Ever a Goddess. Ever a Dream.
by Rick Marin
The New York Times, April 25, 1999
You can never be too rich or too thin or too Audrey.
Hepburn, that is. She was an object of fascination -- some might
call it obsession -- well before her death six years ago. And now, her
status as style goddess is spreading from the fashion world to the real
one with new urgency. On May 4 she would have turned 70. But as far as
her rejuvenated image is concerned, it's ingénue all over again.
A shoe designed for her in 1957 by Salvatore Ferragamo has been reissued
for sale at Ferragamo stores next month. A deejay known as Dimitri From
Paris sampled bits of dialogue from "Breakfast
at Tiffany's" for a CD, a version of which is being used in a
Volvo commercial. And next season, ABC will broadcast a television movie
chronicling Hepburn's early life and times and starring Jennifer Love Hewitt.
These are only the most obvious manifestations of a Hepburn "moment."
The subtler, almost subliminal, ways she is in the air may be more telling
evidence of her pervasive influence. The fashion world that always revered
her now seems to want to revive her. The impulse is visible in Marc Jacobs's
flats, Michael Kors's cigarette-cut pants and the little black shift dresses
in the Audrey-theme windows now on display at Bergdorf Goodman. (See also:
bateau necklines, tiaras, Ralph Lauren's pastel sweaters and the minimalist
uniforms of the Club Monaco militia.)
"Helmut Lang's basics are a very arch, modern interpretation
of what her closet must have looked like," said Anne Slowey, Elle
magazine's fashion news director.
But the fact that Hepburn made a look out of Capri pants and a white
shirt before anyone else doesn't fully explain her magnetic pull. Jacqueline
Onassis, the late Princess of Wales and Marilyn Monroe inspired similar
idolatry, but few people would want to be them. Not the way many women
(even a few men) seem to pattern their behavior after Holly Golightly,
the loopy glamour girl Hepburn made famous in "Breakfast
at Tiffany's," issued in 1961.
"She was who I wanted to be," said Kimberly Rubin, a television
producer who pitched the Hepburn movie for seven years before ABC said
yes. "When I was a teen-ager, I would be in circumstances where I
would say, 'What would Audrey do?' "
The 20-year-old Ms. Hewitt, queen of teen-age television and movies,
came more than prepared for the starring role in the ABC film, which is
so far untitled. When she was 11, her mother showed her Audrey for the
"Like every little girl, you wonder what you're going to grow
up and be like," she said from the Montreal set of the film, now in
its third week of production. "And you have these women in your life,
your mom and your grandmother, and my mom was great enough to say, 'You
should also be like this woman.' And she showed me 'Breakfast
at Tiffany's.' "
Ms. Hewitt said that since then, she has seen the movie "25
or 30 times." Hepburn, she said, is "classically what a woman
should be: soft, delicate, glowing and sparkling."
"She turns heads when she walks in a room," Ms. Hewitt
said. "She's playful and mysterious and cute and funny, and a little
bit daring. She was strong and respected and people listened to her."
Being all those things -- and not a bombshell or a sexual predator,
à la Marilyn Monroe or Madonna -- was her appeal then as it is now.
Cynthia Rowley didn't become a designer because of Audrey Hepburn, but
she gets her share of comparisons to her for being thin and dark-haired
and for making clothes that suit both fair ladies and funny faces.
"I guess because she's sort of that nonsexy sexy," Ms.
Rowley said, explaining her affinity for Hepburn. "She made that boyishness
cool. I don't have the body to show a lot, either, and so I think I do
clothes like that, too."
Ms. Rowley never met Hepburn. But at an awards dinner several years
ago, she touched her dress -- the hem of her garment, as it were. "I
just got close enough to brush by her," she said. "And that was
Actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz, glamorously packaged
in the pages of In Style magazine, don't seem to inspire the same level
of deep identification. Fans may covet their clothes, accessories and proximity
to Brad Pitt, but not with the intensely personal connection they often
make with Hepburn.
The clothes and the 20-inch waistline Hepburn wrapped them around
are not the sole reasons for her allure. Nor is her fandom limited to women
and fashion designers. For a certain type of heterosexual male, she represents
an irresistible type of woman: beautiful, high-strung, loopy, happy, sad,
maddeningly inaccessible. Holly Golightly.
Among the entranced is Tad Low, a creator of "Pop-Up Video"
on VH1, who seeks out his favorite Hepburn movie whenever it plays on the
big screen. "Anyone who's capable of hosting a party like the one
in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'
is the kind of woman I would want to spend more time with," he said.
"She gets away with causing a firestorm of fun."
The film may be nearly four decades old. But its antic central character
again feels right enough to make the producer Robert Evans want to make
a movie updating her.
Steve Garbarino, the editor in chief of Detour magazine and something
of a Harry Golighty himself, said he has always been seduced by his female
counterparts. He devoted several pages of his March issue to Holly wannabes
-- young women who seem to exist on Champagne, cigarettes and the fervid
attentions of older men.
Each of the women was asked a series of Golightlyesque questions.
Favorite aliases? Last party crashed? To which Anna Miller, who works in
public relations at Sonia Rykiel, replied, "Lulu Margot," and
"That of a fabulous Spaniard in Marrakesh."
