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Hubert de Givenchy is Remembered by the Duchess Claudine de Cadaval

Hubert de Givenchy

Hubert de Givenchy by Victor Skrebeneski. Courtesy Vogue Arabia

With the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle wearing a Givenchy dress for her royal wedding to Prince Harry, Vogue Arabia remembers the original master Hubert de Givenchy through the words of his inseparable friend of over fifty years, Duchess Claudine de Cadaval.

Overlooking the landscaped gardens of her palace in Portugal, Duchess Claudine de Cadaval remembers that her friend Hubert de Givenchy visited her there but two years ago. Over the course of 54 years, the pair traveled the world, dined on countless meals, and even mounted an exhibition together inside the Cadaval Palace in Evora. Called “Unforgettable Bridal Gowns,” and held in the summer of 2015, the exhibition featured dresses from major fashion houses—Balenciaga, Carolina Herrera, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Philippe Venet, and Givenchy. At the time, Maître de Givenchy was 84-years-old, and yet, he delved into the experience with fervor, working for a year on the project and personally curating each piece. The Duchess smiles, “It was so beautiful, people cried.”

The son of a marquis, Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy passed away March 10th, 2018, at his renaissance palace outside of Paris. He was 91-years-old. He lived the better part of his life as a couturier. After a stint with Schiaparelli, he founded his house in 1952 and become the youngest designer of Paris’ fashion scene, which at the time included Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain. He met his muse, Audrey Hepburn the following year. Their friendship would last the actor’s lifetime. Throughout, de Givenchy would design entire wardrobes for her movies, including Funny Face (1957) and How to Steal a Million (1966). He was invited to sit next to Hepburn inside the Kodak Theater the night she won a Best Actress Academy Award for her role in Roman Holiday (1954). Their guests, Duchess de Cadaval and Philippe Venet sat a few rows back. “After she passed, Hubert rarely spoke about Audrey. I think it hurt him too much,” says de Cadaval.

Hubert de Givenchy

Audrey Hepburn dressed in Givenchy for her Breakfast at Tiffany’s movie. Courtesy Getty

Along with Hepburn, Maître de Givenchy dressed many high-profile private clients, among them Wallis Simpson the Duchess of Windsor, Maria Callas, Marlene Dietrich, and Jacqueline Kennedy. “In Givenchy, we felt classy and beautiful—and good in our heads,” says the Duchess. Already envisioning a new, more economical way of dressing, the couturier introduced separates; his clothes underscored comfort and emphasized line. In her clothing archive, the duchess counts many Givenchy pieces. A pink dress with ostrich feathers and a chinchilla fur coat with suede skirt and cashmere turtleneck sweater are among her favorites. “There was a time when we only wore couture; even my cardigans were made by hand. Now, the nobility all dress in Uniqlo,” she laughs.

The Duchess and de Givenchy met in 1964 through a mutual friend, French actor and model Capucine. “I was to marry and so I went to Givenchy for my wedding gown. I was betrothed to someone 30 years older than me and so I didn’t want a dress for a little girl.” Maître de Givenchy created a green gazar suit with a white coat for her nuptials. From that moment, their friendship blossomed. “He liked my husband very much. But there were things he wouldn’t do, so I would join de Givenchy alone—to sale on his boat for instance. He had a beautiful boat that used to belong to Aline de Rothschild; I think he had it for ten years.”

Hubert de Givenchy

Countess Setsuko Klossowska de Rola, Hubert de Givenchy, and Duchess Claudine de Cadaval attend a Cartier exhibition in Paris. Courtesy Getty

After leaving his fashion house to retire in 1995, Givenchy continued to be involved in fashion in other ways. As the honorary founding chairman of the Cristóbal Balenciaga Foundation, he oversaw the promotion and exhibitions dedicated to the work of the man he idolized and who was once his mentor. He had also become an expert on antiques and consulted for Christie’s, the Versailles Palace, and the Louvre. “But he had no stomach for the fashion that followed his era,” recalls the duchess. “He deemed the new fashion awful. He never asked about designers or collections from other houses, let alone the one he founded,” she comments. “But he didn’t critique people. He saw the world with a sense of humor.”

After retirement, Givenchy traveled more than ever. He owned a chalet in Mégève. The couturier, who had an athletic 6’6” build, never skied, or exercised for that matter, however he enjoyed excursions. He only stopped going to the Alps when a doctor told him he could no longer travel to altitudes higher than 1000 meters. Outside of Paris, his favorite city was Venice. After all, his ancestors—originally “Tuffini” were from the sinking city. He had a beautiful residence there that he kept for some years shares de Cadeval. Towards the end of his life, he was happier to stay home. “His house in Paris, with 18th-century wood trimmings, is so beautiful, but it’s his country residence, the Château du Jonchet, that is a true reflection of him and his style,” she says. The grand palace is all in stone, “very pure,” she comments. “He would host friends at either of his homes, but never more than eight of us. He always invited the socialite Mercedes Bass and if the interior designer Alberto Pinto said, ‘Hubert, I have someone important, I would love to show him your house,’ of course, he would acquiesce,” she states. At times, de Givenchy would throw intimate parties. “He hosted the engagement of my daughter Diana with Prince Charles-Phillipe, Duke of Anjou, and he prepared a big table. It was always very simple, but elegant. Exquisite, really.” He also read a great deal and often went to Galignani bookstore in Paris. He received three or four magazines a day, on auctions and art. He had acquired a remarkable collection of 17th and 18th-century sculptures and had a vast number of his friend, Diego Giacometti’s pieces.

Hubert de Givenchy

Duchess Claudine de Cadaval and Hubert de Givenchy. Courtesy Duchess de Cadaval for Vogue Arabia

“Hubert never spoke of the passing of time,” comments the Duchess, her energetic voice quieting. “We never talked of death together. He never said, ‘One day I won’t be here anymore.’ He was too discreet for that. Now, I am hurting more. The pain is more intense. The absence will be very great. Life with Hubert was always in motion.” She breaks momentarily from her grief, “He was organizing a trip to Marrakech in April, to see the Yves Saint Laurent museum. Hubert, he was a man who always wanted to have plans.”

NOW READ: 10 Things to know about Meghan Markle’s Givenchy wedding dress and veil 

Originally published in the April 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia. 

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