Between 22 October 2014 and 18 January 2015 the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza will be presenting the first major retrospective on the work of the French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, a key creative figure of the 20th century and a living legend in the history of haute couture. The exhibition, which marks the Museum’s first incursion into the world of fashion, is devised by M. de Givenchy himself and will thus offer an exceptional focus on his creations over the course of half a century, from the opening of Maison Givenchy in 1952 to his retirement in 1996. The designer has selected around one hundred of his finest creations, loaned from museums and private collections worldwide, many of them never previously displayed in public. They will now establish a dialogue in the
Museum’s galleries with works from its collections.
Since he founded his own fashion house in Paris in 1952, Hubert de Givenchy’s collections have enjoyed continuous success. He is a declared admirer of the work of Cristóbal de Balenciaga, from whom he inherited his way of understanding fashion design, characterised by the purity of lines and volumes. Hubert de Givenchy was the first designer to present a luxury prêt-à-porter line in 1954 and his clothes have dressed some of the most iconic personalities of the 20th century, including Jacqueline Kennedy, Wallis Simpson, Caroline of Monaco and his great friend Audrey Hepburn.
The exhibition will devote a special section to their creative friendship and professional relationship, which began in 1953 and continued throughout Hepburn’s life. The actress wore Givenchy’s designs in some of her best known films, such as Sabrina and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, stating that “Givenchy’s clothes are the only ones I feel myself in. He is more than a designer, he is a creator of personality.” Hepburn also lent her image for Maison Givenchy’s first perfume, L’interdit, which was launched in 1957. Hepburn’s image in the campaign was immortalised by Richard Avedon’s photographs.
As a collector of 17th- and 18th-century paintings and works by early 20th-century artists, M. de Givenchy has frequently acknowledged the influence of painting on his work. This is evident, for example, in the fact that his creations combine the classic elegance of haute couture with the innovative spirit of avant-garde art.
This aspect, which has not always been easy to convey, will become evident through the dialogues established between his designs and the selection of works in the exhibition from the collections of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, including examples by Zurbarán, Rothko, Sargent, Miró, Robert and Sonia Delaunay and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Innovative creations and early successes
The exhibition opens with a section devoted to the start of Maison Givenchy in 1952, with outstanding examples from Givenchy’s first collection for his own couture house.
Notable among them is the famous Bettina blouse, named after one of the most beautiful models of the day who was also a close friend of the designer’s. Made from men’s white shirting material, an inexpensive fabric, and with an open neck and sleeves embellished with broderie anglais, these blouses marked the designer’s first major success in his career and his first step towards international fame. The Bettina blouse was followed by other creations arising from Givenchy’s exceptionally innovative imagination, including loose evening dresses that could also be worn with a skirt or trousers; interchangeable elements that allowed the clients to apply their own style and preferences when mixing and matching them, hence the term “separates”.
An outstanding selection of short dresses, leather garments and delicate dresses in silk and lamé is displayed in the following rooms, revealing one of the principal lessons that Givenchy absorbed from his master Balenciaga, namely the importance of the fabrics. His work with different materials, combined with the chromatic approach that he applied, for example, to leather made Givenchy an innovative, ground-breaking designer but one who never lost sight of the elegance and simplicity that defined his particular talent. This section of the exhibition culminates in a display of dresses that combine black and white, introducing what would become one of the designer’s best known characteristics: his masterful use of black.