Ahead of its upcoming auction, Hubert de Givenchy’s exceptional collection of furniture and artworks from his two homes displays the meticulous eye and impeccable taste of the French couturier.
“Fashion changes, but the 18th century style will endure, as it is of exceptional quality,” Hubert de Givenchy (1927-2018) once said, adding that it be kept light and fresh with contemporary art. The French couturier, who opened his fashion house in 1952, in Paris, and dressed the most elegant women of the late 20th century – among them Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, Mona von Bismarck, and the Duchess of Windsor – had always been fascinated by art. He considered it an extension of his own work while also expressing himself through the decor of his own interiors. “I try to achieve harmony between architecture, decoration, and color,” he said. The exceptional furniture and art collection of Monsieur de Givenchy will now be auctioned by Christie’s next month, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Monsieur de Givenchy’s first haute couture collection, presented in the French capital in 1952. The auction proceeds will go to the family.
At 17, de Givenchy – who was born in Beauvais into an aristocratic family of Venetian origin – moved to the capital, where he studied at the Beaux-Arts de Paris. Throughout his life, he was influenced by the creative legacy of his great-grandfather, who designed stage sets for the Paris Opera, and his grandfather, who was the administrator of the Beauvais Tapestry Factory as well as an avid collector. “My uncle started his collection as soon as he started making money from his fashion company,” explains James de Givenchy. “He was a true collector. He loved acquiring and surrounding himself with objects, furniture, and artworks. It was when he was the happiest.”
Representing more than 1 200 lots, the fine arts and decorative pieces are drawn from two of Monsieur de Givenchy’s most elegant homes: the Hôtel d’Orrouer in Paris and the Château du Jonchet in the Loire Valley that the family still treasures. “Jonchet is our uncle’s most important chef d’oeuvre,” says James de Givenchy. “It is an enormous endeavor we are taking on. Hubert used to say, ‘It is not all to like a house, the house has to like you back.’ Le Jonchet loved him, and it was reciprocal. We hope we can continue being lovely to her.”
A broad variety of periods and styles characterize the pieces on sale, reflecting Hubert de Givenchy’s personal interests. Among them is the bronze Woman Walking (estimate on request) by the couturier’s friend and collaborator Alberto Giacometti, which was a gift to de Givenchy from the great American collector Bunny Mellon – a client who became a very close friend. Also included are Passage of the Migratory Bird (€2 500 000-3 500 000) by Joan Miró and Faun with a Spear (€1 500 000-2 000 000) by Pablo Picasso, as well as Bacchus (€1 500 000-2 500 000) attributed to François Girardon and a gilt bronze center table (€400 000-600 000) by Martin-Guillaume Biennais. Other objects and furniture that celebrate the golden age of French design in the 18th century are also available.
“Hubert de Givenchy was fascinated by chairs of any sort and there must be over 100 in the sale,” notes Cécile Verdier, president of Christie’s France. “For Hubert de Givenchy, the chair is also a formidable medium for expressing himself through the choice of fabrics used to dress them. The finest leathers are said to have been embroidered by Monsieur de Givenchy’s glove makers, as on a series of Louis XV period armchairs à la Reine with leather and suede upholstery in three colors.” (Estimate €100 000-200 000 for the six armchairs). As part of a worldwide tour that offers a glimpse of the fashion designer’s world, some highlights from the collection were exhibited in Palm Beach in March and in New York and Los Angeles in April, followed by Hong Kong from May 21-26, before returning to Paris in June.
Monsieur de Givenchy never reached out to advisors to purchase art. He knew exactly what he wanted and gave priority to the Parisian antiquaires, such as Galerie Kugel, Marcel Bissey, Segoura, Alexander & Berendt, Galerie Didier, Aaron Aveline, and Galerie Michel Meyer. “He was a passionate ambassador for all the great French ateliers and craftsmen who have continued the spirit of creative excellence into our time,” adds Verdier. “In the decoration of his homes, Monsieur de Givenchy always considered the furniture in constant dialogue with the works of art, both ancient and modern. I believe this can be considered the common thread between all these fantastic pieces, chosen with a collector’s eye.”
A jewelry designer, James de Givenchy has always considered his uncle to be his hero, describing him as handsome and elegant, soft-spoken and powerful. “With [my brother] Olivier, we would go and visit the couture house on Avenue George V with our mother to see him,” he remembers. “He would come out of the atelier and give us a kiss. The models would run through the hallways to the fitting room laughing and the music would be playing in the background. There were moments of bliss I will never forget.”
Throughout his adult life, James de Givenchy maintained a great relationship with his uncle, constantly learning from his love of beauty and knowledge of history, which imbues this unique collection. Every piece reveals a little bit more about who the couturier was, how he created, and the environments in which he evolved – including his homes. “This summer, the auctions are an opportunity to celebrate Hubert de Givenchy as one of the greatest ambassadors of French taste,” offers Charles Cator, deputy chairman of Christie’s international. “To tell his story of the art of living, collecting, and the elegance he sought to capture in all things.”
Check out some more of the remarkable pieces from Hubert de Givenchy’s collection below.
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Originally published in the May 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia