Givenchy legacy: Hepburn’s little black dress, and much more

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In this Feb.1 1952 file photo, French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy poses with mannequins in his shop in Paris. (AP Photo)
In this Feb.1 1952 file photo, French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy poses with mannequins in his shop in Paris. (AP Photo)

Paris (AP) — In her sleeveless black gown, with rows of pearl at the neck and oversized sunglasses, Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly defined understated elegance.  Hers was the iconic little black dress.

It was the work of Hubert de Givenchy, the French couturier who, along with Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Cristobal Balenciaga, redefined fashion in the wake of World War II.  Givenchy was the epitome of Paris chic.  His death at age 91 was announced last week.

A towering man of elegance and impeccable manners, Givenchy forged close friendships with his famous clients, including Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Princess Grace of Monaco.

But none were as close to him or the fashion house that bore his name as Hepburn, whose simple chic became a kind of shorthand for the label.  Besides the little black dress from the 1961 hit “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Hepburn wore Givenchy’s designs in nearly a dozen other movies, as well as on the red carpet and also in real life.

“His clothes for me have always not only thrilled me but also given me so much confidence. I’ve worked in them, I’ve played in them, I’ve borrowed them, I’ve bought them,” Hepburn once gushed in a television interview.

Aiming to reach a wider market, Givenchy launched a line of upscale ready-to-wear and accessories in the 1960s, and its commercial success soon enabled him to buy out his backers, making him one of a handful of Paris couturiers to own their own label outright.

In 1988, he sold the house to French luxury conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the parent company of a stable of top fashion labels that now includes Dior, Celine, Marc Jacobs, Pucci and Kenzo.

Givenchy retired in 1995, and was succeeded by John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Julien Macdonald, Italy’s Riccardo Tisci and current chief designer Claire Waight Keller, the first woman to hold the post.  Just this month she showed her latest collection in Paris, revealing a brooding and gritty side with razor shoulders and hulking coats.

In 1961, Audrey Hepburn wore a little black dress custom designed by Hubert de Givenchy for the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” (Photo/Paramount Pictures)
In 1961, Audrey Hepburn wore a little black dress custom designed by Hubert de Givenchy for the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” (Photo/Paramount Pictures)

Givenchy will be remembered as a pioneer of pure lines and flattering elegance — an aesthetic summed up in the motto he shared with Balenciaga: “Make it simple, make it pure.”