I, like many others before me, hereby declare Audrey Hepburn my official classic style icon. She was a remarkable woman in many ways, much beyond what meets the eye. Her closet was brimming with many of the fashion staples ladies of today swear by- fitted pants, the iconic little black dress, cropped silhouettes and a plethora of hats, earrings, accessories and embellishments. She wasn’t afraid to wear pants, a suit or break past the suffocating confines of gender norms yet always retained a distinguished aura of delicate femininity with her outfit choices. Audrey’s fashion partnership with Hubert De Givenchy, beginning in early nineteen fifty four, was her first film association and will undoubtedly be spoken of for many years to come. Her, a Belgian born movie star with an impeccable eye for style. He, a French designer with an unparalleled, unrivalled sense of fit and elegance. They shared a willingness and desire to honour the classics and take proportional risks in pattern, colour and cut. Their partnership spanned decades and defined both their careers, marking a grand and fabulous time to be involved and in with the fashion world. They have many exquisite achievements together.
At the root of Audrey Hepburn’s style however was her hearty, wholesome and eager attitude towards life. If the night breaks away to allow for another day, where is the reason not to celebrate, not to live dressed up in vibrant colour? She was able to making groundbreaking sartorial choices because she was wholeheartedly confident in her own skin and willing to have a laugh. Audrey knew that life was most enjoyable when not taken so seriously. She was truly legendary and left many essential style lessons we can pick up a thing or two from. Though it’s been more than fifty years since Audrey Hepburn reigned supreme, basking in the limelight as the Queen of Hollywood’s Golden Age, her influence has not died down one bit and is reflected whether largely or subtly through our everyday sartorial choices- from pixie pants to feminine flats, classic dresses and bold makeup, the importance of oversized eyewear and the transformative power of a belt, what’s not to love? In Audrey’s eyes, timelessness always superseded trendiness. It was no match for her. Consider these Hepburn approved fashion rules your new age bible for chic style.
What made Audrey a true style icon was her individuality. She disrupted Hollywood in the nineteen fifties with a unique look, her own sense of style and torrents of gracefulness and kindness. This was at a time when women in Hollywood were known for something very differently. They were mostly being cast as the sexy, blonde bombshell. Roman Holiday, her nineteen fifty four film, won her an Oscar. Her most well remembered and documented ensembles can be seen in her films the like of Sabrina, Funny Face and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In short, individual, personal style is that which transcends trends and fashion eras. That is at the core of every memorable and inspirational woman in the business of fashion. The key to becoming your own style icon, therefore, is to look within and quit searching externally. There is no one size fits all when style should not be uniform across the board with everyone. Where is the beauty in mere imitation? When we follow trends, we’re ignoring our own intuition and stifling our individuality. By accepting these false, external standards, we’re giving up too much of our freedom and power in self expression. You can become much more grounded, intuitive just by following your calling. Some could argue that Audrey Hepburn is the reason for fashion’s obsession with the incredibly diverse and versatile little black dress. Her classic Holly Golightly take on the look from Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of the sleekest and most chic Old Hollywood photos out there today. Her Givenchy column gown, triple strand pearl necklace, large tortoise shell sunglasses, sleek updo, diamond earrings and long cigarette holder will always belong to the star.
In nineteen fifty seven, Audrey Hepburn played a shy bookshop employee and aspiring philosopher transformed into a model in movie funny face- it was based on a film from photographer Richard Avedon. Hepburn was a dancer when she was first discovered but the unexpectedness of her career draws many parallels with her onscreen character. She always brought surprises and a new set of dynamics with her. Hepburn went on to collaborate with Avedon on the fashion spread known as Paris Pursuit which, in its visual allusions to cinema, tells a story that epitomises how photography, film and fashion came together to create the many faces of the woman she was today. Mark Shaw, her photographer on the set of Sabrina in nineteen fifty three claimed Hepburn was ‘the most intriguingly childish adult and feminine tomboy I’ve ever encountered” He said she was best described as many women wrapped up in the one. This variety is overwhelmingly apparent and completely undeniable when one is confronted with the exhibition’s extensive collection of formal portraits, fashion shoots and candid images combined with previously unseen photographs from the family archive. Who was she truly?
