||Audrey Hepburn has become
synonymous with such terms as class, beauty, talent and grace. She was
the original Angelina Jolie; Oscar-winning movie star, fashion icon,
loving mother, devoted wife, UNICEF ambassador and worldwide
campaigner. A favourite among film fans for the last 50 years, she
still continues to appear in magazines and on our TV screens. DVD box
sets and special anniversary editions of classic Audrey-starring films
are constantly being released and re-released, but what is it about her
films that makes them such must-have items, and why is Audrey still so
Audrey was someone audiences could identify with both on and off the screen. She was a mother first and an actress second, paving the way for current celeb favourites such as Kate Winslet and Reese Witherspoon. We love women like this because they are normal. They are happy to be seen picking up a pint of milk in jeans and a t-shirt, face completely stripped of any makeup and a kid under one arm. It is easy to relate to a character that we see on screen, and in this age of celebrity gossip and tabloid frenzy it is hardly difficult for them to be accessible off-screen. There is no mystery when it comes to the private lives of the people we see up on the big screen. We are constantly seeing young Hollywood starlets such as Lindsay Lohan, Kirsten Dunst and Eva Mendes being shipped off to rehab and reading kiss and tell stories from the children’s nannies in the newspapers (Jude Law and Rob Lowe); gone are the days where their private lives were just that. There is no more intrigue, which is what made the classic film stars so popular. Not knowing everything about someone means aspects of their lives are left to the imagination. If we knew everything about George Clooney and Scarlett Johansson would we still find them attractive?
Audrey played a variety of characters, ranging from a princess to a nun, classy call girl to guardian angel and Indian to blind housewife. They are all different yet all of them embody some of that Hepburn star quality. Can you imagine anyone else singing Henry Mancini’s Moon River so beautifully in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Or playing Princess Anne/Anya Smith with such innocence and vulnerability in Roman Holiday? Who else could put in such a memorable performance by just uttering one line in The Lavender Hill Mob? Audrey put her heart and soul into all of her roles and made them her own. When the cast was announced for the film version of the hugely popular musical My Fair Lady there was an uproar because Audrey replaced Julie Andrews, who had played Eliza on stage. The film was a massive success for all involved, except Hepburn. Her singing was dubbed by voice of the stars Marni Nixon and come Oscar season My Fair Lady was nominated for most of the awards, except Best Actress. To be dubbed and then not even be nominated was a huge slap in the face, made worse when Julie Andrews took home the award for her leading role in Mary Poppins.
From the outside, Hollywood seems perfect – glossy hair, perfectly manicured nails and constant happy endings, but there is a lot of ugliness off-camera. Ugly is not a word people tend to use in the same sentence as the name Audrey Hepburn. A generation of men wanted her and women wanted to be like her. She was a star in every sense of the word; she was globally recognised, received critical acclaim, had the ability to open a film and, most importantly, she was someone the audience could identify with and had characteristics which viewers aspired to. What makes her such a great example of stardom and star quality is that she is still known around the world, viewers still identify with her and women still dress like her.
Before Audrey came along, films starred voluptuous beauties like Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe. Audrey ended this cycle, demonstrating that not all movie stars look the same and being confident with who you are makes you beautiful. She famously said “I never thought I’d land in pictures with a face like mine” yet audiences, critics and designers alike disagreed. Roman Holiday, her first feature film for which she won her first Oscar (the only one she received while alive), introduced her as an actress to keep watching and a fashion icon in the making. When the film was released in 1953, young women all over the world cut their hair off and started to dress like her. Sure, she lacked the curves of her contemporaries, but stars like them represented men’s idea of beauty. Audrey portrayed women’s idea of beauty. Her look was real and attainable; she once said: “My look is attainable. Women can look like Audrey Hepburn by flipping out their hair, buying the large sunglasses, and the little sleeveless dresses”.
Winning an Oscar for your first major film is a great starting point. These days when women win the Best Actress Oscar, they follow it with a string of stinkers; Halle Berry in Cat Woman and Die Another Day and Charlize Theron in North Country and Aeon Flux, for example. In Audrey’s case, her success led to a long line of filmmakers queuing up to work with her. After her Oscar victory, she was offered the lead role in Billy Wilder’s new film Sabrina co-starring Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. Sabrina saw the start of one of her most lasting friendships, with designer Hubert de Givenchy. It seems her fame and success was highly contagious as Audrey launched his career. He designed her wardrobe for seven of her big screen films as well as the dress for her second wedding, her sons’ christenings and their christening gowns. These gorgeous outfits inspired designers and women everywhere and you can still see copies on the high street today - just take a walk down Oxford Street or check out the latest looks on the catwalk and you will see that the classic and iconic Hepburn/Givenchy collections we grew to love will remain timeless, just like her films.
Audrey suffered a lot of heartache in her 63 years of life. Her parents divorced when she was very young, she suffered from depression and malnutrition during the war and, as a result, her figure would keep her from fulfilling her dream of becoming a dancer. However, after two divorces and multiple miscarriages, she met the love of her life, Robert Wolders, and had a son by each of her husbands, taking time out between films to focus on her family. One such film saw her fulfil a lifelong ambition – dancing alongside Fred Astaire. In the last years of her life, she became an international Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. After her death, her sons and partner set up the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund to continue her good work. Audreybag is a division of the fund, where people can buy limited editions of Audrey Hepburn bags to raise money for UNICEF. Fashion played a big part in her career and personal life and the campaigns were so important to her that she carried on working for as long as she was able to, before she died of abdominal cancer at her home in Switzerland.
Even though Audrey is no longer with us, she will always be remembered. We can’t help remembering her. Even after her death, she still graces the covers of magazines, appears in newspapers and on billboards and her films will continue to marvel audiences for years to come. She will live on forever in the hearts and minds of film audiences everywhere, thanks to the power of movies.
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