Givenchy and Hepburn: The Original Brand Ambassadors

Givenchy and Hepburn: The Original Brand Ambassadors

And that once “muse,” when applied to fashion and artist, was interpreted in the classical Greek sense of the word, as opposed to as inspiration for hire, or for public pitching.


Mr. Givenchy kissing Ms. Hepburn in 1964 in Paris.

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Mr. Givenchy and Ms. Hepburn found each other before either was really famous — the designer had only recently opened his maison; her first major movie had yet to be released — and they stuck with each other through seven films, from 1954 to 1987. He made not just the white dress she wore to win her Best Actress Oscar in 1954 (for “Roman Holiday”) but her wedding dress (for her second marriage, to Andrea Dotti). And so many betwixt and beyond that, in 2016, the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague had an entire retrospective devoted to his work for the actress, called “To Audrey With Love.”

In the show, Ms. Hepburn was quoted as saying of the relationship: “Givenchy’s clothes are the only ones I feel myself in. He is more than a designer, he is a creator of personality.”

Slide Show

The 7 Film Collaborations of Givenchy and Hepburn, in Pictures

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It’s as good a description of the role that clothes can play in building an image as any I have ever heard.

In return, she made him synonymous with a certain kind of elegance that could be both gamin and languid, encapsulated by the idea of the little black dress. Other designers made them, but when she wore them onscreen, as she did in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Sabrina,” she amplified the effect to such an extent that it echoed not just around the world at the moment the film debuted but over time.


Ms. Hepburn wearing Givenchy at the 1954 Academy Awards where she received the Best Actress Oscar for “Roman Holiday.”

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When Mr. de Givenchy introduced his perfume, L’Interdit, in 1957, she was its face because he made it for her, not because she was paid.

And that is part of why the relationship worked so well: It was so mutually beneficial not just as a friendship, but as a professional signifier. When women bought Givenchy, they were also buying into a belief in long-term investment in elegance. That is why, as Hubert’s peers became known for their symbols — the pearls and camellias of Chanel; the New Look and Bar jacket of Dior — he was forever known for his muse.


Ms. Heburn wearing a Givenchy-designed dress for her wedding to Andrea Dotti in January 1969.

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He did more than dress Ms. Hepburn, of course. He dressed other famous women, including Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor. He was one of the first designers to create high-end ready-to-wear, and a signature scent — and to see the future coming to fashion, and sell his brand to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in 1988, when it had barely achieved conglomerate status. And he was an exacting tailor. But his relationship with Ms. Hepburn loomed over it all, so much so that you’d think he might have chafed against it, though he never did.

That came later, as other designers took his place and tried to assert a new identity for the house, and celebrities (or their agents and managers) began to realize that what had once been a mind-meld of taste between designer and muse could become a significant source of supplemental income.


Ms. Hepburn with Mr. Givenchy in 1988 when he received the state of California’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Though other brands have hewed close to the celebrity route, stacking the front rows of their shows and their ad campaigns with famous names, many of whom are also contracted to wear their clothes during public appearances a certain amount of times a year, it’s hard to think of any brand that has become so synonymous with a single artist. Indeed, in 2013 the headlines about a Givenchy perfume campaign read: “Amanda Seyfried Is Givenchy’s New Face, Liv Tyler Out,” which pretty much says it all.

This was during the period Riccardo Tisci was creative director, which also happened to be a time Kim Kardashian was often referred to as his muse (but she also was called a “muse” for Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing, and her husband, Kanye West).

When Mr. Tisci left early last year and was replaced with Clare Waight Keller, Givenchy’s first female creative director, speculation was rife that she might be her own Hepburn (due in part to her personal aesthetic and charm). But she dismissed the idea, saying what interested her most about the relationship was the connection between a man and a woman — which she recreated by combining her men’s and women’s shows — and that it was reductionist to stick to closely to the Hepburn idea. Thus far she has largely stayed away from any overt celebrity connection.

Perhaps it’s impossible to recreate what Mr. Givenchy and Ms. Hepburn had. The digital world moves too fast; people’s attention spans are too short; we know too much about celebrity behavior for it to have the same mystique and allure; no individual or brand wants to be so dependent on the other. Perhaps that’s history.

But their’s was a relationship that had content. And even today — especially today — content matters.

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