Monsieur de Givenchy : Cinema, Fashion, and Perfume

The great couturier Hubert de Givenchy passed away at the age of 91 on March 12th. It’s fitting that in remembering him every obituary mentions his collaboration with Audrey Hepburn. It was thanks to her that he found fame, recognition, and a chance to design the wardrobes of Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Princess Grace of Monaco. Today we take for granted celebrity endorsements, but in the 1950s it was novel. Yet, the collaboration between Givenchy and Hepburn was different from today’s business ventures between Hollywood stars and designers. The duo inspired each other, serving as each other’s muses. Givenchy’s clean, elegant lines and innovative techniques left a lasting imprint on fashion.

Hepburn contacted Givenchy to design her clothes for Sabrina (1954). Givenchy was in his 20s, running his first boutique on Plaine Monceau in Paris, having previously trained with Elsa Schiaparelli. Givenchy had an impressive career working for Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Lucien Lelong, Pierre Balmain and Robert Piguet, but he was unknown. Hepburn felt that his designs would be perfect for a young woman who returns from a sojourn in Paris. The Hague exhibit told the story of Givenchy initially refusing the offer. As he told at the interview recorded for the museum, “I was busy preparing my next collection so I told her I wouldn’t be able to do it, but she was very persistent. She invited me to dinner, which was unusual for a woman to do back then, and it was at dinner that I realized she was an angel.”

I was first taken with Givenchy’s style when I saw Hepburn in The Charades (1963), a murder mystery set in Paris.  In fact, I still long to find a mustard yellow coat like the one Hepburn wears in the film. When two years ago I saw the Hepburn-Givenchy costume exhibit at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, I realized that the originality of Givenchy’s work was in bold touches and tailoring.

His craftsmanship was impeccable, but he wasn’t afraid to use bold colors as in the famous pink dress Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) or the wedding gown with its poodle skirt that she selected for Funny Face (1957). Or the lace dress complete with lace mask that she wore to arrange a secret rendezvous with Peter O’Toole in the underrated gem, How to Steal A Million (1966).

I could go on sharing more examples, but I would rather let you see it for yourself via the photos I took at the exhibit.  Below, for instance, is the close up of the embellishment on the famous Sabrina ballgown.

Givenchy also created a perfume line, working with perfumer Francis Fabron on his first two fragrances, L’Interdit (1957) and Monsieur de Givenchy (1959). Fabron was the creator of another perfume legend, Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps. For Givenchy he also created Vétyver, which I consider the gold standard of all vetivers for its elegant arrangement and radiance. L’Interdit may or may not have been Hepburn’s personal fragrance, but it was the first celebrity perfume, with the actress’s face used as a promotional image. It’s a graceful floral aldehydic fragrance in the style of Chanel No 5. What made it original was a prominent fruity note of strawberry. It’s a surprise to find such a juicy, delicious twist in a classical abstract perfume.

The house of Givenchy created the most distinctive moments of 1950s and 1960s fashion, and it continued to evolve in the 1970s and 1980s.  The perfume collection was expanded with Le De, Givenchy III and Ysatis. Givenchy also did something that few others have done before him–he sold his house to a major corporation in 1988. However, LVMH proceeded to split the business, separating the couture and perfume lines. The tuberose bombshell Amarige was created without Givenchy’s involvement. Another loss was that all of the Givenchy classics have been discontinued.

Givenchy retired in 1995.  As the Hague exhibit revealed, even in his retirement the couturier continued to create, think of new ideas and reflect on new ways to present clothes.

Speaking about Hubert de Givenchy, Audrey Hepburn said that he gave her a look, and so much more, “a style, a silhouette. Dressed by him, I wasn’t afraid of anything.” Her words are an ideal tribute to the master of fashion.

The title image of Hubert de Givenchy via Vogue Italia. The rest of the photography is by Bois de Jasmin, taken at the Hepburn-Givenchy costume exhibit at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.

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37 Comments

  • Kandice: This is a great post full of wonderful details and photographs. I especially loved Hepburn’s words about him. He will be missed and you provided a great tribute to him. Thank you, Victoria. March 14, 2018 at 8:24am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Kandice. March 16, 2018 at 7:26am Reply

  • Sara: Beautiful! May Monsieur Givenchy Rest In Peace.

    How to Steal a Million is my favorite film with Audrey Hepburn. March 14, 2018 at 9:31am Reply

    • Victoria: I also love this film. March 16, 2018 at 7:26am Reply

  • Nora Szekely: Hi Victoria and perfume lovers,
    Great article. What a wonderful heritage he left. I was lucky enough to see an exhibition of his dresses (including the iconic Breakfast at Tiffany’s) in Budapest about 15 years ago.
    How to steal a million is a favourite classic of mine!
    From Givenchy perfume line, I own and wear Amarige and Givenchy III both in vintage edition. Ysatis and L’interdit are on my wishlist. March 14, 2018 at 9:34am Reply

    • AndreaR: I love How to Steal a Million as well. Right after the movie, Vogue came out with the Givenchy patterns from the movie. My lovely and stylish mother-in-law, made one of the suits from the movie. Come to think of it, that suit could be worn right now. It was timeless. March 14, 2018 at 11:50am Reply

      • Maria: Oh God! Those patterns must be gorgeous!! I will search for that! March 14, 2018 at 3:38pm Reply

        • Ariadne: Hi Marie,
          Happy stitching to you! Fortunately there are sewing pattern hoarders in this world and they sometimes part with pieces in their collection on eBay. They are quite expensive however. An uncut vintage couturier’s pattern will start at @ US$100. March 14, 2018 at 3:52pm Reply

