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PARIS — When Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his Paris fashion house in 1968, he and jewelry designer Jean Michel Schlumberger marched American society icon Bunny Mellon across the Avenue George V, delivering a crucial client to the house of Givenchy — and sparking what would become a lifelong friendship with its founding couturier.
This story first appeared in the March 20, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Hubert de Givenchy remembers exactly how Mellon looked that day.
“She was wearing a navy blue T-shirt and a cotton skirt,” he recalled during an interview on Wednesday, noting he spoke to Mellon by telephone virtually every week, right up until her death on Monday at age 103. “She had a lot of taste and a lot of ideas.”
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The designer would go on to dress Mellon, a garden designer, philanthropist and WASP society icon, until his own retirement from fashion in 1995, turning out everything from gardening hats to evening gowns galore for her “because she had a lot of functions at the National Gallery of Art and other important dinners in Washington.”
Given her broad interests, charitable works, travels and homes stretching from Virginia and New York to Antigua and Paris, “she needed a big wardrobe,” de Givenchy said.
“Not only was she an important client, she quickly became a true friend, full of talent and with so many interests,” de Givenchy said. “She taught me a lot in the garden.”
The designer accompanied Mellon on chartered boat trips through Greece and Turkey, and they also explored France together, a country she loved and appreciated greatly.
While she supported a lot of restoration works in France and particularly at Versailles, including Louis XIV’s fabled Potager du Roi, whose 17th-century splendor was a benchmark in her gardening career, Mellon never sought recognition for her generosity.
Her understated nature was reflected in her clothes and her meticulously decorated homes. “There was never a sense of too much,” de Givenchy marveled.
Mellon had a fun-loving side, and he once took her dancing at Studio 54 in Manhattan. “She found it very amusing,” he recalled. “She loved music.”
Mellon’s appreciation for her wardrobe extended to every member of the Givenchy atelier, whom she kept busy throughout the year. De Givenchy said every Christmas, she would dispatch a basket of small pouches, one for each of the 40 or 50 women and men in the atelier. Each contained a bundle of U.S. dollars.