Saturday, January 10, 2009

Another Great French Furniture Collector: Hubert de Givenchy

After reading Aaron Didier's obituary, I started wondering if Hubert de Givenchy is still living.
In 1993 I had a little job to do at Christies in New York. I was asked to provide ambiance for the sale of M. de Givenchy's furniture and silver collection. If you're a collector of vintage auction catalogs you can find the one for this sale HERE.
Valorie Hart Designs
The famous sterling silver chandelier -

I fashioned the largest cord cover I ever made!

Another highlight is a six-legged desk in ebony
and chiseled bronze executed by master cabinetmaker Andre-Charles Boulle

The six legged desk insitu

M. de Givenchy said he decided to sell off the valuables "to simplify my life."
The pieces that went on the Christie's auction block included a sterling silver chandelier dating to 1736. Commissioned by Britain's King George II, the German-made chandelier was priced at $3 million to $3.6 million (it realized triple that amount).

from The House of Beauty and Culture
Watercolor of M. de Givenchy's home -
I spy the sterling silver chandelier!

So what ambiance could little old me provide for all this grandeur? Besides making the word's largest cord cover, I did many large floral bouquets of perfect white flowers. I also made several six foot tall topiary trees from clipped boxwood, studded with a few well placed roses.
Christies was a regular client, and I often added ambiance for important sales preview parties. There was a delicate balance to strike. The ambiance had to be present, but not over power the merchandise so to speak.

Valorie Hart Designs
The large photo is of M. de Givenchy's Paris apartment
The urns hoilding the bouquets are mine! Faux ho ho!

I remember the day of my installation. I always dressed up when I worked at Christies. I was wearing a sexy black knit Geoffrey Beene dress, that had two long diagonal zippers holding the dress together. If you unzipped them the dress would come apart in two pieces.
A handsome man came up to me and asked if I wanted to meet M. de Givenchy. I wasn't star struck back then. I knew who he was, but I wasn't a fashionista (the Beene clothes I had came by way of friend who worked there and dressed me up as his personal Barbie doll). I knew he designed clothes for the movies of Audrey Hepburn because one of my thousand jobs when I was a young adult was in The Film Department of The Museum of Modern Art.
Of course he was charming and very good looking. I apologized to the handsome assistant for not speaking French, and M. de Givenchy spoke to me in English. What did we talk about? Well he really wasn't that interested in the ambiance I was creating (though he complimented me saying I struck the perfect note of restraint and exuberance).
What he wanted to speak to me about was my little black dress!!! When I told him Mr. Beene did it, he was very appreciative.
The Beene dress M. de Givenchy found so charming

I didn't know about fine French furniture back then. Sure I was educated via art school and had been to Europe, and I recognized beauty, but really I couldn't say one intelligent word to him about his impressive collection.
The Givenchy Style
Out of print and rare, so if you have it you have a treasure-
I found one for sale for $650. via amazon

But I wanted to educate myself, so I bought books and I went to galleries, and auctions, and museums, and shops (like Didier).

This book has the kinds of interiors that will inspire readers as they marvel over the art of French designers, including Madeleine Castaing, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Jacques Grange, François Joseph Graff, and Pierre Bergé. You can get it HERE.

I was really thrilled to meet the man who dressed Audrey Hepburn. Like so many New York women then and now, I fancied a part of myself as being very Holly Golightly.
Audrey and Hubert

Life takes one down many paths. I did the flowers for a party at The Museum of Modern Art that was given for Audrey Hepburn. I couldn't get near her. She was very protected. But my BFF Danny (who I worked with at MOMA), did get to get close, and he had a photograph taken, which he gave to me in a sterling silver frame from Tiffany's.
I did meet her a little later at a United Nations event. We spoke and I told her I did the flowers for the MOMA party, and she remarked how sweet I was to find out that roses were her favorite flowers. She also remembered taking the photo with my friend Danny who she found to be utterly charming and sweet.
She was in her 60's then, and she said she didn't believe in plastic surgery. She managed her weight all her life, never wanting to weigh more than 103 pounds (she was nearly 5' 7'' tall). She wore very little make-up, and dressed very simply.
Those two five minute encounters with Audrey and Hubert taught me many worthwhile lessons.

Audrey and Danny
Photo taken in 1993 - she died later that year
and Danny died the next year -
I was his Audrey, and he was my Hubert


Things That Inspire said...

What a life you have led, and are continuing to lead.

Jan said...


Renee Finberg said...

i love this post, very interesting.
...and you my dear , are uber talented.

not a bad gig, ' chrtistes'.
i am impressed.

it is a fact that all designers steal an idea here and there , putting there own spin on it.


Andrea V. said...

Psssst. Did you know that Mr. Beene was from here? Yes Ma'am....Haynesville, La :)

And great job on the auction house!! I love that he said "to simplify my life" What great words to live by at any age :)

Andrea V.

Annabelle said...

Wow, thats very cool that you met her! And what a sweet photo and inscription from your friend Danny.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Yes, indeed, Givenchy still lives ... God, what an icon ... a true icon ...

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Ah, to meet both Hepburn and Givenchy! What an amazing thing. Such wonderful creators of beauty they both were!

Carey said...

Hi Ms. Valorie! J'adore hearing about your New York days! Being raised around ag fields in the Central Valley of California (though it is a childhood I wouldn't trade for anything), classic and vintage New York is like a fairy tale. A longing. A daydream. An inspiration. One of the cool things about your blog is that you're the real thing, a New Yorker! And even though you're not in NYC anymore, your sensibilities will usually pick up on different things than mine would if I was to live in or visit San Francisco or New Orleans or Argentina. Thanks for the NYC fix!

Velvet and Linen said...

What an incredible story. I will be first in line to purchase the book you must eventually write about all of your fascinating experiences. From one Holly Golightly to another, I think meeting Audrey Hepburn would be any woman's dream come true.
Your bouquets were the perfect compliment to M. de Givenchy's magnificent antiques.


vicki archer said...

Such a lovely story at the end of another fascinating post Valorie, xv.

laurie @ bargain hunting said...

Wow! I am so impressed! Aubrey Hepburn AND Givenchy AND that wonderful little black dress! You are my idol! laurie

cybill said...

Provide ambience! what a brilliant job description. The stories you tell are fabulous, the photo of your friend Danny and Ms Hepburn is both lovely and heartbreaking. You'll always be his Audrey and he will always be your Hubert.

Jill said...

I'm so happy I found your blog...loved this post. You did beautiful work for Givenchy.

Alex said...

Fabulous story..just love those and of course the six legged desk too!

ArchitectDesign said...

wow, what incredible stories, I'm so glad you shared them with us!

Callie Grayson said...

Lovely post! it made me happy and sad.