Tag Archives: Hubert de Givenchy

Style on Film: Sabrina

This stunning yet simple black cocktail dress which Audrey Hepburn wore in the 1954 romantic comedy Sabrina is – believe it or not – one of the most controversial frocks in cinema history. It helped to make Sabrina one of the most stylish films of the 1950s – and to establish its young star’s famous chic gamine look. It also marked her first collaboration with Hubert de Givenchy, the French couturier, with whom her style would be inextricably linked for the rest of her life. Being a Cinderella-style love story, Sabrina opens with its heroine dressed in rather dowdier attire, however …

Audrey Hepburn’s wardrobe in Sabrina was originally to be designed by Paramount Studios’ costume supremo, Edith Head. In the film, Sabrina, the chauffeur’s lovesick daughter, goes to Paris as an awkward adolescent and returns transformed into an elegant young lady. Edith Head was put out to learn that, after their first meeting, Audrey had asked director Billy Wilder if she could wear “a real Paris dress” in the film. Mrs Wilder suggested Audrey go to Balenciaga but when the young star turned up, the couturier was too busy see her and sent her to his young friend, Hubert de Givenchy.

Givenchy later recalled: “When the door of my studio opened, there stood a young woman, very slim, very tall, with doe eyes and short hair and wearing a pair of narrow pants, a little T-shirt, slippers and a gondolier’s hat with red ribbon that read ‘Venezia’. I told her: ‘Mademoiselle, I would love to help you, but I have very few sewers. I am in the middle of a collection – I can’t make you clothes.’  Audrey asked to see the collection – and ended up choosing all of Sabrina’s post-Paris capsule wardrobe from it, starting with the super-elegant ensemble with which she wows her childhood crush when she arrives back on Long Island from France.


For Sabrina’s first-ever date with David Larabee (the dashing William Holden), the playboy with whom she has been besotted all her life, Audrey (for it really was her choice) selected from Givenchy an exquisite strapless evening gown with a boned bodice and flowing, full, ankle-length skirt. She asked the designer to alter it to that it would hide the hollows behind her collarbone. He later said: “What I invented for her eventually became a style so popular that I named it ‘decollete Sabrina’.”

Needless to say, Sabrina is the belle of the ball in her black and white Paris dress. It certainly opens the otherwise-engaged David’s eyes, prompting him to say: “Oh Sabrina, if I’d only known…”. But the “if I’d only known” dress isn’t my favourite from the film; I love the cocktail dress and cute catwoman-like hat that our fickle heroine wears when she’s being romanced by David’s brother, Linus (Humphrey Bogart). What made this cocktail dress so controversial? Well, here’s a clue:

You would assume that this sketch, by Edith Head, is evidence that she designed the dress which sums up Sabrina’s seductive blend of playfulness and elegance. But that isn’t actually the case – though Head herself allowed the misconception to go uncorrected for the rest of her life. The truth – as explained in Jay Jorgensen’s superb book, Edith Head – The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer (Running Press) – is that Head’s department was supposed to make this dress, with its distinctive bows on the shoulder and boat neck, from a sketch by Givenchy. Jorgensen explains: “Confusion about the designs in the film began as sketches were done in the wardrobe department to execute all the clothing needed. Edith began sending the sketches out to publicize the film, leading to the assumption that all the clothes were her designs.” Here’s Sabrina wearing it on her pre-theatre dinner date at The Colony with Linus.

The boat neck of what became known as “The Sabrina Dress” – the design of which was translated into a best-selling dressmaking pattern when the film was released – became a hallmark of the Hepburn look. As did the black legging-like trousers and pumps which she wore, along with a slash-necked top, for a casual visit to Linus’s office.

It’s only when Sabrina removes her coat – a collarless number which anticipates the Givenchy coats she sports in their classic 1960s collaboration Charade – and turns around that we see the sly sexiness of the ensemble:

There aren’t that many different outfits in Sabrina – just enough to immediately establish it as a must-see for style lovers. Which must help explain why Edith Head presumably kept quiet about the extent of Givenchy’s involvement in the film and the fact that, with Audrey, he created Sabrina’s Parisian-inspired look, the look that dominates the movie. Not only did Givenchy’s name appear nowhere in the credits, but Head accepted an Oscar for Sabrina and didn’t even acknowledge the French designer’s contribution to the film.

According to Jorgensen’s book, Head even had the gall to parade the original dress down the runaways of her fashion shows. It was only after Head’s 1980 death, that Givenchy, a true gentleman, finally confirmed that the dress had been his design but had been made under Head’s supervision at Paramount…

 

 

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Style on Film: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most stylish films in Hollywood history: Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The anniversary may not be until October, but a sparkling new print of the film which consolidated Audrey Hepburn’s position as a style icon is doing the rounds right now so it’s the perfect time to celebrate the wardrobe of beautiful Givenchy clothes which she wears throughout the film, starting with the most famous of all – the evening gown she wears in the opening shots when we first meet Holly Golightly as she arrives at the window of Tiffany’s.

