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Givenchy in the atelier in 1983, soon after celebrating 30 years in couture.
In 1953, when Audrey Hepburn needed dresses for her role in Sabrina, the budding starlet looked to another talent who was just beginning to make waves, the 26-year-old couturier Hubert de Givenchy. But when the actress arrived at the atelier, the aristocratic designer was surprised. He was expecting Katharine Hepburn—a famous Hollywood grande dame—not the gamine beauty waltzing into the studio wearing gingham trousers, a gondola hat, and ballerina flats. The surprise, however, was a pleasant one.
Over the course of their lifelong friendship, Hepburn would return again and again to Givenchy to outfit her for roles both public and private, becoming so closely aligned with the house that its polished, feminine, and exquisitely tailored look became her own.
Givenchy had worked for Jacques Fath, Lucien Lelong, and Elsa Schiaparelli. His debut line in 1952 included separates, unheard of in haute couture: sharp white blouses with flouncy sleeves, sleek pencil skirts with pockets for a woman to rest her hands.
He accentuated the female form with curving silhouettes in just-right proportions. “He is one of the world’s greatest tailors,” says lauded fashion designer and friend Ralph Rucci. “He brought a rigor and refinement to cutting. It was all about restraint.”
That famous restraint is also evident in his homes. Jewelry designer James de Givenchy, the couturier’s nephew, recalls growing up visiting his uncle in houses where beautiful objects were soothingly composed and there was always a sense of place: striped fabrics and wicker in the south of France; a ski chalet in the Alps, properly cozy. “It’s the elegance that stands out the most,” he says. “Everything was always in the right place.”
Givenchy’s current residences, a Paris townhouse and a country retreat, are gorgeously pulled together: 18th-century antiques and rich velvets in the city; Diego Giacometti furniture and white slipcovers out of town. But the atmosphere is never fussy.
A consummate editor, Givenchy is also adept at whittling out pretension. “You might be served a cocktail with a pressed linen napkin,” explains Rucci, “but the napkin will be gently worn.” Decorator Susan Gutfreund, a friend and former client of Givenchy’s, agrees: “These are rooms that you never want to leave.”
Though the couturier retired in 1995, he still maintains contact with many of the women he dressed, friendships born of fittings in which Givenchy himself, and not a studio assistant, made even minute alterations.
“Maybe the skirt needed to be brought in two centimeters,” explains Gutfreund. “He always wanted you to look your very best.” He helped socialite Simone Levitt define an identity. “He enhanced what a woman already possessed,” she says. “His clothes made you carry yourself differently. They made you feel feminine and impeccable—without reproach.”
This article originally appeared in Veranda. Written by Eugenia Santiesteban Soto and Mario Lopez-Cordero.