Accessing Audrey
November 25, 2009

I’ve been on a ’60s kick lately (even though I’ve been absent from the blog for a bit) and now comes the news of an auction of clothes largely from that decade from the wardrobe of the incomparable Audrey Hepburn. The big numbers are from Givenchy, her lifelong designer and friend, like the silk cloqué dress above from his autumn-winter 1966 collection that’s a most distinctive shade of blue. Seriously, the woman could even make a pastel look sophisticated. And as the catalogue notes, she ordered the dress (no loaners for Miss Hepburn!) for her publicity tour for Two For The Road, one of my all-time favorite movies.

Of course the auction includes loads of little black dresses, her trademark, and the story behind it is pretty rich. In 1951, Audrey, then 21, met Tanja Starr-Busmann, the 15-year-old daughter of a Dutch diplomat, in London where their families were neighbors. It was the start of a life-long friendship, and periodically Audrey would load up a big box with her haute couture cast-offs and send them off to Tanja. It really was a different world – Busmann even gave one of the Givenchy gowns to the nanny! Now all these years later, Kerry Taylor Auctions in London has acquired “the collection” and it’s set to go under the hammer on December 8, with half of the proceeds going to Unicef and the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund. Experts expect the sale to net north of $150,000, but authenticated Audrey pieces rarely come on the market and, after last week’s Yves St. Laurent sale where his old pots and pans went for $22,000, I think it’s anybody’s guess. I mean it’s Audrey Hepburn!

And then there is her wedding dress – for the marriage that never was. While she was filming the star-making Roman Holiday in 1952 in Rome, she sought out out the Fontana Sisters – renowned in postwar Italy for their full-skirted romantic gowns – to create her wedding dress. But as she finished the movie she called off her engagement to an Englishman and implored the sisters to give the dress away,”to the most beautiful, poor Italian girl you can find – someone who couldn’t ever afford a dress like mine.” (An impoverished farm girl, Amabile Altobella, wore it, stayed happily married and said the dress brought her luck.) Could you die?

Speaking of weddings, Audrey Hepburn also wore a lot of Valentino in the ’60s, and from his legendary Spring 1968 all-white couture collection there is a lacy vanilla mini, a version of the dress that Jackie O chose for her Skorpios ceremony with Ari. Val-hollah!