Givenchy made two versions of this exquisite gown: one which was completely straight and was for Hepburn to wear as she stood still outside Tiffany’s, and one which had a slit so she could walk in it. She’s glimpsed wearing the same dress again a few scenes later… Indeed, one of the surprises about Breakfast at Tiffany’s is that there aren’t that many different dresses – the same ones pop up more than once, but with different accessories. We first see the other iconic black dress, the knee-length cocktail dress with the deep ruffle round the hem, when Holly gets dressed for a morning visit to Sing Sing prison. Her casual approach to elegance is highlighted by the way she throws herself together in five minutes (including the time spent searching for missing alligator shoes and careful eyelash combing) …

Mind you, if you simply alternate a couple of frocks and vary the accessories, then it is possible to throw your chic outfit together super-fast… Just a few scenes after its debut (pictured above), the little black cocktail dress is back – this time for Holly’s crazy party, probably the zaniest party in Hollywood movies. Having greeted her early arrivals while wearing her bedsheet – albeit very stylishly – Holly disappears into her bedroom and emerges in the LBD, teamed with a stunning bib necklace, statement earrings and the cigarette holder that’s familiar from the publicity shots.

And the cocktail dress makes its third appearance for another Sing Sing trip a little later – yet another example of how this movie is essentially a masterclass in accessorizing…

With the arrival of Doc, the blast from her hick past that Holly has done her damnedest to leave behind, there’s a shift in the Golightly wardrobe from round-the-clock evening wear to more practical, everyday gear. But it’s still Givenchy so it’s still terribly chic. Here’s Holly drowning her sorrows in a strip joint and still looking impossibly Left Bank..

Charade is the Hepburn movie to watch for inspirational outerwear: in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, she has only one winter coat. But it’s a stunner: bright orange and funnel-necked, teamed with a fur hat, for Holly and Paul’s day of doing things they’ve never done before..

After Holly’s gone cold on Paul and has taken up with the dashing Brazilian Jose, she is briefly seen in a beautiful hot pink gown (teamed with matching tiara!) which is a departure from her earlier slinky black dresses. Ironically, however, she’s wearing the pink – and not the black – when she learns of her beloved brother’s untimely death. And, as gorgeous as the pink dress may be, it’s not one that people remember from the film.

Holly ends the film in a fabulously simple ensemble which is almost a throw-back to Hepburn’s gamine days of the 1950s. Popping out for a farewell stroll through her beloved Manhattan, she exudes casual chic in a simple beige cowl-necked sweater, black cigarette pants and loafers, and a black patent bag with chain straps.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is undoubtedly the film which cemented Audrey Hepburn’s status as a style icon and linked her forever more in the fashion-conscious public’s mind with the great French couturier Hubert de Givenchy, who had previously dressed her for Sabrina and Funny Face. Givenchy was only responsible for Hepburn’s wardrobe in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; the other female character, the older woman played by Patricia Neal, wore designs by a New York house, Pauline Trigere.

And if all these pictures haven’t got you in the mood for the film – or sent you scuttling to your wardrobe to dig out your black dresses – here’s the original trailer that audiences saw in 1961.

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Book Review: Fifth Avenue, 5am – Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I hope none of my girlfriends reads this review. Why? Because it’s about a book which should be in the Christmas stocking of every chic movie lover and every Audrey Hepburn admirer – and I know a few.

To be honest, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the 1961 film which transformed Audrey Hepburn from stylish gamine into style icon, is not this movie fan’s favourite Hepburn movie. With a heroine, Holly Golightly, whose “kookiness” irritates and enchants in equal measure, its outrageously offensive and ill-judged portrayal of a Japanese character (by an OTT Mickey Rooney) and its slightly wooden leading man (George Peppard), it’s far from perfect but, as author Sam Wasson points out, it was still a gamble which paid off – for almost everybody concerned – and a film which bridged the gap between the prudish Hollywood output of the 1950s and the more relaxed movies of the sexually-liberated 1960s.

In Fifth Avenue, 5am, Wasson skilfully weaves together all the many strands of the creation of this much-loved movie into a book which is, at times, irritatingly kooky itself (he even adopts Holly Golightly’s habit of dropping des mots francais into the prose) and sometimes unfairly dismissive (he writes off Hepburn’s subsequent film Charade in one line, while the Alastair Sim comedy Laughter in Paradise is, he says “regrettable” apart from the short scene which introduced the beguiling Hepburn to the world.

