French couturier Hubert de Givenchy, a pioneer of ready-to-wear who designed Audrey Hepburn's little black dress in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," has died at the age of 91.
He is famous for the achingly glamorous clothing and his close friendship with Hepburn, but the icon’s understanding of beauty did not begin and end with grand clothes and grande dames. His homes were just as awe-inspiring, particularly his Renaissance castle from the early XVIIth century — the Château du Jonchet — in France.
Born into an aristocratic family in the provincial city of Beauvais on Feb. 21, 1927, Givenchy struck out for Paris in his late teens, in the wake of World War II.
Couturier Jacques Fath hired Givenchy on the strength of his sketches. He spent two years learning the basics of fashion design, from sketching to cutting and fitting haute couture styles.
After apprenticing with other top names, Givenchy founded his own house in 1952.
His debut collection ushered in the concept of separates — tops and bottoms that could be mixed and matched, as opposed to head-to-toe looks that were the norm among Paris couture purveyors.
"Le Grand Hubert," as he was often called for his 6-foot, 5-inch (1.96 meters) frame, became popular with privileged haute couture customers, and his label soon seduced the likes of Gloria Guinness, Wallis Simpson and Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran.
Jewelry designer James de Givenchy, the couturier's nephew, recalls the soothingly composed objects of his uncle’s houses: striped fabrics and wicker at a pool house in the south of France; a cozy ski chalet in the Alps. "It's the elegance that stands out the most," he said, . "Everything was always in the right place."
As for him, 18th-century antiques and rich velvets decorated his townhouse in Paris, while he opted for Diego Giacometti furniture and white slipcovers in his country retreat. Presentation was key, but fusiness had no home in Givenchy’s estates.
"You might be served a cocktail with a pressed linen napkin," , "but the napkin will be gently worn."
A giant softie with a love of animals, statues and photos of dogs greet you in many of his rooms, and beds were usually of the canopy variety, in light colors that were modern, not antiquated. Decorator Susan Gutfreund, a friend and former client of Givenchy's, called them "rooms that you never want to leave.”
French by birth and by design tastes, his first major furniture purchase was a giltwood Louis XVI bergère. “Little by little, I pursued my dream of acquiring furniture from the 17th and 18th centuries, and contemporary art.
The house of Givenchy remembered its founder in a statement as “a major personality of the world of French haute couture and a gentleman who symbolized Parisian chic and elegance for more than half a century."
Legend has it that Givenchy — told only that Mademoiselle Hepburn would be coming in for a fitting — was expecting the grand Katherine Hepburn. Instead, the diminutive Audrey showed up, dressed in cigarette pants, a T-shirt and sandals.
Thus began a decades-long friendship that saw Givenchy dress the star in nearly a dozen films, including the 1961 hit "Breakfast at Tiffany's." The sleeveless black evening gown she wore in the movie, complete with rows of pearls, elbow-length gloves and oversized shades, would end up becoming Givenchy's most famous look.
Aiming to reach a wider market, Givenchy launched a line of upscale ready-to-wear and accessories in the 1960s. Its commercial success soon enabled him to buy out his backers, making him one of only a handful of Paris couturiers to own their own label outright.
In 1988, he sold the house to French luxury conglomerate LVMH, 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 its current chief designer, Clare Waight Keller, the first woman in the role.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.