote the first Official Croquet Rules.

The game of Croquet is played by two or four players on a flat lawn arranged with six metal hoops in a strictly followed configuration. The object is to hit your ball(s) through the hoops in the right sequence in each direction. You/your team are/is the winner if you finish by hitting your ball(s) against a coloured peg sited in the centre of the court. There are several ways of taking your opponent’s ball away from play – with equally flowery names like a “Roquet” – making their sight line to the hoops difficult/impossible.

Jaques of London, a family business now in the hands of the eighth generation, make 27 different sets with the most expensive, “The Hurlingham” costing in excess of £3000. Named after the club in Fulham where games are regularly played and where The Croquet Association had its headquarters between 1959 to 2002. Jaques also makes mallets of rare and long-seasoned woods.

John Jaques II, who ran the business in the 1860’s was a friend of Lewis Caroll, a keen Croquet player and author of “Alice in Wonderland”. Croquet appears in Caroll’s text and playing characters were illustrated by Sir John Tenniel.

The full title of the Wimbledon Club where the annual championship are held is the “All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club”.

Image by Jaques of London