“In the conference room of an exquisite townhouse off Hanover Square in London, two dozen executives of luxury powerhouse LVMH are contemplating a critical question: Who should be the new women’s wear designer of Givenchy? Around the table are managers of LVMH brands from four continents, including some from leather-goods maker Louis Vuitton.” Fortune’s Janet Guyon set the stage in September 2004. At the table was, of course, LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault, then aged 55.
“Our strategy is to bring the star status [of Louis Vuitton] to other brands,” Arnault told Fortune at the time. “We have to build for the future.”
Arnault’s Paris-based conglomerate, LVMH, had acquired Givenchy 16 years prior, with Henry Racamier, LVMH’s then-vice chairman and president, spearheading the deal, but not before LVMH had brought the affiliated-but-independently owned Parfums Givenchy under the (pre-LVMH formation) Louis Vuitton umbrella two years earlier. Louis Vuitton came into possession of Parfums Givenchy in 1986 when the fashion house bought a champagne and perfume group called Veuve Clicquot, which had purchased Parfums Givenchy from the house’s eponymous founder Hubert de Givenchy in 1981.
Shortly after Louis Vuitton acquired Veuve Clicquot (and thus, Parfums Givenchy) in 1986, Racamier oversaw another deal: The merger between Louis Vuitton and spirits group Moët-Hennessy to create LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in the summer of 1987.
It was only then – in 1988 – that the acquisition of the Givenchy couture house came into fruition.
Mr. de Givenchy “had never set out to sell to Arnault,” the Independent’s Marion Hume wrote in July 1995. “In 1988, 36 years after founding his own couture house, Mr. de Givenchy was keen to concentrate solely on his creative oeuvre. He wanted to off-load what had become financial burdens, and was delighted to sell out to an old- school businessman.”
That man was, of course, Louis Vuitton’s vice chair and president Henry Racamier. Mr. de Givenchy “was particularly delighted,” wrote Hume, that the roughly $45 million deal included a seven-year “contract that promised him a reported salary of one million French francs a month.”
It also was reported to have come with an agreement that Mr. de Givenchy could remain as creative director for as long as he wished. “As long as he wished” lasted for seven years.
Mr. de Givenchy retired in 1995, and his departure was said to be less than a friendly one. While Hume reported in the summer of 1995 that de Givenchy was “retiring voluntarily,” and not “bowing out because he been failed by his creative powers,” or “being sacked,” author Dana Thomas wrote of the contrary for Newsweek. Reflecting on the matter five years later, Thomas stated, “Hubert de Givenchy was pushed into retirement after Arnault assumed control of his couture house through his takeover of LVMH.”
Mr. de Givenchy’s pending departure was known ahead of the haute couture collection he showed Paris on July 12, 1995. However, it was only an hour after he put his swansong on the runway that LVMH and Givenchy’s CEO, Richard Simonin, announced that John Galliano would take his place. Mr. Galliano, then just 35 years old, was a notorious wild child but also a fashion industry darling. Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour was said to used her powerful say to solidify his appointment.
“Mr. Givenchy was not involved in choosing his successor,” the New York Times noted in its announcement of the news. Writing for the Washington Post, Thomas stated that “Givenchy, after decades of success, was nearly completely excluded from the process of finding his replacement. In fact, the man who defined simple elegance for a generation of women learned who was to become the successor to his world-famous fashion house at the same time as journalists – after his haute couture show, via a release from his own press office.”
Galliano’s tenure at Givenchy would be limited; he showed his debut collection on January 21, 1996 to much industry-fury. That October, he was moved to the helm of Christian Dior. As for Givenchy, it would see Alexander McQueen and Julien Macdonald respectively take the helm before LVMH’s heads ended up at that table in London, pondering the next move for the house.
They would ultimately – after much consideration – select Riccardo Tisci, the Italian designer known for his gritty romanticism, for the job. Tisci was appointed in 2005.