Have you ever wondered what it feels like to learn how to walk in the shoes of a Maestro? Discover how in 1986, one of the fashion world's most significant Masters of Couture, Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy, inspired and transformed the ambition of a young student Lloyd Klein. The impact was so profound that his lifelong desire to become an architect was put aside by attending and becoming inspired by, a single fashion show. This blog post tells the story of how he would learn to walk in the Maestro's shoes.
Our story begins in Paris, France, early in January 1986. Lloyd Klein was a few weeks away from celebrating his 19th birthday. Little did he know that his birthday would be blessed with an invitation that would change his life forever. Lloyd had never approached life as a dress rehearsal. For as long as anyone could remember, when he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, his answer was always the same. Without a hint of hesitation, he would reply, "I am in the process of becoming a world famous architect." Neither age, diploma, nor experience was what defined his sense of self. He seemed to be born with a sense of self confidence that characterized his early childhood. His decisiveness and knowing exactly what he wanted came naturally for him. He believed that everything was possible, and his strength of resolve left no room for doubt in his mind, nor in anyone else's for that matter. So it was no surprise that he enrolled as a student with the École des Arts Décoratifs and began a serious and formal study of architecture. He was in the second year of the program. He loved the program and the curriculum and found it fascinating,. However, something was missing.
One evening, as he returned to his flat in the Marais, he was feeling overwhelmed by the amount of school assignments now on his agenda. It was a few weeks before his birthday. Lloyd wanted to do anything but write the papers and read the volumes that he began to resent as each assignment seemed to address things that became less and less relevant for him. As he arrived to his place, he noticed a note tacked on his door. It was neatly handwritten and left for him by a friend of his family friend. She was a a fashion model, who'd recently become close to Lloyd, as a confidante and worldly mentor partially because she was 4 years his senior but mostly because of her work as a fashion model. He loved their long talks and time spent together and enjoyed hearing about how much she loved her job. He was intrigued by the stories she shared with him and he looked forward to her visits. His curiosity about being a part of the world of fashion increased with each outrageous tale. He had never personally been to a fashion show and was hoping he'd have the chance to see her in action someday and find out if his curiosity was worthwhile. Paris Couture Fashion Week was already underway and that meant that the collections being shown would be the topic du jour for the rest of the week. It was the place to be seen and the place to all of Paris seemed to want to participate to some degree or another. He hoped he could somehow get to one of those shows, but figured it would be impossible since he was a student. Nevertheless he began to devise a way to make that happen.
As he read the small note that had been thumb nailed to his front door, he could barely contain his joy and excitement after reading it's contents.
"Happy Birthday Lloyd!
You're invited, as my personal guest, to attend the Chez Givenchy Haute Couture Collection held at Le Grand Hotel, tomorrow at 2 pm. Check-in with the models guest list under my name and please my love, don’t be late.
Come and see me backstage afterward!"
Although the fashion show was only 20 hours away from that moment, it felt that time moved slower than usual, as his anticipation and excitement grew stronger with each passing moment. It was for him, the best birthday gift he had ever been given.
The Front Row
From the moment of arrival, the energy that swirled through the whole scene started to intoxicate and enchant him. The protocol and rules of engagement was familiar to the packed ballroom, filled with the "who's who" of the international fashion industry. He watched intently, observing how the highly styled attendees seemed to obey a secret code of etiquette and who knew of an unspoken set of rules. It was clear that in this room of the well-known and well-heeled, that the well-sat were the 'Very Important People', while the rest were important but maybe a skosh to a lesser degree. Neophytes clearly stood, while the members of this secret society of fashion had very specific and strategic seats mapped out with rows of gilded chairs that lined the catwalk. It was a pecking order that spoke volumes about one's importance as a member, in this invitation-only, private club of the style-cognoscenti.
Among them was Bettina Graziani, the well-known longtime model and original muse of Monsieur Givenchy. She'd been working with the designer since his first show and was instrumental in his achievement of overnight success. Next to her sat Mrs. Judith Taubman, the prolific patron of couture and a Paris fashion scene socialite and front row fixture who flew nonstop JFK CDG more often than many Air France Pilots. He noticed that she was oblivious to the annoyance her oversized sable stole was causing the woman sitting to her left, as each time she waved hello to an arriving guest, it disheveled the perfectly coiffed hairdo of the very patient and well-mannered woman who was visibly miffed but tight-lipped. It was Martha Phillips, the Park Avenue Queen of American Retail who had known the fur to her right for as long as she was in retail. She'd never missed a couture season and assumed the role of curator and ambassador of fashion, making the right introductions for European designers to the American market. For the majority of her career, she was practically the unchallenged gatekeeper who decided which designer would be invited into the circle to dress the women who were New York and Palm Beach high society. It made her, in many ways, the most powerful person in the fashion business and on the front row. Not even the French President's wife, who sat 3 chairs away, had her level of sway. Indeed, the politics and ceremonial fuss that preceded the runway was unlike anything Lloyd had ever imagined.
Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy for Breakfast at Tiffany's on left | Hope Dworaczyk Smith in Lloyd Klein on right
The Little Black Dresses
Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy on left and Naya Rivera wearing Lloyd Klein on right
Au Revoir Architecture | Bonsoir Fashion!
The audience was fully and strategically stacked to capacity. The energy of the room was palpable as it felt obvious to all that something momentous was about to burst forth. Like animals who sense an impending earthquake long before humans decipher the pulsing energy there seemed be a collective expectation. Suddenly, swarming strobes transformed the room into flickering firework display of flashing bulbs heralded the entrance of the final and most anticipated front row guests. The hubbub that had rumbled to a near roar now hushed to a whisper as the Hollywood beauty, actress Audrey Hepburn, was escorted into space. The ushers clad in their familiar navy blue blazers and red ties that were the standard uniform for all of the shows during Paris Fashion Week, shielded her like a human canopy and framed her path as normally expected for a Royal. Although just barely a breakthrough ingenue Miss Hepburn was in that moment the Queen of Fashion, and somehow it enabled her to glide through the room effortlessly to her reserved spot, center runway, front row, all eyes upon her. She was, after all, the Hollywood muse to the designer, who's inspired partnership made the cover of every book having to do with glamour and entertainment. Lloyd clearly noted that celebrities and fashion were an important duo. Her arrival gave the final signal that the "credentialed and famous" were all accounted for, and it meant... "on with the show!"
Les Hautes Chapeaux
Ivy Nicholson wearing Givenchy on left and Model wearing Lloyd Klein on right
On With The Show
The dim house lights faded to pitch dark and in that moment before the runway lamps flipped on, his life would change forever. One by one, the towering and statuesque mannequins entered the magnificent ballroom gracefully making an entrance with a poised flare. With each exit he became hypnotized by what seemed to be for him the everything he had been captivated by his entire life. It was pure elegant architecture in fluid form. The big difference was that while one was static and monumentally stiff; fashion was exciting, powerful, and alive. His excitement grew exponentially as he understood that the balance and structure connected to the principles he loved in architecture, could be applied to fashion. He thought to himself, as he made his way to the backstage, "No time to waste if I am going to present a collection next season." He was already determined to continue his career path but with a detour that felt like he was once and for all, on the right path.