PARIS — Seated in the stately salon of his hôtel particulier here, surrounded with artwork by Matisse, Picasso, Miró, Nicolas de Staël and Kurt Schwitters, Hubert de Givenchy lives up to every inch of his reputation as the epitome of the aristocratic couturier.
Coffee is served on a silver tray, the books on the table are arranged just so, and Givenchy, 80, a gray sweater draped over his shoulders, talks about his plans for vacation, which this summer include two months sequestered in his château, followed by a jaunt to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia and a yacht excursion in Turkey.
Even though the couturier retired in 1995, his agenda remains full.
"The good Lord doesn't want me yet," he joked, adding that he feels better after a couple of health issues earlier in the year.
Still energetic, Givenchy recently agreed to sit on a committee at the Château de Versailles that oversees acquisitions. He also joined a board at the Louvre museum to lend his eye to the renovation of its rooms for 18th-century furniture, a subject about which he has extensive knowledge, having built up his own collection of pieces, which he later sold at Christie's.
The project closest to Givenchy's heart, however, remains the Cristóbal Balenciaga Foundation, currently being built in Getaria, Spain, which he is overseeing, although a construction setback last year has delayed the opening.
"Balenciaga was my religion," offered Givenchy, explaining that he has assembled more than 1,000 dresses for the collection. "Since I'm a believer, for me there's Balenciaga and the good Lord.
"Balenciaga had a sense of the construction of clothes," continued Givenchy. "He did things that were intelligent, which isn't the case today. People are interested in glitz.
"Fashion's over. There are bags and shoes that are more and more ugly. That's all. There are perfumes and everyone talks of luxury. But for me, luxury is, in part, to be well dressed."
Though Givenchy protested several times that he didn't want to talk about fashion — "I'm too old for that" — he gravitated naturally to the subject, opining on everything from the accessories boom to the state of his former house, now owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
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