Le Corbusier & Pierre Jeanneret & Charlotte Perriand, LC4 chaise longue, 1929. Via Phaidon app Design Classics.
"I imagined an ordinary, tired soldier who stretches out on his back, places his feet against a tree and his backpack beneath his head – this is how the famous Chaise Longue came into being.” Charlotte Perriand. Source
Guinevere Van Seenus by Erik Madigan
This is clearly late to state but I will reiterate. What on earth happened to Givenchy? It breaks my heart to see one of France’s beloved, aristrocrat-turned-designer’s namesake eroded and trickled down to a brand owned by pop-culture. I began to wonder, “how does an iconic fashion house turn into a brothel house?” Who is to blame? Who is to shame? I want to retrospect how couturier became rubbish in over a century and by fear, which road are we taking this industry to…
Givenchy advert 1957
For the first 43 years of its existence, the house of Givenchy was a monument to conservative good taste. Even so, right out of the box, innovation was also part of the equation. Hubert de Givenchy made a mark with his debut collection in 1952: It was based on separates, which a woman could mix and match and imprint with her own personal style, rather than wear slavishly as demonstrated by the designer, and that was a novel concept for the time. That the couturier was the youngest in Paris (and a very handsome six-foot-six) didn’t hurt his reviews either.
Not long after, Givenchy—who was born Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy—was taken under the wing of the Spanish master Cristóbal Balenciaga, and his work became less obviously youth-oriented; purity of line become the new focus. The fifties and sixties were Givenchy’s golden years. He and his mentor were described by The New York Times as “undisputedly the world’s most prophetic designers.”During this era he introduced (simultaneously with Balenciaga) the revolutionary chemise or sack dress, acclaimed as “a genuinely new fashion shape.”He is also credited with pioneering the princess silhouette, and when the cinematic sprite Audrey Hepburn first donned Givenchy’s perfect Little Black Dress, his name became forever linked with the Sabrina neckline.
Audrey Hepburn in a Hubert de Givenchy gown; 1953
LVMH acquired the house of Givenchy in 1988, and the great man himself hung up his white lab coat (in which he was famous for working) at the end of 1995. After that, the house fell into a sort of dissolute decline. If Givenchy was “the master of nonassaultive style, as one reporter put it, his first two successors, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen (sons, respectively, of a plumber and a taxi driver), relied more on shock and awe. “Parisian chic—with mayhem,” is how the latter described his approach to Women’s Wear Daily in 1998. The third time, chez Givenchy, did not prove a charm: The house also failed to find equilibrium under the direction of the elfin Welshman Julien Macdonald. Finally in 2005, Givenchy began to chart a stark course with the appointment of Riccardo Tisci, a young Italian with a Gothic sensibility, as creative director in 2005.
GIVENCHY IN THE GALLIANO ERA
in 1996; when Givenchy began to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Central Saint Martins graduate, John Galliano is appointed to Givenchy by Bernard Arnault. The plot twist in Paris is that the heroines, the established haute-couture houses, are not ingenues — many are pushing 40. And the young men fighting to rescue them aren’t out of central casting, either. Unlike in the era when Hubert de Givenchy first donned his white smock, there are no stock answers today to questions like “What does a couturier look like?” and “What should a couture house produce?”
In his first ready-to-wear collection for Givenchy, John Galliano did not disappoint on either count, emerging on the runway with long, ironed hair and enough lipstick smudges on his face, What was more expected were the clothes. Ask people here “What should an old Paris fashion house produce?” and they will describe what was in his show: ruffled polka-dot dresses, long knit wrap cardigans with lean pants beneath and tidy little suits with bow pockets. But the sense that anyone could imagine this show is perhaps the problem; Mr. Galliano was hired because he has a better imagination than most. The smartest thing he did was weed out the strongly Galliano signatures from the Givenchy haute-couture collection and keep the cleanest, least complicated pieces. Now that this show was well received, he can complicate things a bit.
There were two outfits that had the right mix for an alchemist like Mr. Galliano: Chinese silk jackets with an otherworldly air that were swathed around knits in pretty off-colors. This show was definitely more together than the couture presentation; the fit of the clothes looked more precise, and ideas were more thoroughly carried through.
