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The Liberation of Women Through Fashion

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The Liberation Of Women Through Fashion by Hubert de Givenchy

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Selvi Thangarajah
Arth 701: Contemporary Art
Professor Holly Goldstein
Spring 2015

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In the 1950-60’s when WWII had just come to an end and the men were

returning home from war, the women were being forced out of their industrial jobs. The baby boom was at an all time high and women were expected to quit their jobs and be full time homemakers1. It was during this time that Hubert De Givenchy was just starting out on his own as a couturier in Paris and was know to have a minimalistic and unconventional style. His aim during the 50’s and into the 60’s was to help empower women through their clothes and break down the feminine ideals of grace and beauty, abandoning the stereotypes associated to them. He allowed for the flexibility of the female identity through his multiple creations of contrasting silhouettes that were rather rebellious and unconventional at the time that it was being made.
Hubert De Givenchy was born on 21st february 1927 in Beauvais,
France. Hailing from a very prosperous family, Hubert went on to attend college at
Beauvais before moving to Paris to pursue his dreams of being a couturier. In 1944 he joined the couture house of Jacques Fath while attending school at Ecole Des BeauxArts2. Later in the 40’s he took a series of jobs as an assistant designer—first with Fath, then with Lucien Lelong, Robert Piguet, and Elsa Schiaparelli before opening his own couture house in 1951. His association with fashion continued over the next 4 decades, having an extremely illustrious career, Givenchy had a mature style often using pops of bright colors in his garments, and was constantly inspired by his mentor and best friend

1

Stewart, Jennifer Nichol. "Wacky Times: An Analysis of the WAC in World War II and its Effects on Women." International Social Science Review 75, no. 1/2 (January 2000): 26. Business
Source Premier, EBSCOhost
2

Major, John. "Givenchy, Hubert de." The Berg Fashion Library. 2005.http://0www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.scad.edu/view/bazf/bazf00271.xml accessed 12th may,
2015.

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Christobal Balenciaga. He came up with some of the most fashion forward silhouettes, like the sack dress, sheath dress and the baby doll look3. Apart from this he of-course put an iconic twist on the little black dress. His long term association with Audrey
Hepburn and other hollywood A-listers made his extremely popular. Givenchy later went on to sell his company to the major Parisian conglomerate LVMH in 1988.
Givenchy’s debut collection in 1952 was a huge success and was received with much appreciation.This collection featured a line full of separates that could be mixed and matched to form multiple number of outfits4. A concept that was rather new at this time when Ateliers were only doing Haute Couture clothing. At a time when the New Look was being adopted and fashion was more opulent then ever before.
Designers were creating elaborate, extravagant and luxurious clothing but Givenchy stuck to simple forms an patterns, his clothes were not overbearing or loud5. He even used cotton in his maiden collection to make the “Betina Blouse” - a famous silhouette that lasted for the lengths of his career, it was named after one of his models. Prior to this cotton was only used to make mock or fit garments.
Never Compromising on the quality or refinement, he modernized the wardrobe of the rich and elite Parisian women, introducing separates and easy care synthetics like Orlon. He gave the classic way of dressing a youthful avant-garde style, unlike his contemporaries at the time. His garments were all designed to allow fluid

3

Polan, Brenda, and Roger Tredre. 2009. The great fashion designers. Oxford; New York: Berg
Publishers
4
5

Reed, Paula. 2012. Fifty fashion looks that changed the 1950s. London: Conran Octopus

"Dior: The New Look." The Berg Fashion Library. 2009. http://0www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.scad.edu/view/nlm-j/FT_13-1/175174109X381409.xml accessed 12 may, 2015.

Thangarajah 4 movement, they were light, free of padding and corseting making it rather easy on the wearer.6 His emphasis on the lines and structure of the garment combined with his clever use of fabrics made him notably one of the best designers of his time. He said
“I’ve dreamt of a liberated women who will no longer be swathed in fabric, armor plated”. He went against Dior’s “New Look” (Refer image 1) not to be rebellious but just because he believed that women needed to break the mould and be whoever they wanted to be.
In the 1950’s a new ideal body shape emerged for women, the over exaggerated bosoms were on their way out, and a concave middle with a close waistline and long legs seemed to be the order of the day. Women who din’t naturally look like this were finding ways to achieve it and designers were creating elaborate structures of clothing to suit this body type7. Givenchy was one of the few who din’t conform to these rules, he never played by the books. He worked towards the liberation of women. Extremely forward with his thought process, Givenchy wanted women to be progressive. Confining them to just cooking, cleaning and looking after the family was unfair, they should be able to go out to work and still balance their home life. Givenchy wanted to make it easier for them to multi task and he accomplished that through his fun easy to wear garments. Lets take a closer look at three of his most iconic styles that helped empower women in the 1950’s and 60’s. These include the concept of separates, the little black dress and the sack dress silhouette.

