A Silhouette Dream: Reimagining Audrey Hepburn

July 16, 2021  / Annie Brawner

She stands by the white-frosted window,

a cigarette dangling from lips the color of rubies.

She has swept her hair in a dark glossy coiffe that resembles rose buds blooming at the top of her head.

Grace melts from her fingertips onto the marble floor,

as the smoke spirals around her pearl-wrapped neck.

She sips champagne from a fluted glass, the bubbles forming crystals on her lips.

Smoothing the silk folds of her skirt, she casts a nonchalant gaze out at the rain-drenched street below,

as a knock on the door leaves an invitation in her ear.

Audrey Hepburn. The lady in pearls. The actress who graced the era of black and white film, introducing us to sparkling champagne parties and the jewels of New York City. The pinnacle of beauty and style. An icon of the classic wardrobe.

As style trends have fluctuated over the years, the decades, the centuries, the classic silhouette has forever remained burned behind the eyelids of fashion, carving a silvery path through time and society.

When I was younger, I used to try on my grandmother’s clothes. My sister and I would rummage through closets of plaid coats and tea dresses, clipping faux diamond earrings to our ears and strutting about the time-worn hallways in flopping heels and gold-rimmed spectacles. We would look at ourselves in the dark, wood-framed mirror in my grandmother’s bedroom and parade about the house for all our family to see. Whether we were aware of it or not, my sister and I sought something intangible yet treasured, feeling the nostalgia for a time we had never known nor experienced.

I remember the first time I watched Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, wishing I could be that girl on the screen, with her perfectly pleated skirts, hair scarves, and oh so stylish sunglasses. As I tap the keys of my laptop in thought, I wonder why that is. And yet, I already know the answer. It is the idea that Audrey Hepburn remains just as relevant today as she was sixty years ago. Traces of her style and image can even be found on the runways, the red carpets, and the streets of today. The classic silhouette is a core element of modern fashion. Quite simply, it is timeless, due partly to the fact that it continues to resurface in new and refreshing ways, as well as that it does not ride the rollercoaster of trends or fads, forever coasting on the wings of simplicity, neutrality, and clean lines.

La La Land (2016), a romantic musical film in which a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress fall in love within the bubbling world of the Los Angeles art scene, gives a nod both to the classically styled wardrobes and the quintessential love stories found in many films during Hepburn’s era gracing the silver screen. However, La La Land offers a twist to Hollywood’s usual cookie cutter, bubblegum, neatly-wrapped storybook ending. Without spoiling the ending for those who haven’t seen the movie, it offers a contemporary perspective on the glittering world of Hollywood, a fairytale-esque story that doesn’t end stereotypically, adding a sense of real-world circumstances and a taste of bittersweetness. The character Mia, meanwhile, offers us a gorgeous take on the modern classic wardrobe, its own inspiration drawn from a slew of classic actresses, from Grace Kelly to Katherine Hepburn. She glows in vivid statement colors, tap dancing in a canary yellow number with a flowy, knee-length skirt, square neckline, and cap sleeves, and then attending the theater in a rich, emerald green dress with a ruched waistline. Her fashion ensembles represent a marriage between two worlds, the contemporary and the Old Hollywood, a technicolor dream of glamour and sophistication.

In 2019, Lady Gaga turned heads as a living embodiment of Audrey Hepburn in an elegant black Alexander McQueen gown, wearing the very same Tiffany diamond necklace that Audrey wore nearly sixty years before for the Breakfast at Tiffany’s publicity photos in 1961. The A Star Is Born actress proves that the classic silhouette is never lost, only transformed and brought back to life, retaining its core characteristics yet adapting to the changing times. The echo of the classic style reverberates still within Hollywood’s hallowed halls.

Why do we look to the past as the template for the future? It is something I find myself thinking about as I get older. There is something so hauntingly entrancing about eras gone by, a certain timelessness that surrounds figures like Audrey Hepburn, a woman who held herself with incomparable grace and dazzled with a modest elegance in the clothing choices she made. The allure of a clean silhouette, the grace of a glove-sleeved hand, the glitter of jewels all piece together an image to be envied and adored. As with all things, creating something new from the old, transforming an old style into a fresh, modern piece of what cannot be described as anything other than art, is both precious and needed.

Time seems to work much like a pendulum, ceaselessly sweeping back and forth without pause, and there are moments when I wish it would simply stop. If only I could flip through history like channels on the television, landing on the 1954 Academy Awards ceremony, camera zooming in on Audrey Hepburn as she glides across the red carpet in a white tea-length dress. While there is beauty in the past, there is also a ribbon of light in the future and the hope that some things may grow more beautiful in time. We look to the past as both a guideline for things that are right and from things that are wrong, always building, layering and improving. Audrey Hepburn permanently imprinted the classic silhouette upon the fashion world, yet that does not mean that it cannot be painted, re-shaped and renewed. We ought to hold onto the classic era with fond, yet loose fingers and to the future with hopeful hearts, seeking to create works of permanence and elegance that can withstand the test of time. ■

By: Annie Brawner

Graphics by: Nina Su

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