Nevertheless, the story of the film is a rivetting one: considered simply too risque (Holly is a happy-go-lucky hooker) for audiences who were used to seeing bad girls being punished and only good girls getting the guy and the happy ending, it faced all sorts of obstacles. And one of the major ones was in persuading the practically perfect Audrey Hepburn to take a chance on playing a part which author Truman Capote had wanted for his friend Marilyn Monroe.

Wasson takes as his starting point the story behind Capote’s creation of the original novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Capote’s flighty mother, Lillie Mae, who routinely abandoned him in their native Alabama as she was lured back to the bright lights and rich men of New York, was part of the inspiration for the character of Holly  (nee Lula Mae) – along with some of the once wild, now tamed society women whom Capote counted as friends and confidantes.

Alongside the gradual evolution of Holly’s story and the birth of Breakfast at Tiffany’s the movie, Wasson describes the asteroid-like early career of Audrey Hepburn who shot to fame and won an Oscar for her first Hollywood film, the sublime Roman Holiday. While her career was on the ascent, her personal life in the 1950s was punctuated by miscarriages and disappointments – and her husband, Mel Ferrer, as sketched by the anecdotes included here, was a control freak who was jealous of his wife’s success and scolded her in public if she didn’t behave as he expected her to.

Their relationship – his dominance and influence over her; her capitulation and deference to him – moves centre stage late in the book when Wasson reveals that Ferrer’s opinions about Holly Golightly and his wife’s portrayal of her began to interfere with Hepburn’s own instincts, and those of director Blake Edwards.

Indeed, as well-documented as Hepburn’s life and career may be, hers is a particularly compelling strand of Wasson’s book, and his description of how she must have been feeling – an evocation drawn from a number of reliable sources (there is a vast, and extremely readable, notes section at the end of the book) – when she began filming outside Tiffany’s at dawn on October 2, 1960, is quite moving.

A new, first-time mother, she had had to leave her ten-week-old baby on another continent to play a part she wasn’t sure she could pull off and which could, potentially, tarnish her carefully constructed and trusted screen image once and for all. Where we see an impossibly elegant swan
gliding around the pavement of Fifth Avenue, Hepburn herself was a bag of stomach-churning nerves.

That’s just one of a tidal wave of behind-the-scenes insights in this chatty, highly enjoyable book which sheds light on every aspect of Breakfast at Tiffany’s – from the fashion, for which it is legendary, and Hepburn’s relationship with Parisian couturier Hubert de Givenchy, to the ways in which Capote’s story had to be adjusted and altered to fit the requirements of a 1961 Hollywood film.

Fifth Avenue, 5 AM – Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Aurum, £14.99), by Sam Wasson

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Style File: Audrey Hepburn in the 1950s

Audrey Hepburn – the ultimate gamine – may have had beautiful doe eyes, a slender, gazelle-like frame and an elegant swan neck but it’s the way she wore clothes that we all envy. She may be best remembered for the  iconic dresses she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the early 1960s, but her 1950s wardrobe is worth a look too.  Here’s how she looked playing an incognito princess (opposite Gregory Peck) in her breakthrough movie, the delightful Roman Holiday (1953).

Hepburn won an Oscar for her performance as the princess who lets her hair down (well, gets it lopped off) as she enjoys a day of freedom in Rome. She followed that film with the Cinderella-esque romantic comedy Sabrina (1954), in which she played the chauffeur’s daughter who goes to Paris as an awkward young girl, and returns every inch the chic young demoiselle.

As with Roman Holiday, the clothes in Sabrina were credited to Paramount’s now-legendary chief costume designer, Edith Head – who won Oscars for both films. But in Sabrina, many of Hepburn’s most memorable outfits and gowns were actually the work of couturier Hubert de Givenchy who became her life-long friend. The elegant suit (above) which Sabrina wears when she makes her comeback to Long Island was undoubtedly a Givenchy creation, as was this exquisite evening gown, which our heroine wears in the tennis court/Isn’t It Romantic scene with David (William Holden).

Then there’s the casual, ballet pumps and capri pants/leggings, look that Sabrina wears when she nips in to Linus’s (Humphrey Bogart’s) office in Manhattan..

Funny Face (1957) is another must-see  for devotees of Audrey Hepburn and fans of fashion on film. It’s the story of an “ugly duckling” who is transformed into an elegant swan of a model by a fashion magazine, and whisked off to Paris for her first shoot, wearing Givenchy of course. Here are a couple of the shots of our heroine in model mode.

Hepburn loved this film because it gave her the chance to dance with the wonderful, and equally stylish, Fred Astaire (below). Whether Edith Head or Hubert de Givenchy designed the ensemble that Hepburn wears as she trawls the cafes and caves of Montmartre and Montparnasse is anyone’s guess, but the combination of black turtleneck, black cigarette pants and loafers with a beige parka is sublime – and nobody else, before or since, could have worn it better.

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