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French Fashion Designer Givenchy Dies At 91


One of the fashion world's most famous designers has died. Hubert de Givenchy styled some of the world's most fashionable women, icons like Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy and Princess Grace of Monaco. NPR's Paris correspondent Eleanor Beardsley has more on his legacy.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hubert de Givenchy went into fashion against his parents' wishes. They wanted him to be a lawyer, says Dana Thomas, fashion expert and author who has interviewed Givenchy and also knew him personally.

DANA THOMAS: He was a count from a grand, aristocratic family. They'd made their money in the tapestry business, and he once said that he grew up as a child in this mansion, in this chateau. And up in the attic were all these old tapestries, and he thought that he found his first love of fabrics by playing with all these tapestries as a boy.

BEARDSLEY: Givenchy started with internships but quickly rose to the top. He founded his own house of Givenchy in the 1950s. He quickly gained a reputation. Actress Audrey Hepburn heard of him and made an appointment to see Givenchy when she was making the film "Sabrina" in Paris, says Thomas.

THOMAS: He was completely surprised when Audrey Hepburn walked in because he thought it was Katharine Hepburn. He'd never heard of Audrey Hepburn. He called her delicious. He said we met, and within five minutes, I knew that I was in love with this woman. I would dress her forever. She was delicious. And it was a friendship that began then and lasted until her death. And he dressed her for many of her movies, including "Breakfast At Tiffany's."

BEARDSLEY: Jacqueline Kennedy also became a huge fan of Givenchy, but her husband's advisers told her it would play better if she wore American designers. So, says Thomas, she and her sister cooked up the idea of her wearing American-made clothes based on French originals.

THOMAS: And so her sister Lee Radziwill would bring these beautiful Chanels and Givenchys and Balenciagas over from Paris. And then they'd have them redone by somebody in America to look exactly the same.

BEARDSLEY: After more than 30 years in charge of his own brand, Givenchy sold his label to the French luxury goods group Louis Vuitton. Thomas says he is the last of the great 1950s Paris designers, which also included names like Christian Dior. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF SON LUX'S "CHASE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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