6

Polan, Brenda, and Roger Tredre. 2009. The great fashion designers. Oxford; New York: Berg
Publishers
7

"Fashion: 1950 Body Line." Vogue 115, no. 1 (Jan 01, 1950): 114-114, 115. http:// search.proquest.com/docview/904328769?accountid=13730. Accessed 12 may, 2015.

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In 1952 when the twenty four year old Givenchy presented his 1st collection, little did he know he was introducing a revolutionary concept to the world of fashion. This line featured a flawless collection of separates including floaty skirts, puffy blouses, high-style coats, and elegant ball gowns8 (Refer image 2 & 3). One of the most iconic piece from this collection was the Bettina Blouse (Refer Figure 4) named after the famous model Bettina Graziani. She later went on to be his director of press relations.
This collection was a roaring success and was well received by the critiques and fashion fanatics. A lot was said about Givenchy’s style being American, although he wasn't inspired by anything American in particular although it was no doubt that his style was being appreciated world wide.
Givenchy was celebrated for his vision of easy couture. He wanted to break down the democratization of luxury fashion. The line of separates were designed keeping these factors in mind. He used raw cotton to make most of the garments in this collection. He believed in practical and accessible fashion. The concept of separates evolved to the first ever luxury ready to wear line by a couturier in 19549, it was called
Givenchy Université. This was the future and Givenchy being a visionary saw it way before others ever took notice. He was lauded for his innovative, stimulating and prolific efforts. The collection of Separates was appreciated for its invigorating spirit10 making his style very sought after.

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Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "Hubert de Givenchy," accessed May 15, 2015, http://0academic.eb.com.library.scad.edu/EBchecked/topic/234459/Hubert-de-Givenchy.
9
10

http://www.givenchy.com/en/history-house, accessed May 15,2015.

http://fashionmuseum.fitnyc.edu/view/people/asitem/items
$0040:1406/0;jsessionid=38044EEDDC8E72E46131C2BE9ABDD662?
t:state:flow=fedb2431-03a8-4df1-bc6a-5526fa30a306 accessed May 15,2015.

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Although his work was being appreciated and his designs were being sold like hot cakes, Givenchy’s motive of designing the separates was a way of offering freedom to women in terms of their clothing. He gave them the option of being able to mix and match, creating multiple outfit combinations from the same few pieces of clothing. In today’s liberated world we all have the option to do this, however in the
1950’s when ateliers were creating custom bespoke garments for you, the concept of separates and ready to wear was unheard of and also unacceptable. People argued if he was diluting the luxury industry with these nouveau concepts. While Dior proposed the “New Look”, Givenchy created garments that were about the functionality.
Free of all things onerous, Givenchy’s clothing offered a sense of utilitarianism. Women in his eyes were not just idols of innate beauty, he considered them to be strong, fiercely independent and alluring. His clothes are are true reflection of his beliefs. The “Modern Look” he designed was contemporary for its time and rejected the unhealthy effects of corsets - like deformed postures, bones and restriction of movement11. Hollywood had adopted the new modern look too and helped in being a major influence on the minds of the people, the American lifestyle was being disseminated across the world through the movies. The on-screen and off-screen style and personas of the larger than life stars were looked up at. Simplicity and minimalism in fashion was at its peak - just the way Givenchy envisioned. Being ernest in his approach helped him gain a large following of happy customers. He progressed to be a pioneer in his field and went on to inventing great looks like the sack silhouette, baby

11

TURIM, MAUREEN, "Fashion Shapes: Film, the Fashion Industry, and the Image of Women."
The Berg Fashion Library. (n.d.). http://0-www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.scad.edu/view/
CMWF/chapter-FCPS0421.xml (accessed 15 May. 2015).

