Ahead of an auction of Audrey Hepburn’s possessions, we recall the creative chemistry between the actress and Richard Avedon at Bazaar
The creative collaboration between photographers and their muses has long electrified and enriched the pages of fashion magazines. David Bailey enshrined Jean Shrimpton; Irving Penn anointed his wife, Lisa Fonssagrives; Mario Testino put Gisele Bündchen on a pedestal; Norman Parkinson had Carmen Dell’Orefice. But the almost symbiotic and arguably most famous coupling of all was the relationship between Richard Avedon and Audrey Hepburn, as played out on the pages of Harper’s Bazaar in the 1950s. After her debut in the 1953 movie Roman Holiday, for which she won an Oscar, Hepburn became a darling of Harper’s Bazaar. Avedon, then the magazine’s principal fashion photographer, brought her to the attention of its fashion editor Diana Vreeland, who was always on the prowl for a fresh new face. Hepburn’s bowled her over.
According to Robert Wolders, Hepburn’s longtime companion in the last period of her life, Vreeland and the young actress became good friends. ‘They immediately recognised something in each other,’ he says, ‘and felt as if they had known each other for years. In fact, Diana would visit us often in Switzerland. Audrey many times said that were it not for Diana and Dick [Avedon], she never would have had the early exposure that she received.’
Avedon’s first cover of Hepburn for Bazaar was in April
1956. Almost hidden under a straw hat and wearing a flower-print dress and scarf, she looked like the perfect ingénue. Many more covers and features followed – so much so that it seemed as if the pair belonged to the magazine (and possibly each other). But they were spiritually, rather than romantically, involved.
This relationship between photographer and muse was fictionalised in Funny Face, the 1957 musical loosely based on Avedon’s career at Bazaar. In the movie, Avedon is Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) and Vreeland is Maggie Potts (the character actress Kay Thompson ). Avery’ s muse is none other than Audrey Hepburn as Jo Stockton, a dowdy assistant in a bookshop whom Avery and Potts take to Paris and transform into a swan. It was Hepburn’s first musical role after such successes as Roman Holiday and Sabrina. She once again lit up the screen.
Their most ambitious story for Bazaar was in September 1959, an 18-page portfolio that was cinematic in its approach. Shot in Paris, it featured Hepburn, her then husband Mel Ferrer, the silent-screen comedian Buster Keaton and Simone, a little white cat. Thirteen designers dressed Hep burn, Cha nel,Dio rand Madame Grès among others.
Of course, Hepburn wasn’t the only woman cultivated by Avedon, who was then at the height of his career. The models Suzy Parker, Dorian Leigh and Dovima all worked with him, and often. But no one sparked his creativity more than Hepburn. Theirs was a partnership built on mutual trust, each bringing out the best in the other.
When Avedon was awarded by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in January 1989, Hepburn presented the Lifetime Achievement honour to him. ‘For Richard ,’ she said ,‘ I’ ve happily swung through swings, stood in clouds of steam, been drenched with rain and descended endless flights of stairs without breaking my neck. Only with Richard have I been able to shed my innate self-consciousness in front of the camera.’ And all for Harper’s Bazaar.
To that, Avedon replied in an uncharacteristically humble way: ‘I am and for ever will be devastated by the gift of Audrey Hepburn before my camera…[she] sets a standard that has never been surpassed or even equalled.’
Hepburn’s dear friend and favourite couturier Hubert de Givenchy once said: ‘There is not a woman alive who doesn’t dream of looking like Audrey Hepburn.’ The truth is she looked elegant in almost everything, including the habit that covered her head to toe in The Nun’s Story.
For all the fullness of her life, Hepburn had a relatively short career: 27 films, most of them squeezed into the 1950s and 1960s. She left Hollywood to become a full-time mother, which she considered to be the greatest role of her life. Her two marriages ended in divorce but her love for her children was always first and foremost. And her pleasures were simple, even in what she liked to eat and cook. In her son Luca Dotti’s remembrance of her, Audrey At Home , he wrote that she had three favourite foods: ‘Pasta. Pasta. And Pasta.’
She tried to avoid publicity, spending most of her time in Rome or Switzerland. But throughout her retirement and even in death, the press still couldn’t get enough of her. The latest showcase occurs in London in September, when Christie’s King Street will hold an auction of Hepburn’s personal items: apparel, film scripts annotated with her favourite blue pen, portraits by renowned photographers (such as Cecil Beaton and Steven Meisel), movie stills, letters and other memorabilia. Sanctioned by Hepburn’s sons Sean Ferrer Hepburn and Luca Dotti, both of whom live in Italy, the collection will be auctioned live on 27 September, and online from 19 September until 3 October. Yet for those who are unable to land a cherished lot – a pair of her dainty, worn ballet pumps, perhaps – the films remain.
When I think about Hepburn, as I often do, I recall an image from the mo vie Green Mansions. It is far from her finest work, but I believe it nonetheless captures Hepburn’s spirit. As Rima, a jungle sprite who dwells in the South American rainforest, she wears nothing more than a slip of a dress made of bark (Givenchy, where were you?). In one scene, her leading man Tony Perkins stares at her in wonder and murmurs: ‘I see you standing still in the sunlight, then slipping in and out of the woods. You are like all the beautiful things in this wood – the flower, the butterfly, the birds singing in the trees, the soft green leaves. When I look at Rim a, I seethe mall .’ Rim a. Audrey. They seem to be one and the same – unearthly, eternal and unforgettable.
A preview of the sale will be on display at Christie’s from 23 September (www.christies.com/audreyhepburn).
No one sparked Avedon’s creativity more than Hepburn. Each brought out the best in the other
This page and opposite: Audrey Hepburn in Bazaar, photographs by Richard Avedon A pair of Audrey Hepburn’s shoes from the auction