‘She never dreamed of being a star’ — The Audrey Hepburn her family knew

The Hollywood and fashion icon’s two sons and granddaughter recall the woman behind the legend, her style and her singular approach to remaining true to herself

‘She would say to you — and I’m going to say it for her — she was lucky,’ says Sean Hepburn Ferrer, Audrey Hepburn’s eldest son from her first marriage to American actor Mel Ferrer. ‘She was in the right place at the right time.’

‘She never dreamed of being a star,’ adds Luca Dotti, Hepburn’s son from her second marriage to Andrea Dotti, an Italian psychiatrist. ‘The first movie that launched her career was Roman Holiday. It’s one of those great movies that has many layers — you have a very light fairytale, but the more you dig you realise it is about a woman’s liberation, and the more you realise a lot of my mother’s roles are about that.’

‘Had she come from America, the land of plenty, maybe she wouldn’t have given the same value to the opportunity of becoming a star, an independent woman in the Fifties, a self-sustaining single mother,’ continues Sean.

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His daughter, Emma, describes her grandmother as being ‘engrained in the collective consciousness’ in that ‘her appearance and her actual being and personality were so intertwined.’


Charade, 1963 a cocktail gown of black satin, Givenchy couture, the two piece ensemble comprising a fitted bodice and skirt, each with a hem of semi-tubular black paillettes, set on edge, with multiple canvas tags to the interior, as well as black woven label with canvas tag inscribed 23174, designed for Audrey Hepburn as Regina "Reggie" Lampert in the 1963 Universal production Charade. Estimate: £50,000-80,000. This lot is offered in Audrey Hepburn: The Personal Collection on 27 September 2017 at Christie’s in London

Luca, whose mother died in 1993 when he was 23, remembers her as being ‘very clear to the fact that she had to be herself. That’s what worked, and therefore she sometimes adapted the scripts or the dresses she wore.’

Audrey Hepburn had an unusually close working relationship with the designers she became associated with across her long and glittering career. ‘She knew what she wanted,’ explains Sean. ‘She took everything off the dresses that wasn’t firmly planted on, because she wanted the essence of the design.’

A crisp white linen shirt and black linen trousers, Basile and marisa padouan, 1980s, the open necked shirt with long sleeves, the trousers loosely cut, tapering to the ankle; together with gondolier's hat, red ballet pumps, possibly by capezio and a lipstick red belt; the hat with paper label il cappello di paglia, 0614, Yenezia, 31 Agosto 1983, with a red silk hat band. Estimate: £3,000-5,000. This lot is offered in Audrey Hepburn: The Personal Collection on 27 September 2017 at Christie’s in London

For Emma, her grandmother’s singular style is epitomised by one garment — a man’s white shirt. ‘As legend has it, she just threw it on one day,’ she says. ‘Her waist was so tiny that she was able to wrap it all the way round so she could double it at the front and tie it at the back. She never wore overly asymmetrical designs, or risqué cuts or plunging backlines,’ Emma continues. 

A large straw satchel, Circa 1960. Estimate: £800-1,200. This lot is offered in Audrey Hepburn: The Personal Collection on 27 September 2017 at Christie’s in London. Audrey Hepburn is photographed in France with what is almost certainly this straw tote bag on a sunny day in May 1960, with her husband, Mel Ferrer, carrying it.

‘She was very opinionated and really knew what she wanted,’ adds Sean. ‘Not just the acting or the style, but the crafting of the Audrey Hepburn as we know her.’

Emma believes there were ‘pinnacle moments’ in Audrey Hepburn’s style trajectory. ‘In Sabrina, for example, she is floating across the tennis court to meet Humphrey Bogart and she’s wearing a Givenchy gown, and she is absolutely exquisite. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s  she’s wearing a little black dress, but she isn’t wearing heels. There’s this duality to her character. She’s never fully that myth, but she’s also never fully the girl next door.’

‘Less is more,’ confirms Luca. ‘She would choose and pick things for their simplicity or usefulness.’ He believes this approach to style is why today his mother’s look remains so modern and relevant. ‘When you find something that fits you should stick to it,’ he says. 

The actress’s timeless elegance helps to explain the global level of fascination in the objects from her personal collection being offered for auction on 27 September. Included in the sale is a dress the star wore in Charade, and, says Sean, the ‘whole palette of her wardrobe, including things she wore on a daily basis’.

‘She could so easily slide into a Givenchy gown,’ says Emma, ‘but she would still have that accessibility and approachability, and that was the embodiment of her fashion philosophy.’

‘I think in the end she’s one of us,’ Sean agrees. ‘She is the girl from across the landing who puts on a little black dress. She doesn’t have big means, but she knows how to put it together. She goes into the world, and captures the universe.’

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