Thangarajah 7 doll look and the little black dress that celebrated women and complimented her multiple faceted personality. Each of these looks were iconic and so different from one another as he wanted to make room for her to assume whichever personality she chooses in elegance and style.
Channel introduced the little black dress in the 1920’s (Refer image 5) but it was Givenchy that gave it a new lease of life when he designed a little black dresses for Audrey Hepburn’s role as Holly Golightly in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” (Refer image 6).
Black had historically been associated with mourning and asceticism, it was revived in the early nineteenth century by the dandies as a color of respect. Initially associated as a color for the middle class and powerful women only wore it to make a statement but with time it was used to create a dramatic appearance. It became a statement color12.
Today we cannot imagine our wardrobe without a little black dress in it, It’s our go to when we do not know what to wear as designers like Givenchy have given it a classic ethereal association. An LBD13 with a string of pearls like Audrey wore in Breakfast at
Tiffany’s is timeless.
Givenchy was all about making fashion easy and effortless and with this silhouette he managed to do exactly that. The LBD made you instantly chic, it was simple but beautiful. The versatility of the little black dress is amazing, “it can literally be worn anywhere at anytime and at any age” as quoted by Dior. The little black dress is a quintessential mix of easy, practical, and also elegant, sophisticated and stylish. Due to it’s multifaceted character, it has been constantly evolving through every decade, just
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Gessner, Liz. "Little Black Dress." The Berg Fashion Library. 2005. http://0www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.scad.edu/view/bazf/bazf00371.xml (accessed 15 May.
2015).
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LBD - an abbreviation for Little Black Dress

Thangarajah 8 varying in sizes, shapes and fabrics. However Givenchy’s LBD for Audrey Hepburn still remains as one of the most popular little black dresses of all times. His perfect balance of grace and glamour combined with her vivacious personality and gorgeous looks made this LBD an iconic one, with a place etched for itself in the history of fashion. With all the popularity it gained, Givenchy knew he had to make this accessible to the regular women, because he wanted her to look and feel like a star too.
Just as he did with the collection of separates, the little black dress was also designed keeping in mind the emancipation of women in the current scenario. He gave it a modern yet timeless appeal and designed them to suit the body types of women in the 1960’s. This dress almost summed up his entire career14, he instantly became french fashion royalty with his nobel designs and progressive ideas. It was touted to be one of his greatest achievements and also the start of a fantastic collaboration with Audrey Hepburn which turned out to be mutually beneficial to them both, they evolved from colleagues to friends and ended up referring to each other as family during the 40 odd years that they knew each other. Audrey was a big influence on women of her era, she was known as a woman’s star15. She was bold and fierce with no tolerance for nonsense. Her portrayal of the little black dress gave way to woman everywhere feeling empowered by this piece of clothing. They connected deeply with her character and were influenced by her. Givenchy’s continued to develop exemplary looks, revolutionizing fashion for women in the fifties and sixties. Another one of his

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Anonymous. 2010. Givenchy french fashion royalty. Daily Examiner (Grafton, Australia)2010.

Gibson, Pamela Church, Breward, Christopher, Gilbert, David. "New Stars, New Fashions and the Female Audience." The Berg Fashion Library. 2006. http://0www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.scad.edu/view/FASHWRLDCIT/chapterFASHWRLDCIT0013.xml (accessed 17 May. 2015).

Thangarajah 9 radical inventions was the Sack dress, he along with Balenciaga came up with this in the late 50’s.
Balenciaga was know for his use of different fabrics and unique drapery and silhouettes, his fashion philosophy was evolution rather than revolution. Creating designs that were elegant, practical, wearable and most importantly breathable.16
Givenchy was always inspired by this very talented Spanish designer and worked closely with him on many projects. His atelier was across the street from Balenciaga’s.
Givenchy did propagate a lot of his design philosophies and styles. He treated him as a mentor and learned an incredible lot from him and although Balenciaga was credited as the one who invented the sack silhouette, it’s a lesser know fact that Givenchy too was a part of the process.. The sack silhouette was an evolution of the shirt dress and was first created in 1957.17(Refer image 7)
It was so different from what people were used to seeing, almost the opposite of the constricted hourglass figure that was most prevalent at that time, the sack silhouette was a loose short dress that was anti-fitted18. It usually tapered towards the hem but was baggy and relaxed on the torso. What is today called the shift dress
(refer image 8) was the then sack dress, like the little black dress the sack silhouette too has evolved over the years, reducing the unnecessary volume it initially had. Like the other silhouettes discussed earlier this one too is aimed at creating easy and

16

Miller, Lesley. "Balenciaga, Cristóbal." The Berg Fashion Library. 2005. http://0www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.scad.edu/view/bazf/bazf00049.xml (accessed 18 May.
2015).
17
18

http://www.givenchy.com/en/sack-dress (accessed 18 may,2015).

"Dress." The Berg Fashion Library. (n.d.). http://0www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.scad.edu/view/v-a/12902.xml (accessed 18 May. 2015).

