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GIVENCHY GOES OUT WITH HIS USUAL ELEGANCE, SIMPLICITY

SHARE GIVENCHY GOES OUT WITH HIS USUAL ELEGANCE, SIMPLICITY

There were no speeches, no fireworks, no retrospective, no special acknowledgments and only a few tears.

When the great couturier Hubert de Givenchy presented his final collection, it was done as simply and as elegantly as the beautiful clothes that are his signature.There was a parade of pretty garments, flawlessly cut, a quick runway bow, a standing ovation and then it was over.

Forty-three years of fashion had ended.

Givenchy, 68, retired. He is the last of the great French designers who emerged in the rebuilding years following World War II - an illustrious group that included Christian Dior, Balenciaga and Schiaparelli.

Givenchy's muse, actress Audrey Hepburn, popularized his clean, simple yet elegant style of dressing, a style women everywhere tried to emulate and other designers tried to duplicate.

It was in the elfin Hepburn that Givenchy found the perfect mannequin for his little shift dresses, his boxy short jackets, his small collar, fitted suits, his high-waisted woolen dresses and his soft evening gowns that followed the body lines. He designed Hepburn's personal wardrobe and created ensembles for many of her films including "Funny Face" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

It was in the 1950s and early 1960s, when Hepburn was enjoying a thriving career, that Givenchy had his greatest influence. Even first lady Jacqueline Kennedy made public appearances in his ladylike designs.

Ironically, the ladylike looks that are his signature are once again at fashion's forefront. Pale imitations of his earlier creations are on sale from the rarefied boutiques of New York's Fifth Avenue to the inexpensive women's stores at the nearest mall.

But Monday, it was the real thing, the final ready-to-wear collection, served up as only Givenchy can do it. "Luck be a lady tonight," Frank Sinatra crooned from a recording as models were just that with belted navy and white suits and dresses, crepey gowns with chiffon scarves, bright jersey dresses and a number of fabulous fitted suits. They wore big straw hats or silk scarves on their heads, carried structured pocketbooks, and peered through wide-rim sunglasses.

Each ensemble was greeted with a burst of applause when it reached the end of the runway and the packed salon of the Hotel George V. In the audience were legions of Givenchy's clients dressed in their favorite Givenchy ensembles. The clients were old and young, which is a tribute to the timeless appeal of his designs.

"I bought this suit 10 years ago and it is as stylish now as it was then," said Irene Crozier, a restaurant owner who wore a green boucle knit suit with tiny gold buttons.

Givenchy's final haute couture runway show was in July in Paris. It was at the summer show that designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix and Oscar de la Renta sat in the front row and honored their colleague.

Givenchy will be succeeded by John Galliano, a British designer much hyped for his retro 1950s Hollywood glamour creations. Givenchy, who several years ago said he planned to retire, found out through the media that officials who run his house of fashion had been negotiating secretly with Galliano to take over the empire.

During his five decades, Givenchy has stood for quality of fabric, simplicity of cut and designs that are pretty and feminine. He never strayed from that path no matter which way the fashion winds were blowing.

Born in Beauvais, France, he started his career in 1945 at the house of Lelong before moving on a year later to work for the legendary Piquet and then, from 1949 to 1951, under the great Schiaparelli. He came into his own at a time when Paris was the epicenter of fashion, when Coco Chanel was banished for collaborating with the Germans and when his good friend, Balenciaga, was a leading figure.

It was Balenciaga who encouraged Givenchy to open his own fashion business in 1952. Givenchy was on his way to fame and fortune from that first collection of simple clothes. Clothes for a woman so confident that her wardrobe did not have to be overly showy.

In spite of his renown, Givenchy always remained humble and down-to-earth. He spent much of his time working on his collections with a devoted staff that he had retained for years.

At the show, Givenchy was as humble as ever. Dressed in his white lab coat, surrounded backstage by a few teary eyed clients and employees, Givenchy offered no long reflections or retirement regrets. He simply said, "It's been a wonderful life."