In a few short months, on the day of May Fourth, we come up to what what would have been Audrey’s ninety second birthday. Her elegance, grace, timelessness and captivating style is revered to this day. Not only was she a screen legend, transforming Hollywood’s Golden Age into something far more spectacular, she was a hero. Her empathy, compassion and kindness will always touch hearts and be her greatest and most proud achievement. She frequently travelled the world to help children and disadvantaged members of the poorest countries get access to food, healthcare and clean drinking water. Her iconic status far surpasses any physical beauty, whether through looks or gorgeous, over the top dresses.
Her philanthropy and generous, giving spirit transformed many lives across the world, ripples of which will continue to be felt. She started a domino effect, gifting her time, energy and effort to aid causes before it was cool or the done thing to do so. Audrey herself knew intimately the pain and suffering that goes along with not having your most critical needs met and wouldn’t stand for it. She had faced starvation and undernourishment as a child in Holland during the nineteen forties as World War Two ravaged her home country. They were under Nazi occupation at this time. Hepburn knew trauma just as well as she did privilege. Neither experience cancelled the other out but they marked her pursuits and saw her align with particular morals, goals and truths.
She was appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in nineteen eighty eight and awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in nineteen ninety three for her efforts in Africa, South America and Asia. Audrey Hepburn also received the United States’ Presidential Medal of Freedom in December nineteen ninety two. She is one of the few performers to have won Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy Awards and also received three Bafta Awards for Best British Actress. She was inducted into the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame. The American Film Institute named her the third “Greatest Female Star of All Time.” The US Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honouring her as a Hollywood legend and humanitarian. She was also awarded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award.
Audrey was born in Belgium to wealthy parents and lived abroad in England and the Netherlands throughout her childhood. There she learned to speak five different languages- Dutch, English, French, Spanish and Italian. Her father was a British subject who had become a strong sympathiser of the Nazi regime and her mother a Dutch noblewoman. Her upbringing was in many ways conflicted and torn in many directions. When Hepburn was six, her father abandoned the family, altering the course of their reality dramatically. Audrey was as young as nine and as old as sixteen when war began and finished. She and her mother had become stuck in Nazi occupied Holland and in nineteen forty four, the Nazis caused a so called winter of hunger. They attempted to kill the local population through an easy and widespread means of starvation. All they had available to eat were plants, weeds and the odd flower. Tulip bulbs, nettles and boiled grass became their sole means of nourishment and nutrition.
Her mother, brokenhearted at their dire circumstance, tried to keep Audrey’s spirits up and advised her to drink more water in order to keep full. She developed asthma, liver disease and anemia, conditions which likely weakened her system and contributed to her premature death from colon cancer. She was also a heavy smoker, a habit she took on to suppress appetite after a film producer expressed dismay at her meagre weight gain on holiday. What Audrey saw during the war changed her. Innocent people were lined up against walls and shot by the Nazis. Her uncle was killed and her half brother was deported to Berlin to work in a German labor camp. She saw Jewish families being packed into trains taking them to concentration camps. At war’s end, She was five foot six and weighed eighty eight pounds. After the war, she studied ballet, moved from Amsterdam to London and performed as a chorus girl in musical theatre.
By Christmas of nineteen ninety three, Audrey was basically on life support. Her family and friends did all they could to make her comfortable and ensure her last Christmas was special. She was flown back to Switzerland from glitzy Los Angeles by private jet, courtesy of her special friend Hubert De Givenchy and Bunny Mellon. Her longterm partner at the time, Robert Wolders, once asked her if she thought it would have been better if they hadn’t exhausted themselves travelled for Unicef as much as they did. He recalls Audrey having gone through a busy period for the aid group prior to her illness. She was slightly perturbed and responded with a simple “Robbie, think of all we would have missed.”
He knew then that in her last days, a regret that played on her mind often was her inability to carry on the work she was so passionate about as she grew deeper in her descent to illness. Her last words were touching. She had asked a friend to buy three special winter coats for Givenchy, her son and her partner. She reminded the trio to think of her as they wore their pieces. Later on, as they went to bed, she said it was the best Christmas she’d ever had. Audrey passed on the twentieth of January, nineteen ninety three. Hepburn’s longtime friend, composer and conductor, Micheal Tilson Thomas, remembers her unique grace with fondness and says that it remained undimmed at the end of her life. “She had this ability to make everyone who met her feel that she was really seeing them and recognising what was special about them, even if it was just in the course of the few moments that it takes to sign an autograph and a program. There was a state of grace about her. Somebody who is seeing the best in a situation, seeing the best in people.” Her son, Sean Ferrer, established the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund after her death. Unicef’s Audrey Hepburn Society has since raised more than a hundred million, recognising her many years of service to the organisation.