          • Victoria: I had no idea that patterns could be so expensive, but I did hear that these vintage ones have become popular again. March 16, 2018 at 10:17am Reply

        • AndreaR: Curiosity got the best of me and ! had to do an online search. It was a McCalls pattern, 8336. March 14, 2018 at 4:07pm Reply

          • Maria: Thankyou Andrea and Ariadne! I will look for that! March 15, 2018 at 8:36am Reply

      • Victoria: There is somewhat of a revival for these patterns today, and honestly, I would wear many of the dresses from the film even today. I remember my mom had one number in navy blue crepe, and it looked so chic. March 16, 2018 at 10:13am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, how lucky! Givenchy III is one of my top favorite green chypres. March 16, 2018 at 7:27am Reply

  • Austenfan: I’m not that interested in fashion, but I’ve loved every interview with Givenchy that I’ve seen or read. He seemed such a lovely man. He had very clear views about what fashion ought to be, but he was rather modest in his way of expressing them. One of his comments reminded me of what Guy Robert said about perfume (un parfum doit avant tout sentir bon), G. said that fashion, first and foremost has to be comfortable for the wearer.
    And I agree on Givenchy Vetyver, a true gem! March 14, 2018 at 10:00am Reply

    • Victoria: I admired this about Givenchy. Unlike some designers who’ve succeeded him in his house, he thought of the way clothes feel on the body and also about comfort. March 16, 2018 at 7:28am Reply

  • Filomena: Givenchy L’Interdit was my signature scent for many years. When they brought it back many years later at three separate times (and three different interpretations), I bought all three. Today I layered all three and combined they at least resemble the original. However, I wish I still had the original. March 14, 2018 at 10:30am Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve smelled only the two versions, the original and the latest one. When did the other ones come out, do you remember? March 16, 2018 at 7:29am Reply

  • Ann: Beautiful tribute Victoria. Love these gowns and dresses. Your post makes me want to watch all these films again! Charade too – someone came to my office yesterday in a mustard wool coat – such a statement, it was more fitted than the one Audrey Hepburn wore in the movie – it reminded me of something…now I remember! thanks 🙂 March 14, 2018 at 10:50am Reply

  • Brenda: Givenchy perfumes have been favourites of mine since I was a young woman and occasionally treating myself to an extravagance. Now, with only a smidge of perfume knowledge, I enjoy looking back at how just a scent that ‘catches you’ can become a loyalty to a house or it’s creator. I sometimes feel when I apply a perfume that the artist is sharing a tiny bit of themselves with me…& that we can carry through the day together. I treasure wearing Givenchy scents and enjoyed the lovely post. March 14, 2018 at 11:24am Reply

    • Victoria: Which Givenchy perfumes do you wear? March 16, 2018 at 10:11am Reply

      • Brenda: Hello Victoria; of this beautiful line, I have worn Ange Ou Demon, Amarige, Ysatis and Very Irresistible. I have yet to own Organza…but, I must have sampled it at some time. The only one I was not very fond of was Very Irresistible…or, perhaps it was not very fond of me. I seem to remember allocating it to room spray, scarf spray…& probably eventually, car spray!! Thank you for your interest & have a wonderful day. March 16, 2018 at 10:29am Reply

  • Kathleen Smith: Thank you for the beautiful tribute post! I appreciate the review of Givenchy fragrances and the reminder of Audrey Hepburn movies. I’ve saved this so I can find the movies to watch xoxo March 14, 2018 at 12:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also would like to watch one of these films again. Even “Paris When It Sizzles,” which was a so-so film, with beautiful clothes. March 16, 2018 at 10:14am Reply

  • Sharan: What a touching story about how Hepburn appealed to Givenchy and won him over. Such a nice tribute and an interesting article on the intersection of film, fashion, and scent. March 14, 2018 at 12:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also enjoyed it very much! March 16, 2018 at 10:14am Reply

  • Joy Erickson: Thank you, Victoria, for reminding us of two such elegant, graceful people. I loved all of those films. Now I wish that I had paid more attention to the Givenchy fragrances. They sound interesting. March 14, 2018 at 3:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: I keep hearing about the reissue, but I’m not sure if that’s really happening. Why discontinue them in the first place? March 16, 2018 at 10:15am Reply

    • Victoria: I keep hearing about the reissue, but I’m not sure if that’s really happening. Why discontinue them in the first place? March 16, 2018 at 10:15am Reply

  • Filomena: A wonderful tribute to a one of a kind man. L’Interdit was my signature scent for years. I still own three bottles of the EDT from different vintages but wish I still had some of the pure perfume I was had. March 14, 2018 at 8:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: Me too. Especially L’Interdit. March 16, 2018 at 10:19am Reply

  • Richard Goller: Loved reading this post, Victoria. A great tribute to Monsieur Givenchy. What a pity the Givenchy classics have been discontinued. R March 17, 2018 at 4:48am Reply

  • Rita: Even though I was aware that he was still alive it was still sad to hear that he had passed.
    He was very inconspicuous which is a trait that we hardly see now. He was class so thank you for your article about him, very good.
    May his soul rest in Perfect peace✨✨ March 17, 2018 at 9:22am Reply

  • Aurora: A lovely tribute, I enjoyed so much the photos of the exhibition, he was a magician. March 18, 2018 at 7:30am Reply

    • Victoria: The craftsmanship of these dresses is superb. I loved the little tassels on the pink dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. March 19, 2018 at 2:57pm Reply

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