There are a few women in history who I admire. Women who were powerful yet graceful, strong and yet sweet. Women who lived their own lives and made their own rules. And all, were style icons of their time. These women were in a field of their own, an elite breed who capture the world and who the world has never forgotten. They achieved amazing things in their time, and have left a legacy that followers and fashion admirers like myself will be forever grateful for. Their names are Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren and of course Audrey Hepburn. All of these women were at the height of their careers around the same time, when the Golden Age of Couture was ripe, and these stunning beauties were live models for this epic time in fashion history. Over the years as I have lived and breathed the world of fashion and the decades from 1920 – 1960, I discovered these women and the contributions they made. But of them all, my one and only has always been Miss Audrey Hepburn. Her attitude, energy, gracefulness and feminine style has been truly inspiration in my work in fashion, and also in my journey to find my own unique style.
Audrey Kathleen Van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston, was born in Brussels on 4th May 1929. Her father was British and her mother Dutch. They lived an affluent life, and Audrey spent her early childhood moving between England, Belgium and Holland due to her fathers work. In 1935, when Audrey was only six, her parents divorced, which Audrey recalled as one of the most traumatic times of her life. Audrey was not your typical young girl growing up. She much preferred to play outdoors with her brothers and with animals, than to play with dolls and dress ups. She was also an avid bookworm, and learnt piano for a time. Audrey was known as an introverted child, very shy and humble. At the age of only five, Audrey’s mother sent her to boarding school in England, to try and ‘shock’ the child into reality, and to also improve her English and to gain a solid and aristocratic education. It was here at boarding school that a young Audrey discovered the art of dance, and had promising attributes in ballet. But the rise of war put a sudden end to Audrey’s life in England, with her mother removing her from school and taking her back to Arnhem in the Netherlands, believing it was the safest place to be. Audrey never saw her father again after she left England.
Sadly though in 1940, the Netherlands was overrun and the country fell under Nazi occupation until liberation in 1945. During this time, Audrey went to school at the Arnhem conservatory where she also studied ballet. Whilst the war was occuring, Audrey often danced in public spaces to raise money for the underground movement. Audrey’s experience of war remained with her for life. She witnessed family members being shot in the streets by the German’s, and recalls seeing train loads of Jewish children being herded up like cattle for deportation. In 1946, Audrey read the diary of Anne Frank, and noticed similarities between the two of them, and the suffering they endured at the hand of the Nazi’s. But Audrey was one of the lucky ones, and after years living under the duress of war, was fortunate enough to return to England and continue her studies in ballet. She tried her hardest to become a ballerina, but her height and malnutrition from the war worked against her, and unfortunately she didn’t succeed. It was now that Audrey turned her focus toward acting, and we shall be forever grateful that she did!
Hepburn began acting on stage, in theatre productions in London’s West End. She first landed roles as chorus girls before moving on to slightly larger parts. Around the same time, Hepburn began acting in feature films, again with small roles that didn’t receive any credits. At age twenty two came Hepburn’s first break. She scored a leading role in a Broadway production in New York. Gigi was a defining moment in Hepburn’s career. Set in Paris in 1900, she played the leading role of a young girl who chose to rebel against her family’s wishes and seek out her own life. Hepburn worked hard leading up to opening night, having to improve all aspects of her acting to satisfy the director. Some days, eighteen hours of rehearsals was not uncommon. But the hard work paid off. Gigi received rave reviews after it premiered, with some reports claiming Hepburn to be the acting find of the year.
