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Givenchy Makes a Surprising Choice

March 16, 2001|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA and BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PARIS — In another round of designer musical chairs, Julien Macdonald, who has been called the British Versace because of his glitzy designs, has been appointed creative director of the venerable French fashion house Givenchy.

The move, announced in Paris on Wednesday, stunned fashion insiders who had been speculating for weeks that 24-year-old Belgian Olivier Theyskens was the front-runner to succeed Brit Alexander McQueen as the designer of Givenchy's couture and ready-to-wear lines.

"For me, it's a dream come true. I love the sacred art of couture and being given the chance to design for such an amazing house is a fabulous opportunity" the 28-year-old Macdonald said in a written statement.

It's been widely reported that McQueen, who assumed the designing helm at Givenchy in 1996, has been unhappy at Givenchy, which is owned by French luxury-goods giant LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. In December, McQueen effectively delivered a snub to Givenchy and LVMH when he sold a majority stake in his own label to archrival Italian Gucci Group.

Macdonald founded his own company in 1997. Prior to that, he was the head knitwear designer at Chanel couture. He wanted to be an actor, but then he discovered fashion in his 20s. He enrolled at the Brighton University and completed a Master of Arts at the Royal College of Art in London.

His early designs--rock 'n' roll clothes with loads of crystal and leather--made fans out of Kylie Minogue, the Spice Girls and Joely Richardson. But his February catwalk show in London, which featured cocktail looks, denim separates and red carpet-worthy sequin gowns, signaled that Macdonald was ready to broaden his appeal.

McQueen, a darling of British fashion, originally was scheduled to present his fall Givenchy collection today--the last day of Paris fashion week--to 1,500 guests at the largest auditorium at the Le Carrousel du Louvre. Instead, Givenchy will stage one show for about 200--primarily retailers--at its couture salon. News photographers will be banned, according to New York publicist Marion Greenberg, who works for Givenchy.

"We decided that this is a transitional period at the house of Givenchy and felt it was appropriate to have a very small show at this time with under 200 invitees," Greenberg said from Givenchy's Paris office.

McQueen's contract ends in October, which means he could produce another couture and ready-to-wear collection for spring 2002. No one could be reached at his office in London. McQueen, who is in Paris, was unavailable for comment.

Hubert de Givenchy, who founded the house in 1952, is famous for creating clothes for Audrey Hepburn, particularly the costumes she wore in the 1954 film "Sabrina." The sculpted tops with bateau necklines are still copied today.

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Booth Moore reported from Los Angeles; Michael Quintanilla from Paris.

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