Audrey Hepburn – Forever Chic
Audrey Hepburn – Forever Chic, Style Sense from the Original “It Girl” – The bateau neckline. The ballet flat. The capri pant. The white button-down shirt. And of course, the ultimate go-to garb of well-dressed women everywhere: the little black dress (“LBD”). What do all of these classic wardrobe staples have in common? Each was immortalized on screen by one of the world’s original “it” girls, Audrey Hepburn.
On the basis of these five items alone — not to mention a lifetime’s worth of countless other fashion “do” moments — Hepburn attained an elusive standard sought after by aspiring fashionistas everywhere: icon status. Even more impressive…nearly 25 years after her death, her impossibly chic legacy lingers.
From Actress to Icon
Belgium-born Audrey Hepburn, née Audrey Kathleen Ruston, began her film career in 1948. She skyrocketed to fame in 1951 when she was plucked from obscurity by French novelist Colette to appear as the title character in Broadway’s Gigi. Unforgettable roles in Roman Holiday (1953), Sabrina (1954), and of course, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), soon followed. While Hepburn won plenty of acclaim for her acting — including an Oscar win for Roman Holiday, along with nominations for Sabrina, The Nun’s Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Wait Until Dark — she was equally, if not better known for, something else: her inimitable style.
While it would be remiss to discount the contributions of costume designers in creating the wardrobes of Princess Ann, Sabrina Fairchild, Holly Golightly, and so many of Hepburn’s other roles, insiders insist that each of these looks was directly influenced by the actress’s own personal style. From the earliest stages of her career, Hepburn was involved in the design process, beginning with Roman Holiday, for which she advised costume designer Edith Head, an icon in her own right, to include “the style of simpler necklines, wider belts and flatter shoes for the movie spree around Rome,” according to Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn author Donald Spoto.
One moment, however, proved to be particularly pivotal, both for Hepburn’s sartorial star and for fashion history: the actress’s 1953 meeting with Hubert de Givenchy at his Paris atelier while she was scouting her own wardrobe for Sabrina. Admittedly, things got off to a rocky start — the up-and-coming designer was expecting Katharine, not Audrey — but Hepburn eventually charmed him into giving her some samples from the previous season’s collection. This was the beginning of a beautiful collaboration, during which Givenchy continued to design both costumes and personal clothing for his newfound muse. Their relationship was so symbiotic that academic Jayne Sheridan later pondered, “Did Audrey Hepburn create Givenchy or was it the other way around?”
The Source of Chic
While working on Sabrina, Hepburn told a journalist, “Clothes are positively a passion with me. I love them to the point where it is practically a vice.” What distinguished her from so many others who fall head-over-heels into fashion and find themselves following aimlessly fad after fad? In his book, Audrey Hepburn: An Elegant Spirit, Hepburn’s son Sean Ferrer wrote, “My mother believed that a woman should find a look that works for her and use fashion and its seasonal changes to accessorize it, rather than to be a slave to fashion, re-creating one’s look over and over again.”
In other words, Hepburn didn’t set out to conquer the fashion scene. She simply wore what she loved and did it exceptionally well. In doing so, she became not a trend follower, but a true tastemaker. Of the astonishing timelessness of her style Ferrer insists, “It was because she believed in quality, and if she is still an icon of style today, it is because once she found her look, she stayed with it throughout her life.”
Also germane to Hepburn’s journey? Unlike so many celebrities who beg, borrow, and occasionally steal to satisfy their sartorial cravings, Hepburn owned her own closet, a personal connection which added a rare and intimate element of permanency to her style.
Audrey Hepburn would have celebrated her 86th birthday this past spring. Had she lived, she would no doubt have continued to set singular style standards for fashionable women everywhere.
We can still learn from her legacy. Hepburn’s advice to Ferrer on fashion and presumably life? “Boil it down to what counts the most: What is the essence of what you are trying to do, what is the most important thing? Things only get complicated when you are trying to address too many issues.”
That is the heart of Audrey Hepburn’s wisdom and her personal style.
Written by Joanna Hughes