MCQUEEN PILOTS GIVENCHY INTO THE MILLENIUM
When Robert Browning wrote ”a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” he might have been referring to a young designer trying to bring greatness back to an old-line fashion house. Seldom does such a designer actually grasp what he or she is reaching for. But the effort to achieve it is what ultimately counts.
Alexander McQueen’s first collections for Givenchy were greeted with mixed reactions. But the fall collection he showed here in 1998 brought the trophy within reach. He managed to produce enough clothes in the classic Givenchy tradition to please longtime customers, at least those who are willing to be updated for the late 1990’s. And he provided sharp-edged aggressive clothes to attract a more daring woman. And he did both with great style.
To keep the classic customer happy, he offered a beautifully tailored gray suit with white borders and a matching coat, both very much in the Givenchy style. There were also dresses with argylelike diamond patterns at the midriff and simple shifts with high waistlines.
But Mr. McQueen, the naughty boy of London fashion, really showed his talent — and where his heart lies — in second-skin leather dresses in red, black and bright blue; leather suits with huge fur collars or fur sleeves; swaggering pants suits with squared-off shoulders; beaded dresses in mini or floor length, and a gold Lurex knit dress with a deceptively demure high neck.
THE WIZARDRY OF JULIEN MACDONALD
In a daring and controversial decision, Julien Macdonald, the 28-year-old “Welsh Wizard” of knit, was named by LVMH, the new designer for Givenchy. The ebullient Macdonald started by creating imaginative sweaters on his sister’s knitting machine and was then spotted by Karl Lagerfeld at his graduation from London’s Royal College of Art in 1996. He subsequently worked with Lagerfeld before setting up on his own. He became known for presenting over-the-top shows, such as last year at the London Dome, and he has become a friend of the Spice Girls and a favorite of Hollywood celebrities.
Julien Macdonald threw himself into Givenchy haute couture. Here a leather skirt so short Roman legions would have blushed at its revelations; there a leather harness studded with crystal; silver crochet, mirror-plated; asymmetric hemlines rising and swooping like swordplay.
There was something touching about Macdonald’s obvious thrill in transferring his madcap energy to Paris couture, using extravagant materials to the max, so that fur trailed dramatically down the runway over a bit of skirt and a naked top. Some of the draped dresses, with the designer’s favorite bared backs, were seductive. It was a side of Macdonald that no one had ever seen. It salvaged more time for chez Givenchy to survive.
But a last, sales plummeted, reviews—mostly pessimistic—had dawned once again on the house which ultimately lead to the removal of Macdonald from the house.
TISCI’S SADISM BRINGS HIGH RATINGS.
Givenchy haute-couture 2005
after nearly a year of searching for a designer to take over Givenchy, the fabled LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton announceS that Riccardo Tisci, a relatively unknown designer, would become Givenchy’s creative director for women’s wear.
Mr. Tisci, in his second formal ready-to-wear show for Givenchy, had begun to work out some of the problems he had encountered working with a label that, while world famous, does not have the easily identifiable signatures of its counterparts in French fashion history. He seemed to set aside his notions about what Givenchy means or doesn’t mean, as well as his own proclivity for statement shapes.
In this collection he swept away the gaiety of Hubert de Givenchy’s little black dresses with sturdy fabrics in snug silhouettes, to which he added tabs above the breasts or flat origami squares to conceal them. And he recast the house legacy of white blouses with red lace cutouts. They were shown with lacquered red gloves over black matador pants or a glossy black leather skirt, as if to taunt the bulls. Later there were belted black coats, wrapped with long black fur around the sleeves or trimmed with furry patch pockets.
This collection was a vast improvement on Mr. Tisci’s first, but it wasn’t perfect. In building his bridge to the past, he sometimes went astray. He must have been thinking of a certain yellow brick road when he dreamed up sequined platform ruby slippers and a forest of shredded leaves dangling from a black tulle dress. Still, the bright red sparklers, when they came out on dresses, offered an uplifting shock of color.
Givenchy advert 2009
VULGARITY REPLACES THE DNA OF GIVENCHY AND DEMOCRACY DELUDES IT’S EXCLUSIVITY
Givenchy haute-couture 2011
Givenchy menswear 2012
The infamous Rottweiler pullover ceases every celebrity.
GIvenchy “birds of paradise” print which succeeds as a “groundbreaking” collection in 2011.
