Hubert de Givenchy Prepares Exhibition at the Museum of Lace and Fashion
“There is nothing more beautiful than a lace dress,” says Hubert de Givenchy as he prepares a major retrospective of his creations at the Museum of Lace and Fashion in Calais to open June 15.
At 90, Mr. Givenchy is one of the giants from the golden age of haute couture. Emerging in the 1950s, the designer brought a more relaxed flair to French fashion, providing a breath of fresh air to the industry with clothes that would be practical for any situation throughout the day.
He dressed some of the most elegant women of his time, from Daisy Fellowes and Mona von Bismarck to Audrey Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich, and his American clients were particularly receptive to his blend of refined timeless elegance.
Curated by Givenchy himself and sourced from the archives of the House of Givenchy, as well as European museum collections and private collections, the Calais exhibition will present 70 outfits retracing the range of his creations, and the garments are displayed without glass to give visitors an unobstructed view of the items.
Givenchy was apprentice to designer Jacques Fath, before working for other famous French couture houses of the time (as a drawer for Robert Piguet and as a designer for Elsa Schiaparelli) and finally setting up his own maison in 1952, after turning down a job offer by Christian Dior.
His debut collection in 1952 introduced “separates“ — long skirts and tailored tops that could be mixed and matched — as well as his famous "Bettina blouse," a white cotton shirt with long embroidered frills on the sleeves that was named after the top model of the time, Bettina Graziani.
In New York the following year, he met Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga who became his mentor and would introduce him to experienced seamstresses as well as a number of wealthy clients.
The designer likes to say that a life is made of “rencontres” (accidental meetings), and it was one of those with actress Audrey Hepburn in 1953 that would help cement his international standing. She became his muse and he would go on to design her wardrobe for many of her films, including Funny Face (1957) and Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), while also dressing her privately.
The first space in the Calais exhibition is devoted to samples of haute couture fabric, while a second is dedicated to his friendship with Hepburn, which he describes as a “platonic love affair” — as demonstrated in projected photographs.
Givenchy's passion for exceptional textiles is interwoven throughout the visitor pathway with examples of his collaborations with embroidery houses, Maison Lesage and Maison Vermont, as well as fabric manufacturers like Abraham and Beuclère. The designer’s famous clientele will also be celebrated with dresses worn by Jacqueline Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor.
True to the tempo of a fashion show, the visitor’s journey will end with wedding dresses, showcasing diaphanous laces and tulles.
The exhibition in Calais is one of a recent series of European exhibitions dedicated to the work of Hubert de Givenchy. In May, the exhibition “Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy: an elegant friendship” will open at the Bolle Foundation in Morges, Switzerland.
"Hubert de Givenchy" will run from June 15 to December 31 at the Museum of Lace and Fashion in Calais .