Unfortunate news in the fashion world: the mogul of one of the most influential and fabulous fashion houses, Hubert Givenchy, aged 91, died on March 10th.
There are plenty of wonderful articles out there paying tribute to his life works and fashion achievements; yet, the most inspired way I can think of to honour his name is to talk about our world through the lens of Givenchy. His brand crystallized on classicism: it was the “golden age of elegance,” remembered through his friendship with Audrey Hepburn and subsequently immortalised in the most iconic LBD used in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
My childhood was spent thinking Givenchy’s woman was the epitome of fashion. I was taught that this was the ideal woman: inoffensive and respectable. Givenchy is really only an aspiration – the designer for princesses and wedding gowns; the kind of women we were told we wanted to be. I realise this dreamlike elegance was simply unachievable for children, when at 12 years old you’re shopping at Matalan and not Miu Miu.
With his passing, I began to wonder how Givenchy would have brought the golden age of elegance to Oxford? Some might say we’re living it now: barely knowing why we chose our degrees let alone the kind of image we want to reimagine around ourselves, some students might think we are already at the height of intellect and sophistication – even if you’re only doing geography or…theology (self-sconce). How would Audrey Hepburn have remained the icon that she was among us students today? Audrey Hepburn said, “he [Givenchy] is a creator of personality” and a sophisticated personality might look very good in Givenchy – but what would stress to the eye balls, binge-eating, on the verge of rustication look like in Givenchy? Givenchy designed what became ‘classic’. What is classic is what works and can be repeated. What is timeless is immortalised. Apart from our huge contributions to the academic world in a variety of subjects and unique disciplines, what is Oxford offering that is at all timeless?
Let me try and bring this one home. Is it possible to achieve sophistication, classiness and refinement as a student? What is classic about Oxford fashion? I know instantly you’re screaming “sub fusc!”, “oxford loafers!” (which Givenchy has actually done their own line of) and “lack of access!”. This is more of tradition, than classic or timeless. These days, fashion in oxford is finding its inspiration from the road-man-ket-fueled-70s-glitter of the far reaches of Bristol. Let’s admit that city fashion is messy. We’ve all been there: ripping mesh tops up in cellar, Nike 97s obliterated by the beast from the east and only those trusty Doc Martens withstanding the weather and (almost) changing trends. Even at the ‘classic’ Oxford balls, I’m pretty sure 90% of girls brought their dress from under £30 from boohoo (right on, it’s only one night – why pay more?). I completely get that we can really only pull this off when we’re young, so we might as well.
I know if Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly or Elizabeth Taylor (all muses of Givenchy) studied at Oxford then not only would they ooze style, but they would live stylish, too – no hangovers, pot noodles, stash (!) or sweats and I bet they would never go to sleep with makeup on. Did you know that 50 years ago Elizabeth Taylor starred in a student production of Dr. Faustus at Oxford? She brought her entire hair, make-up and stylist team – guess she couldn’t find what she needed in Oxford (maybe it’s because the Westgate hadn’t opened yet).
The fact is there is nothing elegant about being a student. I was in no way taken in by the image of swanning around Oxford in my sub fusc, reading Proust on a punt and playing croquet in the sun…but the thought did cross my mind. Instead, I’m venturing to Hassan’s on a sober night at 3am with my friend’s friend’s leavers hoodie and white Birkenstocks – did someone say a LOOK? Well it wasn’t Givenchy.
In the vast world of high fashion, some of us can almost touch ready-to-wear but when it comes to haute couture, Givenchy’s favourite is far out of reach. I’m not upset that Givenchy wasn’t designing for the penniless, depop-obsessed, ‘thank god there’s a Primark in Oxford’ student, it just saddens me that the lifestyle of a student doesn’t pair well with elegance and looking classy. Perhaps these are things our mid-twenties can look forward to. Oscar Wilde once said “you can never be overdressed or over educated” – so maybe we’ll stick to being overeducated.
The sophisticated woman that Givenchy designed for certainly has a place in the world, if that place is somewhere you have time and money to pull off “extreme elegance” every day. Here at Oxford, the student life is no different to anywhere else: its messy, its effort but it’s fun. We don’t need to make our mark quite yet or define our ‘style’ or ‘look’. I’ve seen very few Audrey Hepburns in our midst, and that’s okay. We’re young and there’s still time to become timeless.