Audrey Hepburn, the illustrated elegance of the icon that has inspired millions of women

On the 30th anniversary of her death, which occurred in 1993, Audrey Hepburn is still considered by many women, and even more experts, one of the best-dressed stars of all time.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
18 March 2023 Saturday 23:55
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Audrey Hepburn, the illustrated elegance of the icon that has inspired millions of women

On the 30th anniversary of her death, which occurred in 1993, Audrey Hepburn is still considered by many women, and even more experts, one of the best-dressed stars of all time. Many of her remember her for her appearance in movies like Breakfast at Tiffany's or Sabrina, capable of making anyone fall in love in just five minutes, as Billy Wilder confessed when shooting Love in the Afternoon (1957). A book-object from Lunwerg publishing house, the work of Megan Hess, one of the most important illustrators of the moment, which pays tribute to an actress who embodies elegance like no other.

Hess's illustrated biography tries to shed light on why Hepburn has left such a lasting mark. In the 1950s and 1960s, at the height of Hollywood's golden age, Hepburn became synonymous with retro fashion, lounge music and nightclubs. At that time, curvaceous women like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor or Sophia Loren triumphed, until Hepburn appeared and she eclipsed them all, more because of her irresistible character than because of her sex appeal.

Hepburn's illustrated biography begins by glossing her facet as a woman. Miss Hepburn, whose original name was Edda van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston, was born on May 4, 1929 near Brussels. With a Dutch mother and an English father, she was educated mainly in London, but when she was 10 years old, her parents separated, and each one settled next to her in the British capital.

For information, Hepburn's father, a former British consul, joined the British Union of Fascists, an event that would be described by the actress as "the most traumatic event of my life."

During World War II, Audrey Hepburn and her mother were vacationing in the Netherlands when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. During the occupation, one of her brothers was taken to a labor camp, and her uncle and cousin were executed.

Like almost all children at that time, Hepburn starved due to food shortages. She once stated that her family had survived during the war by making flour from tulip bulbs, as well as once eating dog biscuits. Perhaps for this reason, when Audrey did not dream of becoming a ballerina, she and her friends fantasized about the food they would gobble up when the guns fell silent.

After the war, Hepburn returned to London, thanks to a scholarship, to resume her classes at the hands of Marie Rambert, the teacher of Vaslav Nijinsky, a Russian dancer who is remembered as one of the greats of ballet. However, after a few days, she felt that she had lost key years of training and realized that her height, 1.70 m, was excessive for classical dance.

With mischievous eyes and a melancholy smile, Hepburn preferred not to inflate her modest chest, refusing to wear stiletto heels or shoulder pads, trusting everything to the sophisticated simplicity that she conveyed by dressing, something that illustrator Megan Hess describes as "natural elegance." . She may not be wrong, as many women acknowledge having been inspired by Hepburn, for example, when choosing her wedding dress. “With my hair up in a bun, big sunglasses and a black dress, every woman can look like me,” Audrey said.

Although a picture is worth a thousand words (especially in this case), Hepburn combined classic elegance with youthful touches that set trends, such as her inseparable ballerinas, the flat shoes that she made fashionable, or the passion she felt for scarves.

In 1948, Hepburn made her stage debut as a chorus dancer in the musical High Button Shoes, where she landed a small role. The main dancer, Hess points out in the book, commented that Audrey only had “a skirt, a blouse, a pair of shoes and a beret” but that, instead, she had 14 handkerchiefs. "When I wear a silk scarf, that's when I feel more like a woman and more beautiful," the star of Breakfast at Tiffany's said years later.

Her big break came in 1951, when she landed a role in the forgettable Monte Carlo Baby, being shot on the Côte d'Azur, when French novelist Colette, then 78, singled her out from the crowd and declared that she had found the perfect actress to get one of her stories adapted to Broadway.

“My dear,” Colette told her, “I just wired New York to tell them to stop looking for Gigi. I have found her". This singular event led her to cross the Atlantic. From then on, her fame skyrocketed, although when she arrived in New York she was a complete stranger. However, the night of Gigi's official Broadway opening, she Audrey was barely able to get into the dressing room, so overflowing with flowers she was.

Before the end of the first week, the city was all talk about her, so it didn't take long for Hollywood to claim her. "Nothing is impossible. The word itself says it: I'm possible”, joked Audrey.

After signing with Paramount Pictures, Audrey became one of its most brilliant stars of the moment, after shooting, between 1951 and 1967, up to 22 films in which she continued to play a young woman of the 20th century capable of transforming herself into Cinderella many times. Likewise, she established herself as the muse of haute couture, after becoming friends with the French designer Hubert de Givenchy.