Thangarajah 10 unrestricted movement for the wearer. The design was elementary and straightforward with no fuss. It was time to bid farewell to corsets and restricted silhouettes.
If separates were aimed at functionality and the ability to create multiple outfits with one piece and the little black dress was to enhance the grace and elegance of a woman, the sack dress was utilitarian - it intended to be practical and comfortable but yet have her feel pretty and well dressed. It was the everyday dress. You could run errands, work, cook, shop and do practically anything in it. Givenchy’s love for asymmetric and experimental silhouettes was met with this one19. There was always a strong severity and a sense of power with his designs. Fashion was in his blood, from when he was a kid he dreamed of being able to make clothes and dress people.
While it was know that women were always fighting for equality and fairness for themselves, and trying to break the stereotypes associated with them. Not many men took an initiative to do the same. It was rather rare that Givenchy who wasn’t an activist or a political figure was showing keen interest in the liberation of women. His was not an overwhelming or exaggerated battle but instead was a subtle and powerful one. He did whatever he could in his own field of work, enhancing women and the multiple roles she assumes by providing her classic, beautiful and yet functional clothing. A master of his craft, Givenchy was an exemplary designer and an even better human being and his legacy can never be forgotten.

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19

God givenchy talent: 1st edition. 2007. The Independent2007.

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Image 1 : Dior’s new look

Image 2 : Givenchy’s collection of separates

Image 3 : Givenchy’s collection of Separates

Thangarajah 12
Image 4 : The Bettina Blouse

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Image 5 : Coco Chanel LBD

Image 6 : Audrey Hepburn LBD

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Image 7 : Sack dress by Givenchy

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Image 8 : Shift dress ( Current style)

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Bibliography :

"
• Jennifer Nichol, Stewart, "Wacky Times: An Analysis of the WAC in World War II and its
Effects on Women." International Social Science Review 75, no. 1/2 (January 2000). Business

"

Source Premier, EBSCOhost"

• "Givenchy, Hubert de" The Berg Fashion Library. 2005.http://0-

"

www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.scad.edu/view/bazf/bazf00271.xml Major, John."

• Brenda Polan, and Tredre Roger. 2009. The great fashion designers. Oxford; New York: Berg

"

Publishers"

• Reed, Paula. 2012. Fifty fashion looks that changed the 1950s. London: Conran Octopus"

"

• "Dior: The New Look." The Berg Fashion Library. 2009. http://0www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.scad.edu/view/nlm-j/FT_13-1/175174109X381409.xml

"

accessed 12 may, 2015"

• Polan, Brenda, and Roger Tredre. 2009. The great fashion designers. Oxford; New York: Berg

"

Publishers"

• "Fashion: 1950 Body Line." Vogue 115, no. 1 (Jan 01, 1950): 114-114, 115. http://

"

search.proquest.com/docview/904328769?accountid=13730."

• s. v. "Hubert de Givenchy," Encyclopædia Britannica Online, accessed May 15, 2015, http://0-

"

academic.eb.com.library.scad.edu/EBchecked/topic/234459/Hubert-de-Givenchy."

• http://www.givenchy.com/en/history-house."

"

• http://fashionmuseum.fitnyc.edu/view/people/asitem/items
$0040:1406/0;jsessionid=38044EEDDC8E72E46131C2BE9ABDD662?

"

t:state:flow=fedb2431-03a8-4df1-bc6a-5526fa30a306."

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• MAUREEN TURIM, "Fashion Shapes: Film, the Fashion Industry, and the Image of Women."
The Berg Fashion Library. (n.d.). http://0-www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.scad.edu/view/

"

CMWF/chapter-FCPS0421.xml (accessed 15 May. 2015)."

• Gessner, Liz. "Little Black Dress." The Berg Fashion Library. 2005. http://0-

"

www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.scad.edu/view/bazf/bazf00371.xml."

• Anonymous. 2010. Givenchy french fashion royalty. Daily Examiner (Grafton, Australia)2010."

"

• . "New Stars, New Fashions and the Female Audience.Gibson, Pamela Church, Breward,
Christopher, Gilbert, David" The Berg Fashion Library. 2006. http://0www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.scad.edu/view/FASHWRLDCIT/chapter-

"

FASHWRLDCIT0013.xml (accessed 17 May. 2015)."

• Lesley Miller. "Balenciaga, Cristóbal." The Berg Fashion Library. 2005. http://0www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.scad.edu/view/bazf/bazf00049.xml"
• http://www.givenchy.com/en/sack-dress."

"

• "Dress." The Berg Fashion Library. (n.d.). http://0-

"

www.bergfashionlibrary.com.library.scad.edu/view/v-a/12902.xml."

• God givenchy talent: 1st edition. 2007. The Independent2007.…...

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