Audrey Hepburn, La Reine Mere of Fashion
Breakfast At Tiffany's
Audrey Hepburn became a sensation upon the release of her 1953 film, Roman Holiday. The twenty-four year old actress from England and Holland won an Oscar, as well as, Golden Globe and BAFTA awards for her leading role as a sheltered princess who finds love and maturity while on royal tour in Rome.
The films which followed were equally captivating to her audience, in terms of star-appeal and fashion-audacieux; yet, it was Breakfast at Tiffany’s, produced eight years later, in 1961, which really established Audrey Hepburn as a deva.
The aesthetic details of the opening scene - the deserted ambience at dawn along Fifth Avenue; a beautiful, young lady gazing into Tiffany’s window, having her breakfast from a pastry bag and a paper cup, these are a testament to the superior crew that created this film.
The beautiful lady is Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, a transplant from the south, who has transformed herself into a sophisticated, city girl: she has the Central Park, east apartment; a polished accent; diamonds and all ~ plus, an orange tabby with no name.
Based on the novella by Truman Capote, the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s was met with a torrent of abjectivity.
At the time, people with 1950’s sensibilities were shocked over the theme of a young lady living on her own in New York City. Words such as “prostitute” were uttered to describe the type of girl Hepburn would play in this film. Completely un-conterminous with the persona Hepburn wanted to emulate, she herself also protested some of the more steamy, original scenes.
Along with these complications of script and other details and obstacles, producers had to find ways of fitting the movie into standards of acceptability. In stark contrast to the strict codes of the day, the “p”-word claim goes largely unnoticed today. Holly is just a girl struggling to let go of her past, while both hanging onto her real sense-of-self and molding an identity.
Yet, as Holly, and her audience learn, the past is never really cast away completely. For Holly, her attempts at letting go are accompanied by shocks of loss and grief: the very things at which she had been working so hard to avoid.
George Peppard, as Holly’s neighbor, Paul, or “Fred”, as Holly insists upon calling him, helps Holly define the values of real love versus money and a rich and dashing, but ultimately unreliable, fiancé.
This is a love story and a coming-of-age story nestled in glamour!
The 1961 film proved to be inspiration for later films, such as Hepburn’s own, Charade, (1963), in which she plays a similar role but in Paris, where, this time, Cary Grant is the rescuer; and Jon Voight’s Midnight Cowboy,(1969), the male counterpart to this school-of-life depiction, though from a harsher milieu in the streets of New York.
By the time Audrey Hepburn made Breakfast At Tiffany’s, her remarkable friendship with Hubert de Givenchy was firmly established, and the two were not only friends, but a dynamic fashion-duo.
It all began with a little black dress, the one that Audrey wears in Sabrina. The twenty-four year old Audrey was unleashed by the film’s producers to find a dress in Paris for her role as the ingenue, Sabrina. When Hubert de Givenchy was presented with this young, waif of a girl, named Audrey Hepburn, not Katherine Hepburn, he was surprised and rather abashed.
However, Audrey persisted and won Givenchy over with her exuberant charm. The budding actress then tried on a number of les vetements from the designer’s own collection, ending with a black dress; the item Audrey settled on was simple and elegant, with a broad neckline, tied at the shoulders and cinched at the waist. Givenchy and his assistants were transfixed by the girl’s expedient taste and her brilliant metamorphosis. The little black dress, fresh from the haute couture, Paris fashion house of de Givenchy, became Sabrina, which became Audrey, which became Givenchy!
A far cry from the Edith Head designs of pre-Audrey fashion, all of Audrey Hepburn’s films following Sabarina would feature Hubert de Givenchy as wardrobe director.
By the way, in How To Steal A Million, (1966), Hepburn’s leading man, the dashing Peter O’Toole, mentions Givenchy in a witty quip, pronouncing the French name with a definite soft-g: jhee-‘voh(n)-shee, cleverly informing us how to pronounce the now madly popular Givenchy.
In Love In The Afternoon,(1957), wearing chic, charming Givenchy dresses, Hepburn plays, Ariane, a precocious girl studying music at the Conservatory in Paris. Gary Cooper is an American playboy, and even though he is much too old for Audrey, this romantic comedy is a favorite, featuring a cast of well-heeled characters, including the great French actor, Maurice Chevalier.
Audrey Hepburn made twenty-seven films from 1948 to 1989, defining generations to come in terms of women’s fashion. She brought an artistic flair to the cashmere sweater and skinny pants, with Sabrina as well as Funny Face. (1957). In Charade, with dapper, comedic Cary Grant, as her leading man, Audrey is sophisticated, independent, smart and fun ~ with a little help from Givenchy, of course!
Audrey’s face has become synonymous with, not only, black, slim pants worn ala ballet flats; haute couture, chic dresses and Hollywood stardom; but her enchanting, soulful eyes; a delightful grin and an extraordinarily charming spirit have also become familiar, endearing rememberances to a world of movie fans and fashionistas.
She is at once large-hearted and effervescent; passionate and thoughtful; worldly and otherworldly; yet she holds a reserve of mystery, which is altogether her own.
She is a classic.
In later years, Audrey Hepburn blessed us all with her apotheosis of humanitarianism by giving of herself to impoverished countries, mainly to children, with her selfless, philanthropic service.
Among her many career awards, Audrey was also honored with the 1992 Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.