Vogue Japan editor, Anna Dello Russo and actress Lily Collins in the popular Bambi neoprene pullover
As social media breaks into the Palais Royal where Givenchy’s runways were held in the mid 2000’s, Riccardo Tisci pours his life into the hands of celebrities and pop culture. Tisci indulges in circles with Mariacarla Boscono and Kanye West. And his influence with his social life translates to the runway. Urban wear becomes aesthetics, “ethnic” wear which Rifat Ozbek would have had the privilege of calling out are copied in literal stereotypes into the runway. Entertainers like Ciara and Virgil Abloh sport star appliquéd pullovers. it had begun. The whoring of Givenchy. Sold out by commercialization and vulgar music. Modernization in it’s past proved to be evoking and alluring. Tisci’s method not only defaced but annihilated the essence of what was a respectable maison. When Suzi Menkes puts her pen down during a flock of birds of paradise graphics, it is the ceasing of an old Paris Home turned into the bunny ranch.
Givenchy spring 2014
Today we sit in memorabilia of what was once a provocative, influential and iconic fashion house. We would only hope that Tisci awakes from his Rob Zombie dreams and back into his workspace to recollect the glory of Hubert’s legacy.
New York waltzed through the 1980s in a whirlwind. As the murder rate rocketed up, and AIDS raged, we careened on without care, disco dancing on the dangerous edge of things at Area, Limelight, Danceteria and other decadence dens of coked up bliss and oblivion. It was an age of excess and high anxiety. Everyone it seemed was behaving badly. There was frenzy in the air.
80s nights in New York crawled with poseurs and pretenders – many of them riotous Brits escaping from their far duller world.There was the night they talked about for years at Elaine’s – the storied saloon on the Upper East Side where writers, brawlers and le tout New York caroused – when a very intoxicated British author and archetypical 1980s man about town Anthony Haden-Guest overturned a table for four groaning with food, wine and ketchup into the lap of a couple of rivals seated with him, all for the romantic favors of a pretty blond. Even by Elaine’s loose standards the resulting broo-haha that led to a bout of amateur fisticuffs in the bar must have set some kind of record. “The Beast” as he was known by friends and enemies alike, was banned for life by the formidable Elaine Kaufman, the beady eyed ever present owner. But no matter. The “uninvited” Haden-Guest went on from strength to strength, cruelly skewered by Tom Wolfe in his iconic novel of the age, “Bonfire of the Vanities” and immortalized as the infamous “Iron Man” of the 80s — a night time legend who could out drink and out party all-comers – in the pages of the of the late and much lamented satirical magazine, “Spy”.
80s nights were full of lascivious excess.
One night at Nell’s on 14th Street I saw British owner Keith MacNally (of Odeon, Balthazar and Pastis fame) tried to wrestle super star Grace Jones to the ground in his supper club for some infraction while his partner Nell Campbell, star of the cult classic movie “The Rocky Horror Show” – for whom the dark drug filled VIP romper room was named – entertained an enthusiastic celebrity crowd with a pornographic ballad about her dentist while draped half naked over a chair.
80s nights were wild and pretentious.
One “nightlife tourist” of the time who landed on these shores to cash in on the fray was English aristocrat, Lord Lewisham. One night he gave an overstuffed summer drinks party for New York’s expat blue bloods, deposed crowned heads of Europe and assorted international riff raff. It was the time of Princess Di when all New York was in love with her and high-born Lord Lewisham, whose mother was married to Diana’s father, was said to have an “in”.
The noise was horrendous, the humidity unbearable and the room full. I maneuvered my glass of cheap red wine a touch gingerly fearing I might be jostled. Eventually a burly man in a white suit did jostle me and a few drops landed on his lapel.
“Sorry”. I said. “Bloody fool” said he. He was red in the face, clearly not pleased. “You’ll damn well pay for the dry cleaning. What’s your name?” I gave it politely, in reply to which I thought I heard him say “I’m Michael from Rumania and you can get my address from the host”. Knowing the beautiful scenery and wretched politics of Rumania I found myself calling after him as he moved on, “Michael, what part of Rumania are you from? I might know it”. At which he returned, thrust his face into mine and exploded anew. “All of it you ass! I’m not Michael from Rumania – I’m Michael of Rumania!” In other words the King. The trouble was, the man I met that night was no monarch. Working as an airline pilot to pay the rent at the time, “King” Michael, his former self, had been turfed out of Rumania by the communists as a teenager long ago. 80s parties were filled with improbable encounters.