Not long after her debut on Broadway, Hepburn landed a role in a feature film that would be the beginning of her illustrious career. She was chosen to play the role of a ballerina in a film called Secret People (1952), and it was during this filming that she was discovered by legendary director William Wyler, who though Hepburn’s elfin beauty and gracefulness was just what he was after for the lead role in his new motion picture, Roman Holiday (1953). Hepburn made a perfect English princess alongside Gregory Peck, and her performance proved worthy of an Academy Award for Best Actress. This starring role and recognition placed Hepburn among Hollywood’s elite, and for years to come she played roles opposite many of Hollywood’s leading men, including Humphrey Bogart in Sabrina (1954) and Fred Astaire in Funny Face (1957). Hepburn also chose to return to the stage from time to time, and in 1954 played the starring role of Odine alongside male lead Mel Ferrer. The two formed a close bond off stage as well, with the couple marrying on September 25th 1954 in Switzerland. During Hepburn’s career she also took on more dramatic roles, such as War and Peace (1956), The Nun’s Story (1959), and The Unforgiven (1960).
Of all the films that Hepburn made during her career, and there were twenty seven of them, there will always be one film that she will be mostly recognised for. Hepburn’s role as Holly Golightly in Paramount’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), is one of the most iconic films ever made. Her starring role as a New York girl for hire who then falls in love with a budding novelist, is a classic in the motion picture archives, thanks to Hepburn’s amazing performance, and her wardrobe which was constructed by good friend and costume designer Hubert De Givenchy. The iconic little black dress in which De Givenchy designed for Hepburn to wear, is a stunning piece of tailoring that will be forever remembered and reproduced for years to come. Hepburn’s performance in this film earnt her a fourth Academy Award nomination. More great films came after this, and included Paris when it Sizzles (1964), My Fair Lady (1964), How to Steal a Million (1966), and Bloodline (1979).
Hepburn was lucky enough to find love three times in her lifetime. Her first marriage to Mel Ferrer lasted fourteen years and the couple had a son, Sean in 1960. After her marriage to Ferrer ended, Hepburn met Italian doctor Andrea Dotti on a cruise off the coast of Greece. They fell in love and married on January 18th 1969. They had a son together as well, Luca born early the following year. This marriage lasted thirteen years, with the couple divorcing in 1982, with rumours circulating that both parties were having affairs. At the time of her death, Hepburn was the companion of Robert Wolders, a man whom she met whilst still married to Dotti, and after their divorce was finalised, the new couple spent many happy years together.
Throughout Hepburn’s life, she had a strong impulse for the protection of children, which lead to her work at UNICEF. In 1987, she was officially appointed Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, and continued to help fundraise for the charity for the remainder of her life. She travelled to many places on her goodwill mission, including Japan, Turkey, Sudan, Bangladesh and Somalia. One of her most memorable trips during this time was to Somalia in 1992, after the country had been torn apart by war, with most of the population left starving. “I walked into a nightmare”, she was recorded as saying. Her work to help children around the world continues to this day. Her sons, Sean Ferrer and Luca Dotti, along with her companion Robert Wolders, established the Audrey Hepburn Memorial Fund at UNICEF to continue Hepburn’s humanitarian work in 1994. It is now known as the Audrey Hepburn Society.
Hepburn became ill in late 1992, experiencing abdominal pains. At the wishes of her family, she had further investigations done on a trip to California to visit her son Sean. Three days later, Hepburn was having surgery in the hope to treat colon cancer. She made it home for Christmas, spending the time with family at her home in Tolochenaz, Switzerland. When strong enough she would enjoy short walks in her beloved garden. On January 20th 1993, Audrey Hepburn passed away peacefully in her sleep at home. Four days later, her funeral was held, with mourners including Hubert De Givenchy, Mel Ferrer, Andrea Dotti and executives from UNICEF. She was 63.
The legacy of Audrey Hepburn will remain forever. In the time she was here, she contributed so much to the world of film, fashion and humanitarian courses. She will be forever immortalized for her role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which remains as one of my all-time favourite movies. Her feminine style which she so strongly showcased, through the help of legendary designer Hubert De Givenchy, has been an inspiration to me in defining my own style and passion for fashion. I wish I had the pleasure of meeting this fine woman, but I shall continue to be motivated by the heritage she has left behind. Thank you Audrey, for all that you bought to the world, and for being such a wonderful muse to me.
Love Always, Anastacia Rose xx