Always Golightly

Even today, Audrey Hepburn both inspires and puzzles:

A half-century after her iconic turn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hepburn remains an ideal of simple elegance, eminently approachable and attainable. She evokes a sensibility composed of both sophistication and innocence — a combination that’s considered practically oxymoronic in our more jaded times.

Audrey HepburnWhat I can’t figure out, though, is the desire by women to emulate the classic Audrey look, even when it’s not necessarily a natural fit. In separate instances, I’ve been told by female acquaintances (including one via tweet) that they were sold on a dress, hairstyle, etc. because it gave them that Audrey Hepburn quality. In each case, the women in question had physical features that were decidedly unlike Hepburn’s, i.e. curvy, blonde, or olive-skinned. That such a diverse representation of femininity would all aspire to be Audrey says something about the idealization at play.

Perhaps it’s not so much The Look as it is the suggestion of the lifestyle: one does not simply put on “sophistication and innocence” as though it were a costume. And said lifestyle might not be the glorified escort of Breakfast at Tiffany’s — the character in Truman Capote’s original novella was a bit more, um, streetwise — so much as the slumming Europrincess of Roman Holiday.

It didn’t hurt that Hepburn had an ongoing arrangement with Givenchy, who designed her costumes for many years. And while Givenchy didn’t invent the Little Black Dress — Coco Chanel was showing one back in the 1920s — the one he worked up for Holly Golightly proved to be iconic. How iconic, you ask? One of three copies made for the film sold at a charity auction in 2006 for £467,200, and it wasn’t even one she’d actually worn.

Then again, it could be something else entirely. Claire Goldsmith, granddaughter of eyewear designer Oliver Goldsmith, who made glasses for Hepburn, says it’s the eyes:

“…Those big, brown, warm eyes. Women relate to her because she was unthreatening, and for men she had that innocence.”

Of whom can this be said today?



  1. Kay Dennison »

    1 January 2010 · 11:07 am

    No one. Audrey Hepburn had style and class in an era when those qualities were admired. There’s is no one like her. I really respected her when she gave up Hollywood to marry the man she loved and raise her children in privacy. And her work with the U.N. for children in her later years was wonderful, too.

    And yeah, I still prefer a ‘little black dress’ when I have to dress up — they are timeless.

  2. CGHill »

    1 January 2010 · 11:54 am

    I can’t imagine the LBD ever going away. Fortunately.

  3. paulsmos »

    1 January 2010 · 12:13 pm

    For what it’s worth, I have always maintained that she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. “The Nun’s Story” really set the hook in to me….maybe it was because I was in parochial school.

  4. CT »

    1 January 2010 · 4:12 pm

    No dispute on Hepburn’s timeless qualities. I’m just wondering (and maybe this didn’t come across in my post) how that translates into countless “girl crushes” from such a cross-section of women.

  5. CGHill »

    1 January 2010 · 4:25 pm

    The existence of an icon presumes timelessness, or at least duration comfortably in excess of Flavor of the Month.

    And I think part of it, in Hepburn’s case, is accessibility: she wasn’t accessible, particularly, but the look, and the attitudes which came to be associated with it, were and are.

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  7. CGHill »

    3 January 2010 · 1:55 pm

    I couldn’t help but pass this along. Progressive Boink has a highly-subjective list of the 100 greatest characters of film, and Holly Golightly comes in 14th.

    Right above, um, Biggus Dickus.

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