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Scion of an old French Protestant family, Givenchy was once known among rougher types as “le grand”.
Famously courteous in demeanour, I am pleased to report that he admired the shades of my frock – a silk print by Etro.
During the making of How to Steal a Million (1966), in which Hepburn plays the female lead with Peter O’Toole as co-star, and dazzles in a little black lace dress, “Audrey proposed that it would be good to try something different with the outfit,” says Givenchy. Givenchy recalls accompanying Hepburn to a film premiere in London’s Piccadilly, at which she was due to be presented to the Queen.
Hepburn was in Givenchy, naturally, and white gloved.
During a period when couture looked kindly on the corseted bodice and nipped-in waistline, his designs showed an understanding of the female need for clothes that were comfortable on the body.
British Vogue commented in the Sixties: “A Givenchy coat would be most women’s ideal of the perfect way to look in daytime.” For our meeting at Christie's, he was formally dressed in a dark blue suit and necktie and polished black lace-ups – you could say a French gentleman in the classic English mode.
“After I had done a few sketches, I am thinking why don’t I dedicate all these drawings to Audrey? She is not only a legend but an extraordinary human being.” The close-to 300 drawings, in both colour and in monotone, are recreations of the original sketches of models for his collections.
They are steeped in memory of the period which gave birth to them.
Givenchy, now in his late 80s, remains an immensely elegant figure, his great height (6ft 6ins) lending extra distinction.
While sketching models for his collections had once been a way of life, it had dropped out of his routine.
Returning to the task, he explains, was immensely satisfying.
“Little by little, our friendship grew and with it a confidence in each other,” he said.
“There [was never] any criticism of the other person, no upsets.” They shared the excitement and passion of collaborating on the clothes. She was not like other movie stars in that she liked simplicity.” After Funny Face, it was agreed that if she was making a film of a contemporary story, Givenchy would design the clothes.