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.
Meet the Great and Powerful Wizard of "Oz-Sum"
He planned to meet his friend, the model who had invited him to attend, but his urgency to get there as quick as possible to meet his new "role model", Monsieur Givenchy, took priority.He felt that the man how had been behind all of this magical experience could know that he had just inspired him so intensely that he would be happy to meet with him.
Although the impressive Grand Couturier was surrounded by a throng of fans and well-wishers vying for attention from the designer, young Lloyd managed to make his way to the icon with light speed. He hadn't structured his message yet since it was all so new felt completely appropriate to announce his plans to the fashion giant. His level of bravado and confidence along with his ear to ear grin was impressive. The only clue to the actual shyness that he'd hidden from everyone even himself was threatened only by his flushed cheeks and his heavy beating heart. As he stood in front of the towering Master Couturier he extended his hand, to offer a firm and friendly grip and introduced himself saying:
"Maestro, my name is as Lloyd Klein, I am a new fashion designer. I've decided to become the Givenchy for my generation. I wonder if you would you please join me for a coffee next week on Tuesday, so that I can get a sense of what it's like to walk in your shoes?"
L - Monsieur Hubert De Givenchy | R - Monsieur Lloyd Klein
You Must be Kidding!
The Grand Couturier looked at the young man and became intrigued but confused by his direct unorthodox and potentially deranged approach. He thought for a quick moment and then decided that it must be some sort of a trick his staff was playing on him. He thought, why else would someone so young approach him in that manner with such a ribald request if not directed to do so to get a reaction. His staff often made effusive and appreciative remarks about his own sense of determination and for his own style of assured and confident posturing. In an effort be witty, he replied without missing a beat, looking at him with direct eye-to-eye contact he said with uncharacteristic snob tone of voice,
"Impossible, but thank you, young man! But, I can tell you that walking in my shoes will require a few more years, before they will fit, if ever!"
HRH Grace of Monaco wearing Givenchy on left and Model wearing Lloyd Klein on right
Hoping to be let in on the "gag" he watched as Lloyd's buoyant face turned pale. The Maestro realized that it was no joke and that the boy that stood in front of him was merely confident and the epitome of youthful bravado and completely serious. The boy was much like him and he became empathetic. With a fatherly concern, he imagined himself instead walking in the shoes of the ingénue, and with a generous wide grin called out to Lloyd as he was turning away and said:
"What I meant to say was, Tuesday, is impossible… but, Wednesday... well that's a different story, and I’ll be wearing my most comfortable shoes that are a pleasure to walk in and I will be happy to see if they fit."
(on left) Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn (on right) Gladys Van Damme and Lloyd Klein
Before he could get the words out to thank him, Mssr. Givenchy's secretary took hold of Lloyd's arm. She barely looked up from her schedule, as she examined his schedule to to give him an appointment with her boss. In truth It was impossible since his calendar was already impossibly overbooked. But she obliged her boss and instructed Lloyd to him to be at the offices at 2 pm sharp, on Wednesday. She warned him in advance that he would have a maximum of 15 minutes, but potentially and likely, far less. Lloyd didn't care if it was only for 1 minute. He knew that he would take as much time as necessary. Eventually, that meeting would last just a little over 3 hours.
The Influence of the Maestro
As time passed, 4 years later, Lloyd was standing backstage after the conclusion of his first runway show as the Artistic Director for Maison Gres, well toward the end of his backstage reception. He'd decided to go directly to the after dinner awaiting him at Maison Blanche orchestrated for him by his muses Amanda Lear and Cyrielle Claire Rather than go all the way home only to return an hour later he stayed backstage, longer than usual. By this time, there were only the stage-hands present who were packing up the last of the equipment.
The Influence of the Maestro
He remembered the backstage meeting he had with Mssr Givenchy and had hoped that the Maestro would attend this show. He was proud of his collection and the details of the show which turned out so well were something he felt would be appreciated. He'd invited Monsieur to come to his runway and had been told that he was planning to come but failed to appear that night. While the world around him was celebrating the success of the collection he was shrouded with a sadness that seemed to take the shine off of what should have been a glowing night. He remembered the promises they exchanged with the intention to meet again soon and yet never did. He understood only too well how demanding is the schedule of a fashion designer. He wasn't angry, just disappointed. There had been other shows, but this one was a heavy one, since he felt he had a lot to prove.
Givenchy (above) & Lloyd Klein (below)
both sets of images suggest new ideas of volume and proportion
What a Nice Surprise!
Soon after, Lloyd's driver motioned to him with a tap on his own wrist from across the room that it was time to head to the celebration. Lloyd gave him thumbs up and turned to gather his overcoat and some notes he had wanted to keep near him for later that night. As he turned to head toward the door, he saw that there was someone just entering the building and was given the best surprise of the day. His eyes widened as if in shock as Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy carrying a beautifully wrapped box entered and walked toward him. As the two came closer, the Grand Couturier put his arm around Lloyd and offered the box to him, obvious now that it was a gift. Hubert’s wide smile purposely became more serious as he said,
Feathered Hats L- Givenchy and R- Lloyd Klein
"Maestro, are you available to meet me on Wednesday? I’ve brought you a pair of my shoes to wear between now and then. When we meet, tell me if you’ve enjoyed walking in them."
. . . and so the shoes fit.... and he wore them.
Bettina Graziani wearing Givenchy on left Model wearing Lloyd Klein on right