Woman's Coat by Givenchy
According to a letter from the donor Rita Grossman, this Givenchy coat is one of several couture pieces she had custom-made in Paris between 1955 and 1974. Grossman cut out the labels to avoid paying a duty tax. The coat and the other designer garments donated by Grossman were appraised by D. Ghelerter at Cora Ginsburg LLC, who authenticated the 1960s Givenchy provenance prior to the donation.
The double-breasted coat design includes a convertible collar with notched lapels and long raglan sleeves. A self-fabric belt attaches across the back with plastic dome buttons colored to match the bright orange wool twill. This fabric is used as both the outer material and the coat lining, with a plain weave, stiff inner lining fabric between that is visible through a small hole. The coat closes in the front with both bound and in-seam buttonholes and the dome buttons. The classic structure of the coat, with the curved horizontal seam just below the bust, single darts sewn from the shaped front side seams and the shaped side back seams, creates a garment that skims across the wearer.
Hubert de Givenchy (1927-2018) was one of the top haute couture designers of the 1960s. His coats and suits were frequently mentioned in the fashion press and appear to have been what he was best known for at the time. When he opened in the mid-50s, he was considered the most exciting new designer, very modern and youthful. An article from Women’s Wear Daily, published in 1965, gives a fascinating glimpse into his career at the time, with a list of opinions from various fashion professionals. Some considered his influence to be rapidly declining because he was showing the same styles over and over. Others refuted this, or at least confirmed that even if his designs were not avant garde, they still sold. Constantly compared to his idol and teacher, designer Cristobel Balenciaga (1895-1972) (they were often paired as simply “B & G”), some suggested that Balenciaga’s early influence on him had stifled Givenchy’s creativity. What is clear is that his clothes remained popular with well-dressed, young, wealthy, society women who could afford haute couture. Other descriptors of his work and those who wore it included “chic,” “austere, severe, and prim,” “understated,” and “elegant.”
At the close of the decade, Givenchy considered himself the last of the true haute couturiers, still making elegant, classic clothes for private clients. This sentiment was reiterated more critically by the press, who added that his clients were all now middle-aged. Givenchy decided to stay with the style he claimed he inherited from Balenciaga, not wishing to participate in what he thought were popular vulgar and shocking fashions. For him, “fashion” and “couture” were two separate things: couture endures the test of time.
While the coat’s overall design certainly places it in the category of chic, one wonders if the eye-searing color signaled some other meaning to contemporary audiences. The color is none of the adjectives associated with his work: understated, austere, prim, elegant. It is brash and loud.
Givenchy’s legacy is linked to that of his muse, Audrey Hepburn, although he is also known for his work for Jacqueline Kennedy (including the dress she wore for the White House tour). Both are given perennial best-dressed status to this day. A statement made in 1965 still rings true today as to why Givenchy’s work remains the epitome of chic: “My customers like the way Audrey Hepburn looks and are influenced by [Givenchy] in this way.” Hepburn’s third wedding dress, the only one by Givenchy, was recently identified as a new source of inspiration for modern brides who have scaled back due to the pandemic.
A modern woman could wear this coat today and not look outdated, although it would be somewhat in contrast to the deconstructed, eclectic looks of the 1990s that have recently made a comeback. This imaginary woman would not be “in fashion” in that sense, but no one could say that she wasn’t stylish. The coat walks the fine line of being both chic and modern that have come to be considered Givenchy’s signature style. The bold color assures those who glimpse it that the wearer is confident and full of life. The tailoring lines are a blend of feminine and masculine - another modern touch for a woman who wants to be taken as seriously as a man, but who still feel womanly and likes to wear dresses. Unlike the cumbersome, petticoated, voluminous skirts of the 1950s, styles replaced by Givenchy’s iconic Balloon and Baby Doll dress designs, this coat’s silhouette requires no special undergarments or torturous shoes; it can pass through doorways, and easily be driven in.
The primary difference between “then" and "now,” is that women of diverse ages and appearances would want to wear this coat, not just the young, wealthy socialites of the 1960s. One can picture it as a new red coat option for Jane Fonda for Fire Drill Fridays, or on Kamala Harris or Michelle Obama at a political event (although the color red is associated with the Republican party), just as easily as one can imagine it on a young person headed for their first job interview, trying to look more sophisticated than they feel inside. Just as Givenchy hoped, his couture style has stood the test of time.
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According to a letter by the donor it is one of her several custom-made Paris couture pieces from between 1955 and 1974. Grossman cut out the labels in order to avoid paying duty. The coat and the other designer garments donated by Grossman were appraised by D. Ghelerter at Cora Ginsburg LLC, who authenticated the 1960s Givenchy provenance.