Has fashion gone too far? With designers moving brands like musical chairs, how does a design legacy live on? On the passing of founder, Hubert de Givenchy, we take a look at the evolution of the French fashion house over the years.
The designer who put Audrey Hepburn on the map, the genius behind some of the most memorable fashion in cinematic history, died at the age of 91 earlier this week. With all of the marks made during his lifetime, the name Hubert de Givenchy will surely live on, just as the name Givenchy has endured over the last 23 years since the founder retired from the brand. But how much of his heritage has actually survived? While fashion’s denizens flock to the French house’s bold, often rock n’ roll aesthetic made iconic by most recent creative director, Ricardo Tisci, has this street-styled version of Hubert’s eponymous label gone too far?
In recent news, the name Givenchy is most always paired with Ricardo Tisci, if not one of his celebrity crew (Kim Kardashian, Madonna and the likes). During his twelve-year tenure, Tisci brought Givenchy to the streets, injecting an urban elegance and transforming catwalk couture into urban streetwear. He switched up brand codes, injecting a dark, yet vivid moodiness with shades of red and brazenly tough graphics. The Givenchy of today is hip, edgy, in-line with trends. And so it’s easy to miss the intricately elegant couture that is shown each season to fashion’s elite, overshadowed by a commercial collection full of logo tees, studs and clunky accessories. Despite an inherent elegance throughout each collection, the style of Givenchy today is very far removed from its original DNA. Can you imagine Audrey Hepburn in Kim K’s Met Gala look? She would not be caught dead in today’s Givenchy.
Since launching his namesake label in 1952, Hubert de Givenchy created elegant collections blending classic drapery with mid-century modernity. His early training with Balenciaga informed his designs with grace and femininity, while his inspiration from Audrey Hepburn is what set his collection apart from his contemporaries. The film star and couturier developed a bond that greatly influenced Givenchy’s work. Hepburn was very particular and her dimensions were unlike those of contemporary film stars – the Marilyn Monroes of the screen. She demanded to have Givenchy dress her for most of her films, making Hubert de Givenchy the man responsible for the little black Breakfast at Tiffany’s dress, the stunning tennis-court Sabrina dress, and so much more.
The couture designs put out by the brand in the 1950s and subsequent decades followed suit. They encompassed the drapery from Hubert de Givenchy’s training, the angles of Hepburn’s figure, and the grace of the 20th century woman. Givenchy in the mid-to-late 20th century was in every sense classic meets modern. The Givenchy of today is alluring, contemporary, and hip. The disconnect in what was and what is raises two questions: 1) what happened to instigate this shift, and 2) does any of Hubert de Givenchy’s brand DNA still remain?
The answer to the first question is easy. Two names: Galliano, and then McQueen. The notorious John Galliano took the helm from Givenchy in the mid-nineties, and was barely there for two years before Alexander McQueen came on board, booting Galliano over to Dior. It should be pointed out that Hubert de Givenchy did not have a say in naming Galliano as his successor, as he had sold the brand to LVMH a few years before his retirement. Both British designers are known for putting their highly creative, artful takes on turn-of-the-century fashion, and despite them each only being at Givenchy for short terms, marks were made.
Already known to have a wild side early in his career, Galliano began the transformation of the house of Givenchy. As the New York Times reported in 1996, “Mr. Galliano was hired because he has a better imagination than most.” He put his imaginative spin on Givenchy’s signature style; these collections maintained the elegance and drapery that had been built into the original brand DNA, but mixed elements of avant-garde and artistry into it.
McQueen took it a step further, converting the classic draping elements into fantastical shapes and forms, and introducing dramatic colors, angles, and textures. His work evolved the house of Givenchy from its style of glamorous, classic Hollywood elegance to a new, post-modern style filled with edge and power. By the time of McQueen’s final collection for Givenchy in 2001, the brand’s aesthetic had transformed completely. All of Hubert’s original touches were gone, and in their place was creatively intricate drama by the hands of McQueen.
Fast-forward to 2017, to a new Givenchy currently led by Clare Waight Keller, the femme forward designer who cultivated Chloe’s bohemian image before jumping ship. Her most recent collection is undeniably stunning and undeniably informed by her predecessor Tisci – with leather, pleats and boxy silhouettes contrasted by large fur coats rendered in abstract patterns. Keller’s fascinating work is highly creative, and if she looked to any of her predecessors, it was definitely not Hubert.
What is left of Hubert de Givenchy’s DNA in the Givenchy brand? The answer to this question is one name: Givenchy. All that is left of the house of Hubert is his name, nothing more. Take a look at the works created by those that followed his suit. Elegant? Yes. Statement-making? Absolutely. But tried and true? Not so much. The recent collections from the French label are a far cry from the understated sophistication of decades past. Fashion is an ever-evolving space, but has our push for progress hindered our ability to look into the past? It’s up to designers to create collections that excite and inspire each season, but reconciling classic and contemporary might prove yet to be a formula for success.