Givenchy show of his designs for Audrey Hepburn a reminder of one of fashion world’s greatest platonic love affairs

Dresses the late actress wore in films such as Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Charade, and dozens of others never before shown, on display in The Hague in exhibition personally curated by Hubert de Givenchy, now 89

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 December, 2016, 11:18am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 December, 2016, 11:18am

One of the fashion world’s greatest platonic love stories almost never came to pass, when in the 1950s French couturier Hubert de Givenchy at first refused a request to design for Audrey Hepburn.

“When Audrey came to me and asked me to make her dresses for the film Sabrina, I didn’t know who she was. I was expecting Katharine Hepburn,” Givenchy said in an emotional press conference for the opening of a new exhibition of his creations in The Netherlands.

“She arrived looking so vulnerable, so graceful, so young and sparkling” dressed like “a young girl today” in cotton trousers, ballerina flats and T-shirt which showed off her belly-button, carrying a straw gondolier’s hat, the designer recalled.

“But I wasn’t really in any condition to make a major wardrobe for Sabrina and I told her, ‘No, Mademoiselle, I can’t dress you.’”

Luckily for fashion fans everywhere, Hepburn was not to be dissuaded and sweetly invited Givenchy to dinner. By the end of that meal in 1953, the aristocratic French designer had fallen under the spell of the petite actress. So began a creative friendship which lasted down the decades until the British film star died of cancer in 1993.

“She persuaded me. How lucky I was to have accepted,” Givenchy said.

The retrospective of Givenchy’s designs for his friend and style icon, entitled “To Audrey with Love”, has just opened at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, and lasts until late March.

It is the designer’s homage to his muse and Givenchy has personally selected many of the 100 outfits featured in the collection, a few of which have never been seen in public before, in what he calls a “journey through her wardrobe”.

In the 1954 romantic comedy Sabrina, Hepburn appeared alongside then screen heart-throb Humphrey Bogart, and in one key scene wore a sophisticated, floating ivory ball dress edged in black with embroidered black flowers – a Givenchy creation.

The same year, she wore a delicate ivory lace Givenchy creation for the Oscars where she won the Best Actress award for Roman Holiday.

Givenchy was to remain by her side for many of her most iconic films, such as the 1961 Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Charade in 1963 and some of his most memorable outfits from those films are on show.

Using everything from satin to tulle and silk, his imagination flourished as he designed for Hepburn both on and off-screen.

“Givenchy’s clothes are the only ones I feel myself in. He is more than a designer, he is a creator of personality,” she once said.

The exhibition has taken a year to put together, with Givenchy, now 89, overseeing every detail, and hoping to pay tribute to his muse’s “elegance and style”.

It also includes a collection of jewellery, accessories, scarves and hats, as well as sketches, drawings, photos and film stills.