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The Masters and the Muses

As the relationship between the designers and their muses comes once again to the fore, Amy Walsh charts the relationship between icons of style and the fusion of creativity that inspired them

Givenchy – Audrey Hepburn
When Audrey Hepburn walked through Hurbert Givenchy’s door in 1953, a style was born. The novice French couturier, in the process of constructing his new collection, was interrupted by a visit from “Ms Hepburn”. As it transpired, it was not the famous Katherine, but Audrey who greeted him. The beautiful starlet, turned down by Cristobal Balenciaga, sought Givenchy to design her costumes for her role in Hitchcock’s upcoming Sabrina. Slightly abashed, Givenchy declined the offer but allowed her to take what she wished from his previous collections. These pieces, as chosen by Audrey, were to become some of her most celebrated looks.

Sabrina’s beautiful white dress on the tennis court, as well as the black sleeveless dress with tiny bows on the shoulder became iconic pieces exhibiting the chic sophistication of the rising starlet. This film captured the imagination of the public and forged an association between Audrey and her apparel that would continue to be nurtured by Givenchy – and thus begin the forty year relationship between the famously quoted muse and her master.

Continuing to design for some of her most celebrated film roles, Givenchy’s pieces featured in Love in the Afternoon (1957) and Funny Face (1957) – but it’s in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) that Givenchy’s famous black silk dress, designed for Hepburn, inspired the classic ideal of “the little black dress”. By the time Hepburn took the lead in the acclaimed My Fair Lady (1964) Givenchy had secured his place in the fashion industry, supported by innovative concepts like “separates” and later, a luxury ready-to-wear line. As Audrey ascended the path to Hollywood stardom, Givenchy’s beautiful tailoring adorned her. As Hubert’s collections and repertoire grew, Hepburn as his on screen ambassador epitomised the hallmarks of Givenchy’s collections; femininity, elegance and uncompromising style. Givenchy became a virtuoso in dressing women.

In 1957 Givenchy developed L’Interdit, a unique fragrance created for Hepburn’s personal use. Later launched as a popular perfume, L’Interdit was marketed with a picture of Hepburn and the tagline: “Once she was the only woman in the world allowed to wear this perfume.” This was the first time an actress’s face had marketed a perfume, and was a momentous event. This collaboration highlights the very personal friendship forged between Audrey and Hubert, but it also demonstrates the pair’s impact on style and popular culture.

Hepburn remained a front row inhabitant at Givenchy’s shows late into her life – a testimony to their legendary alliance – yet the final appraisal of this partnership does not lie in the pair themselves, but on their influential embodiment of what it is to be stylish.

Balmain – Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson’s relationship with Balmain was short-lived, but nonetheless a dazzling affair. In 2009 Jackson was preparing his series of This Is It concerts at London’s O2, his first major succession of concerts since the HIStory World Tour ended in 1997. Heralded as his greatest comeback yet, the King of Pop was cast once again into the media spotlight – and it was here that he began flirting with Balmain. Jackson had already become a style icon in the 1980s with dramatic avant-garde stage costumes with white socks, tight-fitting jeans and single glove, along with styles that have had a more lasting influence on fashion trends, such as the military jacket.

It was during 2009 that Jackson re-entered fashion circles, sporting a studded black blazer and print cropped pants from Balmain’s previous fall and spring collections. Despite the items in question being designed for women, Jackson rocked the look. As Jackson continued to exhibit retro-styled Balmain t-shirts, media hype grew about the label’s revival, paralleling that of Jackson himself. It is no coincidence that Balmain – headed by the recently installed designer Christophe Decarnin – was enjoying a newfound popularity with magazines, runway and celebrities. Everyone from Beyoncé to Penelope Cruz wore Balmain. Jackson’s notoriety effortlessly influenced popular culture, something the fashion house benefitted greatly from.

The This Is It documentary captured Jackson during his rehearsals for the massive stage show, and Balmain features extensively. Highlights include a crystal adorned tuxedo and a red leather motorbike jacket with diamante detailed shoulders. Balmain’s retro edge met Jackson’s theatrical brilliance, drawing all the right sort of attention from the camera. Sadly Jackson died on June 25th, 2009, before the potential of This is It could be realised, while Balmain would thrive on the publicity adorning the star in his final months. Although Jackson failed to go out with the bang This is It promised, he went out in Balmain – nothing less stylish could be expected from the king of pop himself.

Alexander McQueen – Björk
When the notorious enfant terrible of British Fashion met Björk, there was a fruitful meeting of minds. Björk proved to be Alexander McQueen’s perfect mannequin, encapsulating his brilliantly theatrical couture, emanating all of McQueen’s theatrical values and raw, rebellious creativity, and so they joined forces.

When commissioning McQueen to design the cover for her Homogenic album in 1997, Björk told him that the person who wrote these songs “had to become a warrior. A warrior who had to fight not with weapons, but with love.” This is reflected in the iconic cover, modelled by Björk herself. McQueen went on to direct the video for ‘Alarm Call’, a single released from the album. As Björk writhes around a bamboo raft, her peach lace dress exudes style.

The culmination of this fantastic collaboration is captured at the first Fashion Rocks in 2003, a charity event which sees famous designers exhibiting to the tune of the latest popular music acts. That first year saw Björk in crown-to-toe McQueen, modelling an original black empress gown detailed with feathers and lace and topped off with a crystal encrusted facemask. Björk took centre stage, performing her song ‘Bachelorette’ as McQueen’s creations glided around her.

McQueen designed other statement pieces for the Icelandic rocker’s video ‘Who Is It’, a single released off the album Medúlla. Filmed amidst the Icelandic landscape, McQueen’s silver hourglass creation features throughout the video, exuding all that is strange and wonderful about Björk’s music. Often donning his extravagant dresses during her performances, Björk pulls off Mc Queen’s couture like few people can.

There was never a dull moment in this famed collaboration. Exuberance, fantasy, drama –Björk and the late McQueen had much in common.