New York is full of these women, as Truman Capote, who created the
character in his 1958 novel, knew (although he wanted Marilyn Monroe for
the movie). For them, Hepburn's Holly is the ultimate role model.
Holly is not Audrey Hepburn, though the distinction tends to blur.
"Sabrina" and "My
Fair Lady" were all variations on a similar fairy tale, with Gregory
Peck, Humphrey Bogart and
Rex Harrison as her Princes Charming.
And her own Cinderella story, rags-to-couture, was no less romantic.
Born in Brussels, 1929. Daughter of a baroness and a businessman
with Nazi leanings who took off when Audrey was 6. Suffered malnutrition
in World War II. Made her way as a dancer in London after the war, then
into bit parts in British movies. (Memorable first line: "Who wants
a ciggy?" from "Laughter in Paradise," 1951.) Won an Oscar
for "Roman Holiday" at 21. Became muse to Hubert de Givenchy.
Made gamine sexy, and casual cool. Crusaded on behalf of impoverished children.
Aged gracefully. Never got fat. And, as if to prove the Zen rule that nothing
is perfect without some imperfection, made some bad movies ("Wait
Until Dark") and unsuccessful marital choices (Mel Ferrer).
The events of her private life were always private, and they remain
so, except her crusade for Unicef and Save the Children. That expression
of noblesse oblige contributed increasingly to her image as a cross between
Grace Kelly and Mother Teresa.
"I get the feeling with a lot of celebs they're doing charity
stuff to look good, like it's a photo op," said Sally Klingenstein,
31, the executive director of her family's philanthropic foundation. "She
just seemed like such a genuine person." Ms. Klingenstein saw photographs
of Hepburn from the set of "Sabrina" in the March issue of Allure
magazine, then found her way to the James Danziger Gallery on the Upper
East Side to buy one.
The halo of her charity work notwithstanding, Hepburn is defined
for many of her admirers by nothing more than her sense of style. In the
classic image of her from "Breakfast
at Tiffany's," her eyes are not even visible. She's wearing sunglasses.
But style means a lot. Many people spend a lifetime without any,
or trying to figure out what theirs is. Hepburn seemed instinctively to
"She was modern enough and courageous enough and smart enough
to figure what style worked best for her and her physique, and she had
the discipline and style to stick with it," said Pamela Clarke Keogh,
the author of a new book called "Audrey Style" (HarperCollins,
In the 50's, Hepburn's upscale beatnik look was as radical as Brando's
leather jacket in "The Wild One": the black turtleneck, pedal
pushers and chest as flat as her ballet slippers.
Those flats, popularized by her, have become ubiquitous again. "It's
what she felt comfortable with," said Mossimo Ferragamo, whose father
shod Hepburn's size 10 feet for most of her adult life. "And she felt
comfortable with herself." Why not heels? "She didn't want to
appear to be anything other than the size that she was," Mr. Ferragamo
Jimmy Newcomber, a fashion historian at the Fashion Institute of
Technology, said: "Even though she was European, she typified the
new American woman after the war. Suburbia gave American women a reason
to dress more casually, and she looked well in casual clothes."
Look at "The Dick Van Dyke Show" on Nick at Nite: Laura
Petrie is Audrey Hepburn in New Rochelle.
Over the years, Hepburn wore many looks, from Givenchy ball gowns
to Ralph Lauren sportif, even Guess jeans on trips to Africa in her 60's.
But her genius was that people think of her as having just one look. This
consistency is what seems so desirable today.
"In the 90's we regurgitated every trend on the nanosecond,"
said Ms. Slowey, of Elle. "The schizophrenic nature of that has led
women to say, 'Wait a minute -- I just want beautiful staples.' And Audrey
really edited it down to the basics. If you study her, and mimic her, you'll
find that she really gave a lot of thought to it. They're all crisp, clean
silhouettes. You always feel timeless."
For inspiration, the men's wear designer Jeffrey Banks keeps a nine-foot-tall
Hepburn photograph from a Macy's window display in his apartment. "Fashion
is either very creative or very boring," he said. "So you're
looking for something to hold on to that is easily recognizable, and there's
Audrey." Always stylish, always skinny. This last factor cannot be
underestimated in Hepburn's hagiography.
Audrey Wilder, wife of the director Billy
Wilder, is quoted in Ms. Keogh's book as saying that when Hepburn first
arrived in Hollywood, "everyone immediately wanted to lose 10 pounds."
The only waist in her league was Scarlett O'Hara's. The teen-age Hepburn
was even tinier, recalled Polly Mellen, creative director at Allure, who
first met her at a Richard Avedon photo session. "What bothered me
a little bit about her was how thin she was," Ms. Mellen said. "You
could see her veins."
Tom Wolfe's coinage "social X-ray" comes to mind, except
that Hepburn never looked that unhealthy. Thin as she was, suspicions that
she had an eating disorder had little basis in reality.
"That was her metabolism," Ms. Keogh said. And her dancer's
discipline. "Her training was in ballet, and she wanted to keep that
line." But she was known for her healthy appetite, a trait alluded
to in "Charade" (1963), which opens with Hepburn wolfing a meal
at an Alpine ski lodge, to Cary Grant's
shock and dismay.
Naturally, he falls for her anyway.
© 1999 The New York Times Company