I always liked him because he was always smiling,” Leonora Fuhrer-Agmon says, of the long-standing family friend who first met her father in 1973 at a party in Paris and subsequently dressed her mother in haute couture.
“Even though, when I was younger, I did not understand what he was saying” – he always spoke in French – “there was something very real with us,” recalls the London-born, Tel Aviv-based founder of Complét, a handbag label which launches in early February at Browns. She’s speaking of the late, great Hubert de Givenchy, the famous couturier, and her godfather.
Leonora remembers him as affectionate. “I saw him laugh. I saw him smile,” she enthuses, remembering one encounter when she was a child, greeting guests at one of her parents’ smart parties. “When I gave him my hand he opened his arms and I hugged him…as I thought of him as another grandfather,” she says.
Until she was nine or 10, she didn’t realise who he was. “I didn’t see the empire behind him, I saw him as Hubert,” she says. It was her English nanny who made sure the penny dropped. “She loved Audrey Hepburn and was always very happy to meet him,” she recalls. “She used to call me into her room when there was an Audrey Hepburn movie on the television [and explain the connection].”
Cards, handwritten notes and phone calls for birthdays and Christmas were topped up by visits every couple of years with her family to Givenchy’s spectacular homes in Paris or Tours. She loved going for tea at his Paris apartment and spending the weekend at Le Jonchet, his early-17th century manor house southwest of the city, where they played with his dogs, explored the magnificent grounds or simply chatted. “He was relaxed, as it was only us and he didn’t have to entertain,” she says fondly.
“He was always interested in what I was doing and when I started Complét he gave his blessing,” she says. And whilst he didn’t offer Leonora and her two co-founding partners, Emily Whyte-Meridor and Sivan Moshkovitz, any specific tips when they launched the brand in 2013, “from knowing him over the years I took from him things I thought were important to him: to love what you do, focus on the details, the quality [and] being a perfectionist.” The pared-back geometric designs with their distinctive round handles are made in a village near Venice, and pop in a series of unexpectedly bright colours.
Does she have a wardrobe full of Givenchy couture? Sadly not – apart from an embroidered voile gown for her Jewish naming ceremony, Givenchy’s frequent gifts were of Givenchy fragrances instead. Luckily, she is in possession of a whole host of original 1980s Givenchy pieces from her mother’s wardrobe, so “a part of him is with me.”
Complét bags will launch at Brownsfashion.com from February 1.