Tag Archives: Sabrina

Well Hello, Bonjour Tristesse

Bonjour Tristesse - JS black dressI went to see the 1958 movie Bonjour Tristesse in a sparkling new print yesterday and was struck by how stylish it is – in so many more ways than I remembered from seeing it on TV in my teens. Style-wise back then, I couldn’t see past the sublime pixie crop sported by the gamine Jean Seberg – and all I could recall of the film in general was that I didn’t like it much, apart from the theme song (scroll down to hear Juliette Greco singing it in the opening scenes) which has always haunted me. This time, however, I was wowed right from the get-go – by the colourful Saul Bass-designed titles (and Georges Auric music) which announced the film’s style credentials: “accessories by Hermes”. A good sign, surely?

Well, yes. I can’t find the costume designer listed on the Internet Movie Database – and I blinked and missed the credit during the titles (too dazzled by the Bonjour Tristesse - Seberg & Kerr on arrivalHermes mention, perhaps) but I believe it was Givenchy – which just adds to the appeal. Certainly, the first dress we see Seberg wearing – in the black & white sequences that represent the present-day and book-end the main drama – is reminiscent of the “Sabrina” dress that Givenchy designed for Audrey Hepburn to wear in the movie of that name … Bonjour Tristesse certainly required a chic, grown-up wardrobe for its other female star, Deborah Kerr, since she plays a Parisian fashion designer whose creations are worn by both her and the other characters throughout the movie.

I wonder now whether I ever watched beyond the first twenty minutes of the film when I first saw it. They are full of irritating dialogue, and focus on Cecile (Seberg), her unfulfilling social life and her nauseatingly sophisticated relationship with her playboy father (David Niven). I can’t think of many other films Bonjour Tristesse - Seberg & Kerr in casinowhere the look – of the costumes, the stars’ make-up and hair (Deborah Kerr looks particularly striking with soft make-up and flame red hair pinned up in an elegant chignon), their tanned bods and the locations (French Riviera) – has seduced me enough to continue watching something that was otherwise boring or annoying me. But I’m glad I did – for not only was there more style inspiration to soak up as the film unfolded, but I was drawn into the story in a way which I wasn’t when I first saw it. (Oh, and there was a wonderful opportunity to see Martita Hunt, AKA the definitive Miss Havisham, looking glamorous in the casino scene.)

It’s not a great film but it’s worth seeing; a movie based on a French literary classic – which the French should have made themselves. It seems all wrong as a Hollywood film – but it looks a million dollars ..

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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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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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