“Definitely the Givenchy gown worn by Lee Radziwill. I discovered that dress in a very sorry state, with the skirt cut off and damage to the bodice. It required a huge amount of work, time and research to try and determine what it looked like originally in order to replicate it. With the skirt gone, it had to be entirely reconstructed from the same type of fabric, which Sarah and I dyed to an exact colour match. Although the dress is now restored, I’m not sure it will ever feel complete to me and I will almost certainly keep going back to improve it and make sure it’s in a good and stable condition.”
Henry Wilkinson, costume designer and collector and researcher of early Givenchy haute couture, recalled the most challenging restoration that he has undertaken.
“It’s definitely a lot of money for a broken piece!” The then-23-year-old bought this tattered corset from a seller at a bargain price of £200. The piece was originally sourced from a seller who acquired it from a London theatre company where it had been languishing in the costume department. Henry estimated that it would cost about 500 US dollars to restore it; so he made a post about his new discovery of a damaged Givenchy dress with a supposed connection to US First Lady Jackie Kennedy to seek funding for the restoration.
Soon enough, he received help from Cherie Balch, an antique dealer from Toronto and also the owner of Shrimpton Couture. What’s even more amazing is that netizens later confirmed with picture proof that the dress belonged to Jackie Kennedy’s sister, Lee Radziwill. “There’s a lot of detective work involved when doing research for clients. It’s a lot of fun!”
「我是個很頑強的孩子，我會對我所感興趣的事物想盡辦法尋根究底。10歲時，當我發現了Audrey和Givenchy的作品以及他們的合作，我的夢想就是擁有一些他創造的作品，或者她穿過的衣物，因為我覺得這樣就是了解他們作品最切實的方式；儘管我的家人溫和地勸阻，我的想法還是很實在的。九年後，我碰巧看到一件對我來說很熟悉的1960年代Givenchy的禮服正在待售，它立刻令我回想起Audrey Hepburn在1962年電影《Le Jour Le Plus Long》（碧血長天）的首映上穿著相同設計的照片，這正是我童年時想像的那類型！很幸運地，我能把它買下來，並開始了我的研究。和Hubert de Givenchy本人取得聯繫後，我發現這類裙子中只有一件被製作過出來，這意味著我的正是Audrey在首映禮上所穿的那件！這對我來說是最激動人心的時刻，直到今天仍然震撼著我！」
“I was always quite a tenacious child and I would want to find out everything I could about things I found interesting. At 10, having discovered Audrey and Givenchy’s work and collaboration, it became an ambition of mine to own something that he created, or that she wore, which I thought would be a really tangible way to understand their work. I had no clue about the market or demand for those types of pieces, and so it felt very realistic in my mind, despite my family’s gentle dissuasion. Nine years later I happened across a 1960s Givenchy dress for sale, which felt familiar to me. Having remembered photos of Audrey wearing the same design to the premiere of the film ‘Le Jour Le Plus Long‘ in 1962, it was exactly the type of piece my childhood-self had imagined. In a stroke of luck I was able to buy it, and started my research. After getting in touch with Givenchy himself I found out that only one of those dresses was ever made, meaning mine was the very same one Audrey had worn to that premiere. It was the most exciting moment for me, and it still amazes me to this day!”
“My approach to restoration has always been founded on research – my goal isn’t just to make something look nice again, but to also try and revive the garment in a way the original designer would have intended. When I source a fabric to replace a missing piece, I research what fabric the designer originally used, the fibre content, the original manufacturer. Every designer used different construction techniques – Dior would make his boned bustiers from bobbinette, Balenciaga would sometimes uses grosgrain, Givenchy would use a synthetic taffeta – and I want to use that research in a way that helps restore the garment as authentically as possible.
I will restore a piece myself up to a point where I feel it needs more expert attention. Constructing new parts of a garment in the haute couture method, sourcing fabrics, replacing buttons or even cleaning the garment are things I am able to do myself with great care, but when it comes to more technical problems such as shattered fabric for example, I need a bit more help. For that I always go to Sarah from Atelier Nine, who’s a fantastic textile conservator here in London.”
“Looking at vintage haute couture pieces is so fascinating because the level of detail is remarkable. So many of those finishing details are done by hand – the overcast seams, the bound buttonholes, the zippers. Even the hooks and eyes can be finished so beautifully with tiny blanket stitches. Before the middle of the century, it hadn’t been thrown away if a dress no longer fit since seams were left exposed which made it easier to alter these garments or re-use the expensive fabrics for something else.”
“Now it’s very common for a garment to be sold primarily because of the brand or logo, as opposed to the actual interest of the design. It’s a cliche, but I hope to see a greater investment in quality over quantity from brands and designers in the future.”