Sometimes a simple dress is all you need. It will speak for itself and let your natural beauty steal the attention.
Gloves add a touch of dainty lady like sophistication to any outfit. Hepburn had this iconic cutesy fawnish look that was elevated by her immaculate white silky gloves.
It is a must to accessorise and protect your delicate skin from the harsh elements- a stylish woven hat, even just to be worn as you’re cleaning poolside, is always a good idea.
Striped shirts and cropped haircuts can still look super feminine and take on a certain Parisian elegance that is in line with Hepburn’s signature style. This boyish tousled look can make you shine when done right.
Wearing a cozy nightgown is completely acceptable. Why opt for lacy, skimpy pieces when comfort and warmth can take precedence?
A belt cinched in the middle of a dress creates a lovely, curvaceous shape. Hepburn amped up a modest plaid dress with a tight belt and beret.
Crowns are not just for royalty, especially as every woman deserves to feel and look like a princess.
Don’t be afraid to rock a bow tie and a suit- even Audrey worn menswear to a tee as she liked the loose silhouettes and varied cuts. Her perfectly pulled off eyeliner and lipstick kept things fresh and sultry.
Collared shirts never go out of style, particularly when paired with striped capris for a daytime look.
Your bangs don’t always have to be worn straight across your forehead. Play around with them for a look that is asymmetrical and dynamic!
You can never go wrong with a bold red lip, especially when closely paired with gold jewellery and accessories. My oh my, did she know how to rock a gold armband!
Simple colour blocking creates a classic look that is easy to match with. Add fun, chunky platform sandals and you’re summer ready.
Nobody is too girly for sports. Take off your heels but keep on a practical yet adorable summer dress that reminds you of late afternoon field frolics.
Fun, bold prints are always a go, especially when floral. Hepburn’s feminine makeup and wide brimmed sun hate helped balance out any strong patterns that looked enough to overpower.
Women can wear loafers just as well as men, especially when paired with an anorak and head scarf!
Sunglasses work with any outfit and can be used to dress it up or down. Think wayfarer shades with a jewelled out little black dress moment!
Find a classic and practical go to bag that will take you through the seasons. Hepburn often reached for her simple tweed purse as it could be worn with a wide variety of outfits!
In order to really stand out, opt for a different take on your wedding dress. Hepburn chose to wear a short white dress and her signature head scarf at her wedding to Andrea Dotti. Opting out of the traditional gown reflected her unique style and made for an unforgettable special day.
Skip the bikini and wear a bright one piece bathing suit. You’ll turn more heads in this often over-looked bathing suit choice and try a new look! Remember, less is more.
Expertly placed dark eyeliner can soften up a short haircut. Hepburn’s face always looked gorgeous because she knew how to harness the power of great eye makeup and never seemed overdone.
Babydoll dresses still look great as you mature and are suitable as long as you don’t pick anything too juvenile. Opt for tasteful youthfulness. Hepburn’s embellished flowered gown was show stopping.
Longer lashes look ravishing on older women. You’re never too old to flaunt mascara and age truly is just a number.
Your senior years are the perfect time to break out the intricate jewelry. While it can look a little overdone on younger women, flashy and large earrings and necklaces add spark to a sophisticated lady’s ensemble. Take a cue from Holly Golightly and her particular comment- “It’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re forty”
Always have oversize sunglasses within arm’s reach. When you’re inclined to go incognito in your own city, oversized shades will be your best friend and secret weapon, working in favour of this. Hepburn’s iconic character Holly GoLightly opted for large tortoiseshell frames with off green lenses in Breakfast at Tiffany’s- there’s a reason this look is still produced today!
A skinny ankle cropped pant flatters every figure. Hepburn was known for her signature pixie pants, cropped just above the ankle to show a tiny and tasteful sliver of skin. This classic cut works to elongate the legs and is equally as stylish with both heels and flats.