There was the one my wife and I gave in our West Village apartment on Bank Street where I saw Claus von Bulow – another international man of mystery, he of the sketchy Danish title, recently acquitted of the charge of trying to poison his wife – fetch the venerable American novelist Mary McCarthy a drink from the bar. I heard him say to her as he handed over a glass of cooling Chardonnay “You’re a very brave lady to take a drink from me”. Then there was the epic clash between the world’s leading philosopher and the world’s greatest prize fighter, an improbable encounter which has gone viral in the annals of urban legend. One hot night at an Upper East Side dinner party, the 77-year old British egg head, Professor A. J. “Freddie” Ayer, visiting from London and Oxford University to join in the fun, found himself seated next to the celebrated young American lingerie designer, Fernando Sanchez. They bonded like brothers.
The aged Ayer small and pear shaped, and England’s leading public intellectual, loved showing off, talking eruditely with machine gun-like rapidity on all and every topic and flirting with women. Above all he liked to party. It just so happened that his new friend Fernando was giving one next week – and he was more than welcome. Sanchez had an artist’s eye. As the doddering professor arrived, the designer’s giant loft in mid-town was filling up with eye candy of at least two sexes, a Noah’s Ark of human types – the sparkling room festooned with huge gardenia bushes and lit by black candles. “You must meet Naomi Campbell” Fernando said to him, brushing past a gaggle of male models clustered round Halston. “She’s 18, just in from London and gorgeous”. The philosopher turning on all the charm a geriatric logical positivist can muster chatted with her for a while trading small talk. The coke and caviar flowed and the party buzzed on. Suddenly in the hubbub a mini-skirted bimbette with Bambi legs ran across the room towards, of all people, Ayer, seated on a suade covered sofa, scoffing smoked salmon, happy as a clam. Why she singled him out we shall nevere know.“A girl is being assaulted in one of the bed rooms!” she cried. “Come quick, professor! She needs help”. Everyone froze save the intrepid prof. In the horrified silence that ensued he rose to his feet – all five foot five of him – to play Prince Charming. Led to a nearby bedroom, he stumbled upon a scene where a large African American man had pinned an equally tall Naomi Campbell unwillingly to the wall. The diminutive thinker stepped forward fearlessly. “Unhand this lady”. The man, at least a foot taller than Ayer, turned. “Who the hell are you?” Ayer stiffened in his three piece suit, and puffed out his chest. “I happen to be a rather famous philosopher and the Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford. Who, if may be so bold as to enquire, are you?” “I’m Mike Tyson, the undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world”. “In that case dear boy we’re both pre-eminent in our field” Ayer replied memorably, “I suggest we talk about this like rational men”. It was brain versus brawn, reason versus instinct, super ego versus id in twelve rounds. During this philosophical slug fest the distressed damsel dashed away.
Looking back, the orgiastic 80s were a fever, their contagion raging through Gotham like an epidemic, a ten year beggar’s ball. There was a kind of madness in the air. Now the fires have cooled, the infection has abated, and the parade has moved on. The British poseurs, foreign pretenders, wild nights and improbable encounters have faded into history, and the past – especially for those who now rule New York by night – has become another country.
Provacative, sexy, taboo. in 1995, when Gucci was on the threads of bankruptcy, they had nothing left to salvage itself from becoming the next Halston. Just as they were about to close their enameled doors, Tom Ford steps in and incorporates American sportswear into a century old fashion house. Tom Ford did something no other designer had ever done in a family operated business. He sold sex into the catwalk and indulged nearly x-rated adverts in Vogue and L’Officiel. For such a time in the mid nineties, it was almost punk to bring sexuality into a time when economy was slowing down and clients were withdrawing themselves from merchandize. Tom Ford brought Gucci’s sales up to $12 million. Today, Gucci is worth $20 million dollars with the ownership of massive societe-anonyme houses. Here are some of his most hedonistic and celebrated campaigns which featured a sensual Georgina Grenville in Tom’s iconic white dress.