Friday, December 11, 2009



AUDREY HEPBURN, Fashion Trend Setter, Philanthropy, UNICEF Good Will Ambassador

Dear Audrey: When you played a model in the film Funny Face, when you played the chauffeur’s daughter in Sabrina and came back from Paris chic and soigne carrying a little French poodle, and when you played Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I remember how you were my favorite fashion diva. It was from these movies that your on screen persona captured my imagination. Like so many other admirers I coveted your aristocratic and iconic style. Your wardrobe of simplicity and seemingly effortless elegance, aided and abetted by the young French couturier Hubert de Givenchy personified the chic elegance of the 1950s and 1960s. Commenting about Givenchy who became your lifelong friend and collaborator you once said, “It was as though I was born to wear his clothes.” However, you were more than meets the eye of film star celebrity. Later I came to know you, as did the world at large, that you were not just a film star but a philanthropist and goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and later your son’s Sean Ferrer and Luca Dotti, created the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund in order to continue your humanitarian work.
By gazing at Audrey’s beautiful face one would never imagine the depredation of Audrey’s early life. Born in Ixelles, a principality in Brussels, Belgium as Audrey Kathleen Ruston (May 4, 1929-January 20, 1993), she was the only child of Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, an English banker, and his second wife, Baroness Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat. Although born in Belgium, Audrey had British citizenship and attended school in England as a child. Her father’s job with a British insurance company enabled the family to travel frequently between Brussels, England and The Netherlands. However, Audrey spent her childhood chiefly in the Netherlands, including the German-occupied Arnhem, Netherlands, during the Second World Wear (1939-1945). Her father later prepended the surname of his maternal grandmother, Kathleen Hepburn, to the family’s and Audrey’s surname became Hepburn-Ruston.
In 1935, Hepburn’s parents divorced and her father, a Nazi sympathizer, left the family. This sad event in Audrey’s young life was later referred to as the most traumatic moment of her life, but more events to shadow her history are were to come. In 1939, her mother moved her and her two half-brothers to their grandfather’s home in Arnhem in the Netherlands, believing that the Netherlands would be safe from German attack. It was at this time that Audrey trained in ballet. However, in 1940, the Germans invaded the Netherlands. During the occupation Audrey adopted the pseudonym Edda van Heemstra, modifying her mother’s documents because an ‘English sounding’ name was considered dangerous. It wasn’t popular to be British and “Audrey” might indicate her British roots too strongly. Being English in occupied Holland was not an asset: it could attract attention and result in confinement or even deportation. During the Dutch famine of 1944 Audrey and many others resorted to making flour out of tulip bulbs to bake cakes and biscuits. She developed acute anemia, respiratory problems, and edema. Most significantly the hardships she suffered during the war (constant anxiety and hunger) left her physically weakened.
In 1948 Audrey left the Netherlands with her mother Baroness Ella van Heemstra to pursue her dream of becoming a ballerina. However, the toll of wartime hardships that affected her stamina, combined with her height (5ft 7in) coupled with her poor nutrition during the war, meant that she was rejected for prima ballerina roles for which she had studied for so earnestly in Arnhem and London. She turned to other possible careers—working in the chorus line, modeling and acting. The rest is history. Ballet’s loss was cinema and the fashion world’s gain. During the filming of Monte Caro Baby Audrey was chosen to play the lead character in the Broadway play GiGi, which opened at the Fulton theatre in 1951. Providence played into her life when the writer Colette first saw Hepburn, she reportedly exclaimed, “Voila! There’s our Gigi!” Her film credits are extensive and legendary tributes to a great movie actress who survived it all with great grace and perseverance.
Audrey had a sense of her own unique, personal style. When she was first sent to the couture house of Givenchy the great couturier was expecting the other ‘Miss Hepburn’---Katherine. From the moment he met her his assumed disappointment gave way to adoration. She preferred to wear pastel colors, black and ivory with the occasional hot-pink statement. Givenchy said of her, “All the responsibility for the way Audrey looked is hers. She made the selections.” One wonders how Audrey acquired such elegant and simplistic taste. No doubt, it is as the French say, ‘je n’est ce pas,’ something that is inborn. Further attesting to her unique style sense when I was on assignment in Hollywood, California I interviewed Edith Head, the multi-Oscar winning film costumier about her book, ‘The Dress Doctor,’ she said, “Like Dietrich, Audrey’s fittings became the ten-hour not the ten-minute variety. She knew exactly how she wanted to look or what worked best for her, yet she was never arrogant or demanding. She had an adorable sweetness that made you feel like a mother getting her only daughter ready for the prom.” Audrey was 5ft 7 inches tall, bust 32in, waist 22in, hips 34in. For most of her life these measurements altered but slightly.
The Wedding Called Off
One of the legendary garments auctioned in December 2009 at Kerry Taylor Auctions in London included the ivory satin bridal gown designed for Audrey Hepburn by the Fontana Sisters for her planned marriage to James (later Lord) Hanson. Whilst Audrey was filming ‘Roman Holiday’ with Gregory Peck in Rome, she approached the Fontana sisters to ask them to make her bridal gown. Signora Micol Fontana said that the 23 year old Hepburn was “young, fresh, on top of the world. Audrey wanted complete discretion and had lots of fittings”. Some weeks later when Audrey called off the planned wedding to James Hanson she asked the eldest of the sisters-Zoe to give the dress away. “I want my dress to be worn by another girl for her wedding, perhaps someone who couldn’t ever afford a dress like mine-the most beautiful, poor Italian girl you can find.” Zoe’s search centered on a poverty stricken young Italian girl called Amabile Atobella. Amabile visited Rome just once to have the dress adapted by the Fontana sisters for her to wear at her own wedding to farm worker Adlino Solda with whom she remained happily married. Amabile said, “I have had a happy marriage, so the dress brought me luck”. After the even she carefully wrapped the dress in tissue paper and stored it away without disturbing it for decades. It was not until 2002, when Micol Fontana, the last survivor of the Fontana sisters traced the gown for a retrospective exhibition of their work, that it was rediscovered.
A Celebrated Auction
At auction the wedding dress was sold with a photograph of Audrey wear- ing the original Fontana gown and a letter from the vendor confirming the provenance. It was estimated to fetch E8000-12000 Lot 333. This once in a lifetime auction featured around 36 items of clothing as well as hats, belts and a fascinating group of letters in which she describes an early film break, her proposed wedding to James Hanson and the time spent filming “Roman Holiday.” The collection also includes stunning evening wear and a plethora of chic little black dresses. Auction contact: Of course you all know that Audrey did get married twice once to Mel Ferrer and then to an Italian doctor, Andrea Dotti.
And so it is time to say goodbye to dear Audrey whose iconic style lives on in the hearts of all women who wish to achieve elegance, grace and distinction. Your amazing survival, your angelic quality and your legendary humanitarianism lives on forever in the hearts of us who admire your noble spirit. Your admirer, Polly Guerin

No comments:

Post a Comment