If Those Chairs Could Talk

Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy was born in Beauvais, a city north of Paris, where his grandfather was the director of the revered Beauvais and Gobelins tapestry workshops. Mr. de Givenchy chose fashion design as a career, and while working for Elsa Schiaparelli after World War II, he fell in love with Mr. Venet, a fellow assistant. They moved in together, and each subsequently opened a couture house. Mr. de Givenchy made his international reputation by dressing Audrey Hepburn for her movie roles, most notably “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in 1961.

The American philanthropist Catherine Blair, known as Deeda, met Mr. de Givenchy in the early 1960s. She wore a gown by Balenciaga and a veil by Givenchy when she married William McCormick Blair, the United States ambassador to Denmark, in 1961, and became a devoted Givenchy client. Back then, Mr. de Givenchy and Mr. Venet lived on the Rue Fabert, “with a Rothko on the wall, and dark, dark screens to the ceiling, and books all over the coffee table,” Mrs. Blair recalled.

“Hubert was already successful,” she said. “And he was already collecting perfection. There was never anything banal. There was never thing ordinary. Their apartment was small but enormously, totally, scholarly perfection, and very original. If I had to describe Hubert in one word, I’d say disciplined.”

Sometime in the mid-1980s, Mr. de Givenchy told Mrs. Blair he had fallen in love with a house. “He said, ‘It’s the house of my dreams, and it is very big,’ and I said, ‘Oh, Hubert, I’d love to see it.’ And you couldn’t believe such a thing had survived the revolution. But there it was. He knew exactly what he was going to do with it. He had perfect pitch on where furniture should go, where it should fall in the world. That house was his great, great love.”

“All of his sofas were done by Maison Decour, the Rolls-Royce of comfortable sofas,” said Susan Gutfreund, who, with her husband, John Gutfreund, the chief executive of Salomon Brothers investment bank, owned the apartment on the west side of the Paris property. Mrs. Gutfreund preferred “the wonderful tiger-print velvet chairs.”

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