“Audrey was known for something which has disappeared, and that is elegance, grace and manners – things you cannot take a course in. You’re born with it or not…She just was blessed. God kissed her on her cheek, and there she was.” – Billy Wilder
Today marks the 82nd birthday of Audrey Hepburn; the number shocks me every year and reminds me how long it’s been since she passed away and just how young she was then. I’d like to pay tribute in some way, though when it comes to creating an original tribute to Audrey one is faced with so many difficulties. Pictures and quotes and the like, who hasn’t seen them all before? Everyone knows what she looked like, and as far as quotations you’ll find around the internet, sadly half of them are misattributed. (Such as this poem. I try to make sure the only lines I quote are from biographies and tributes I trust.) It can be frustrating because she’s come to be like a rumor: it just keeps going around, some exaggeration gets added on to her story and the next thing you know Audrey is paraded as a sort of real-world Holly Golightly. That’s the image so many people think of, isn’t it? I’ve mentioned this many times so I’m sorry if I sound redundant, but the character of Holly was so drastically different from Audrey’s personality that she found the prospect of playing her to be really quite frightening. “This part called for an extroverted character,” she said. “I am an introvert.” How strange is it that the character so many have come to remember her for is the one she liked perhaps the least? I think it’s sad when people don’t know who she really was; you need to know her true character intimately before you can really understand the beauty of her. For instance, she’s universally recognized for her skinny figure – it seems to be made up as a sort of Parisian inclination – but it’s rarely acknowledged that her size is largely considered a lasting effect of the malnutrition and overall trauma her body experienced during the Nazi occupation in Holland. Even the elegant, silently dignified air she had could be attributed to her great shyness and insecurity. Actor James Coburn (who played opposite Audrey in Charade, 1963) said it best: “Audrey was something else – a real lady, and there are so few of them. It had to do with her upbringing and those negative experiences in the war, which I think made her become rather secretive.”
She didn’t consider herself a supremely talented actress, but to me there was a remarkable human element in her – some tragedy, a lot of beauty, and a sort of solitary, lonely appeal – that would rip right through the screen and connect with someone or another in the audience. She contributed something huge to pop culture in that way, I think. The screen just happened to be the vessel through which she communicated it. Billy Wilder, who directed Audrey in Sabrina and Love in the Afternoon (and also wrote both films), said of her, “She was so gracious and graceful that everybody fell in love with her after five minutes.” I think her chemistry with people, her genuine compassion and interest in everyone around her, was something that burned through the camera, something no one who watches her films can deny. There’s something earnest in it, and it makes me think as though that was her greatest hope, as though that was the only thing she desperately wanted the viewer to take away from the film: honest human connection.
“My first impression of her was that she was like a very fragile animal; she had such beautiful eyes…and no makeup. She was charming.” – Hubert de Givenchy
How to really capture Audrey’s style
I’ve seen countless style guides on how to be “an Audrey” and some of them can just be predictable or they don’t feel very accurate to what she really thought was important. Here are my top five principals in bringing Audrey’s inspiration into my life:
05. Embrace your strength.
Of her experience with the war Audrey said that she chose to come out of it with hope and strength instead of being broken by it. Later, she suffered through two miscarriages before giving birth to her first son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer; and both of her marriages ended in divorce. But while she may have been devastated and frightened and sensitive, her strength prevailed above everything and in her later years she reaped the rewards of not giving up by living in true happiness.
04. Follow your heart.
From her earliest years throughout her teens Audrey dreamed of being a ballerina. She counted it among being married and having children as her greatest dream. The reality was that she was just too tall: in pointe shoes she would reach 5’10″ and most prominent male dancers of the day were more like 5’4″. She did dance, though, for however short a period of time, and even after that, as her work with UNICEF shows, she continued to pursue her dreams.
03. Keep perspective.
Given the many difficult times in her life Audrey quickly and thoroughly established a healthy, honest perspective. “I felt very enriched,” she once said; “I developed a new kind of inner peacefulness. A calmness. Things that once seemed so important weren’t important any longer.” Whenever I start to feel negative in any way I consider the things she went through and how she still managed to live humbly, and with steadfast purpose. She had an electric sense of decorum that never wavered.
02. Love yourself.
Audrey openly admitted to disliking her appearance in her younger years; she went so far as to say she thought herself ugly, that she hated herself. She dealt with fierce insecurity throughout her life, but with age she found the wisdom in loving oneself. If you watch her interviews, perhaps on YouTube, when she was very young (say, her screen test for Roman Holiday) and then her last recorded interview in her later life, you’ll see the vast transformation she went through and how much more confident she became when she finally accepted and loved herself.
01. Be kind.
This was never a struggle for Audrey; kindness toward others came naturally to her. She was sympathetic and considerate to complete strangers. She didn’t acknowledge distinctions in race or social status. So many who knew her said she had a warmth and a way of making you feel as if you were the only person in the world she could possibly want to be with at that precise moment. Like whatever conversation you had to offer would change her life deeply. Whether that stemmed from her own sense of inferiority, her mother’s gentle breeding or from genuine inclination, I know she offered as much of herself to the rest of the world as she possibly could, and it made her exquisitely happy.
“It’s the flowers you choose, the music you play, the smile you have waiting.”