2017 OFPC Update 1 — Audrey Hepburn

The first three entries are in the group for this year’s Oscar Fashion Photo Contest.  I really want at least five to seven more before I’d declare it a contest, so consider this your call to work up a look and make a run down the red carpet.  You’ll have a shot at a slice of over L$ 50,000, remember, so get your stylists thinking!

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Normally, I’d do a sidebar piece in this first update on one of the style icons of the red carpet, especially at the Oscars and Golden Globes.  This year, I ran out of names to consider; Jem and me will have to bang our heads together over the next year to see if we can agree on someone.  So, this year, we’ll just look at a flat-out style icon — in fact, possibly the style icon of motion pictures:  Audrey Hepburn.  Hepburn reigned as a screen fashion queen and real-life style setter staring in her twenties, with a definite knowledge of what looked completely smashing on her. And this in despite of her apparently lifelong self-image as an ugly duckling, according to an interview with BBC News.

(Be prepared if you click through; the full article is graphics-intensive.)

Born to a British father and a Dutch baroness mother, Audrey Kathleen Ruston-Hepburn trained as a classical ballet dancer before the effects of malnutrition from her youth in occupied Holland made a career in dance unlikely.  She focused on acting, and after several projects came to the attention of Colette, the author of Gigi; Colette insisted that Audrey be cast as the lead in the Broadway legitimate-play production of the story.  Proclaimed a hit by the critics, Hepburn took a Theatre World Award for her performance.

Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday (1953) starring Gregory Peck

Roman Holiday (1953) with Gregory Peck

Audrey managed to get a screen test for the role of Anne, the princess of an unspecified European country who skips out on her entourage in Roman Holiday, and was cast by director William Wyler over Elizabeth Taylor, the producers’ original choice.  Anne starts off as a fairy-tale princess, very in the British mold in a full ball gown with the star of a damehood and a few “household” decorations as part of her jewelry.  When she escapes, though, and goes wandering the streets of Rome, her look changes entirely.  Anne gets her long tresses cut — shocking even her for a few moments, until the barber styles it into a feathery, gamine pixie cut.  And the clothes she wears!  Only Audrey Hepburn could make a simple gaberdine skirt and a white shirtwaist look timeless.  For her portrayal, Hepburn won the 1954 Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA for Best Actress.

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Sabrina (1954) — with Humphrey Bogart and William Holden

Capitalizing rapidly on the success of Roman Holiday, Hepburn next starred in the original version of Sabrina, opposite Humphrey Bogart and William Holden.  Audrey received another Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the chauffeur’s daughter in love with the younger son of the house, but the winner of the statue was the costume designer, credited as Edith Head.  The key question:  was it Head?  The famous and powerful Paramount costume designer had her name on the credits, but the voting was mostly for Audrey’s dresses in the film, and it’s generally accepted  that this was the point that Hepburn began her long association and friendship with the Paris house of Hubert de Givenchy.

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There’s little doubt that Givenchy designed this iconic evening gown, which Audrey picked on a visit to Givenchy’s atelier.  The white silk organza is set off by a black floral pattern, and the detachable train flows behind to give the gown a pleasing elegance.  Even Bogie complained — jokingly, hopefully! — that he becomes a sidepiece in their dance scene together while the show is stolen by the elegant young woman in the amazing Cinderella gown.

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Funny Face (1957) — with Fred Astaire

Following War and Peace and Love in the Afternoon, Audrey appeared as bluestocking-turned-butterfly Jo Stockton in an adaptation of the Gershwin musical Funny Face.  Agreeing to go against her principals and pose for a fashion spread in a Vogue-like magazine in exchange for a ticket to Paris and a chance to meet her favorite philosopher, Jo finds her world opened up for her by the magazine’s bubbling publisher (Kay Thompson)…and more so by the photographer who discovers her (Fred Astaire).  The film is notable for other reasons besides the cast and the clothing — this was Hepburn’s first musical, and the only one she ever got to actually sing in herself (though you will hear her singing the iconic “Moon River” in the next film on this list).  As you can see if you listen to Jo’s songs, Audrey, as a singer, was a fantastic actress.

Givenchy, by this time, was Hepburn’s required costume designer in her films, and he excelled himself in the dresses, gowns and outfits he created here:

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Despite a lack of success in its original release, Audrey was apparently one of the preferred actresses in Hollywood by this time, judging by the number of films she did in the next few years.  Then came 1961, and Marilyn Monroe turned down, on teacher Lee Strasberg’s advice, the role of Holly Golightly in a film called Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  The part was offered to Hepburn, and movie history was made.  On top of Givenchy as her costume designer, Audrey was apparently able to get directorial approval, and the job was given to Blake Edwards instead of John Frankenheimer.  Henry Mancini wrote the signature song “Moon River” especially for Audrey’s limited vocal range, and she sang it while strumming on a guitar in the window of her apartment.  Add in an outstanding cast (George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, and John McGiver as the unflappable Man from Tiffany’s), and you had a film that, despite the stereotyped role of “Mr. Yunioshi” and the dislike by story author Truman Capote of Hepburn’s casting, has become an American film classic.  (I, myself, am not thrilled by the blonde frosting put in Audrey’s hair; but this is an extremely insignificant pet peeve.)

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Other roles and other costumes followed, of course, until her semi-retirement in the early Seventies following her second marriage, her return in Robin and Marian and Bloodline (the second, in my opinion, unsuccessful from both a story and sartorial viewpoint); but I think the best one in her later period is her brief role as “Happy” in Always.  And, again, this piece shows how the most simple things on Audrey Hepburn could look beautiful beyond belief:

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No more than a white sweater and pants, but beautiful beyond belief.

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