Invisible letters reveal YSL’s friendship with Hubert de Givenchy – WWD
PARIS — Yves Saint Laurent was famous for badmouthing his competitors, but there was one colleague who found grace in his eyes: Hubert de Givenchy.
Saint Laurent publicly expressed his admiration for the couturier in a 1991 interview and privately in a series of letters, thanking the designer for his support and expressing his deep respect for his work. His heirs shared correspondence with WWD to coincide with the sale of de Givenchy’s art and furniture collection at Christie’s in Paris next week.
“There are very few creators of genius. To be precise, I would say there were only two – Givenchy and me. The rest, the others, that’s the mob, the horror… naught,” WWD quoted him as saying in a 1991 article entitled “Saint Laurent’s Biting Words. ”
The late couturier reportedly opened up in an interview with Vanessa van Zuylen in her then-new magazine, L’Insensé. “Since the days when Chanel and Balenciaga competed, there really hasn’t been anything but Givenchy and me,” Saint Laurent is quoted as saying.
Although the friendship is not well documented, there are photographs of Saint Laurent at the opening of the Givenchy: 40 Years of Creation exhibition at the Palais Galliera in Paris in 1991, and he was among the designers who attended de Givenchy’s final glory 1995 couture show alongside Valentino, Christian Lacroix, Kenzo and Oscar de la Renta.
Conversely, de Givenchy was present at Saint Laurent’s farewell show at the Center Pompidou in 2002.
“Your letter and your presence at my show touched me more than words can express. I am in a state of shock and feel unable to write the letter that I owe you and that you deserve. In any case, please know that I thank you from the bottom of my heart and am thinking of you with friendship and gratitude,” Saint Laurent wrote days later.
Although de Givenchy’s page of correspondence is unavailable, it is clear that the two men were in regular contact. Saint Laurent thanks him several times for the flower shipments and describes him as a lighthouse in an industry that no longer feels familiar.
“Since my youth you have never stopped making me dream. Of course I’m very sad to have closed my couture house, but it was no longer possible for me to continue working in this ridiculous world,” he wrote in a letter dated simply December 17.
The two men’s careers were intertwined from an early age. In 1953, at the age of just 16, Saint Laurent entered the International Wool Secretariat’s fashion design competition and was awarded third prize by a jury that included Christian Dior and de Givenchy.
The following year he applied again and this time won both first and third prizes in the dresses category from 6,000 anonymous entries. De Givenchy sat on the jury again and the design that won first prize, a black crepe cocktail dress, was made in his ateliers.
Saint Laurent later rose to fame when he was appointed artistic director of the house of Dior following the death of the founder at the age of 21.
Both he and de Givenchy were among the pioneers of luxury ready-to-wear clothing. De Givenchy presented his line “Givenchy Université” in 1954, while Saint Laurent was the first luxury designer to open an rtw boutique “Saint Laurent Rive Gauche” in 1966.
While Saint Laurent developed a lifelong relationship with Catherine Deneuve, de Givenchy was known for dressing another screen star, Audrey Hepburn. And both amassed impressive collections of artworks, sculptures and furniture that made them the leading trendsetters of their time.
Beginning in the 1970s, Saint Laurent engaged in a long-running feud with Karl Lagerfeld that was often reported in the press. In contrast, his friendship with de Givenchy was so private that it is rarely mentioned in biographies and little known even to fashion historians.
“I feel very lonely in this job now and I realize how much I miss you,” Saint Laurent wrote on January 25, 1996.
“I was very touched coming from you by the words you used to define my work. It takes a lot of courage to continue doing couture considering how corrupt the profession has become,” Saint Laurent added on September 8, 1997.
Although it is not known how his correspondent reacted, the letters convey a sense of Saint Laurent’s isolation and de Givenchy’s trademark discretion.
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