We Get Support From:
Become a Supporter 
 We Get Support From:
Become a Supporter 

French Fashion Designer Hubert De Givenchy Dies At 91

By Neda Ulaby | NPR
Monday, March 12, 2018

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Hubert de Givenchy has died at 91. He dressed some of the world's most glamorous women including Audrey Hepburn, Jacqueline Kennedy and Grace Kelly.



A man who dressed some of the most glamorous women in the world has died. Hubert de Givenchy died at 91. As NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, he helped import French couture to America partly by way of Hollywood.


WILLIAM HOLDEN: (As David Larrabee) Sabrina...

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: The story of how Hubert de Givenchy dressed Audrey Hepburn for the 1954 movie "Sabrina" is enshrined in fashion legend.


HOLDEN: (As David Larrabee) You look wonderful.

ULABY: When Hepburn first called Givenchy to ask if she could visit him in Paris, he assumed it was Katharine Hepburn. Instead...


HUBERT DE GIVENCHY: A beautiful and very tiny, skinny person came and asked me to do the dress for "Sabrina."

ULABY: Givenchy remembering the moment in a Charlie Rose interview from 1998. In "Sabrina," Hepburn transforms from a tomboy into a glamorous debutante thanks in part to her splendid Parisian gowns.


AUDREY HEPBURN: (As Sabrina Fairchild) What a lovely party.

HOLDEN: (As David Larrabee) It is now.

ULABY: Hepburn's friendship with the designer would last throughout her life. She wore his clothes exclusively for much of her career, offscreen and on, including the classic little black dress that was practically a character in "Breakfast At Tiffany's." Fashion writer Dana Thomas says Hubert de Givenchy abandoned the provinces to study fashion as a teenager. He was interested in haute couture, those super exclusive designs that are often one of a kind. He founded his own fashion house when he was only in his mid-20s.

DANA THOMAS: He was sort of seen as this Young Turk among - in a glorious time of haute couture - the golden years, the post-war years when you had all these young designers who had suffered through the war in their youth come out and just decide that Paris and Parisian women needed to just be spectacularly beautiful.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Here's the latest look from Paris, filmed in Paris - flattering new creations by...

ULABY: Spurred in part by newsreels like this one and movies and magazines, wealthy women flocked to Givenchy's frocks. He was canny about building relationships with wealthy American clients. One heiress used to brag he designed her gardening clothes. Givenchy himself came from a noble family that disdained his interest in fashion, which started when he was a child.


GIVENCHY: I really dreamed, when I am a young boy, to be a dress designer.

ULABY: Givenchy speaking in 1998 with Charlie Rose.


GIVENCHY: It is not possible. You must be a lawyer. You must be...


GIVENCHY: ...A banker. But to be a dress designer...

ROSE: Perhaps a statesman but never a dress designer.


ULABY: But Givenchy was a statesman of sorts. He created one of the first luxury ready-to-wear lines of simple yet sumptuous clothes. He was a mix-and-match pioneer, and he eschewed stiff, uncomfortable tailoring.


GIVENCHY: It is so wonderful, you know, to create clothes, to create dress, to touch fabric.

ULABY: Givenchy was also known for his lucrative licensing deals. He sold his business for almost $50 million in the 1980s when he admitted fashion had changed.


GIVENCHY: For me, to be well-dressed, to be clean, to be (speaking French), to be elegant I think is the most marvelous thing. But to wear heavy shoes, too much black - this is not fashion. You know, I think it's terrible. It is not for me.

ULABY: But Hubert de Givenchy left a mark on fashion you can still see everywhere, from Bergdorf Goodman to the Gap. He died on Saturday at the age of 91, having left the world a vastly more elegant place. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this report, fashion writer Dana Thomas was mistakenly referred to as Dana Turk.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

View this story on npr.org

Sign up for ReCap

and never miss the top stories

Delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.

Check out a sample ReCap newsletter.