Her first major film role was Roman Holiday, a romantic comedy that tells the adventures of a rebellious young princess who, trying to hide her true identity, finds 24 hours of happiness with an American journalist played by Gregory Peck.

It was on Roman Holiday that Hepburn began working with one of the most prestigious costume designers of the time, Edith Head, who had formed a tandem with Hubert de Givenchy in some films. In her first meeting, the unknown actress arrived at the hotel room where Head was staying, “wearing a dark suit with a white collar and cuffs. A sprig of lilies of the valley pinned to his buttonhole and white gloves completed her outfit,” Megan Hess says in the book. Later, Edith Head would tell reporters that she, Audrey, knew more about fashion than any other actress she had worked with, except perhaps Marlene Dietrich.

After Roman Holiday, Audrey returned to the theater where she was selected, along with Mel Ferrer, to star in Ondina. “The greatest aesthetic cataclysm of the 20th century”, as Hepburn has come to be defined, she married this lanky actor on September 25, 1954.

Their marriage was a fiasco. Although Megan Hess does not include it in her illustrated biography of princely overtones, it seems that Audrey ended up fed up with Ferrer being unfaithful to her, so she divorced him in 1968. Before that, they both managed to give birth to a son they called Sean. The same thing happened to her with her second husband, the Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti, whom she met in 1967 on board a cruise ship. They both got married in 1969 and in February 1970 they had a son they named Luca. Audrey Hepburn had a Franciscan patience with Andrea Dotti until she discovered that her husband needed to add new lovers, so they both divorced in 1982.

In many of her films, Hepburn played a kind of Cinderella (Sabrina, Funny Face, My Fair Lady) who always gives everyone hope. But if there is one film that has remained to be remembered, it is Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), a film that continues to be the benchmark for youthful glamour. And it is that, somehow, Hepburn's body was a possible body for the young women of the fifties, both naked (in terms of adolescent development) and dressed, since her outfits were easier to be imitated than those of other muses. of haute couture. Audrey's hair, too, was trendy and easy to care for, something to keep in mind, since many working-class girls didn't have hair dryers in the fifties.

What seems to attract young women today about Hepburn is not so different from what she did in the 1950s: the way she combined innocence with glamour, femininity with strength because, maybe it wasn't sexy, but she was pretty and had a lot of class, as well as brains.

“Designers, editors and photographers fell in love with Audrey's refined forms,” writes Hess, so she was soon appearing regularly in fashion magazines.

Hepburn seemed to be different from all the other women but still very natural. Many girls -published The New York Times- of the same time used "the little black dress" to feel glamorous and, at the same time, appropriate in difficult or unknown situations: a visit to the theater with new co-workers, a university dance in the 1960s or a family party at a new boyfriend's house. When Jackie Kennedy brought couture to the White House, it was clear that his style had been influenced by Hepburn. Still today many young and not so young, such as Victoria Beckham, continue to believe that Hepburn deserves the honorary title reserved for the best dressed woman in history.

After retiring from the sets in the 1960s, Hepburn dedicated the last years of her life to helping good causes. Illustrator Megan Hess calls it “her legacy of hers,” the section to which she dedicates the last third of the blue-covered, gold-letter biography she has written of Hepburn. Beginning in 1988, the actress traveled across five continents as a UN Goodwill Ambassador, personally helping deliver aid to children in places as far apart as Ethiopia, Sudan, Guatemala, Venezuela, Bangladesh, and Vietnam.

In 1964, the star bought a house in the quiet town of Tolochenaz (Switzerland), on the shores of Lake Geneva, in the canton of Vaud. Since she was little, she used to say that all she wanted was a house with a garden, without great luxuries, and that was what she found in La Paisible, an 18th century stone mansion surrounded by fruit trees and vineyards.

Finally in 1980, Hepburn met her ultimate romantic partner: Robert Wolders, a Dutch actor who had spent World War II in the Netherlands, just an hour away from Arnhem. The almost 13 years they lived together were the happiest time of her life.

However, upon returning from one of his trips to Somalia, he said he felt unwell. At first he thought that the cause of his stomach ache was the pills he took for malaria. But no, it was colon cancer, as she was diagnosed in the US. When she was told she was too sick to take a regular plane home to Switzerland, Givenchy arranged for her to have a private plane, which she filled of roses for the trip.

Audrey Hepburn passed away in La Paisable on January 20, 1993, at the young age of 63, after undergoing surgery in November for colon cancer. She was buried near Lake Geneva, in Switzerland, in a place that is covered with flowers today.

As has been written later, she was one of the key women of the 20th century. In fact, her style has endured: modern and classic at the same time, feminine but also naughty and, ultimately, timeless, which explains why many young women continue to admire her as if she had just met George Peppard and they were both having breakfast in front of the shop window. from Tiffanys jewelry.