Audrey Hepburn: Portraits Of an Icon

Audrey Hepburn: Portraits Of an Icon

something sentimental about old ballet slippers. Their
warm, shiny shade of pale pink faded to a muted shade of cream,
their heels pockmarked with needle-sized holes from endless ribbon
replacements. They are a happy relic of pliés, pirouettes and
petites jetés.

It’s a sentimentality appreciated by the National Portrait
Gallery in its new exhibition, Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon
in which a pair of Hepburn’s ballet slippers feature alongside more
than 70 images of the actress. Positioned next to a previously
unseen photograph of a teenage Hepburn mid ballet-rehearsal, they
are a striking physical reminder of Hepburn’s humble origins as a
ballerina in war-torn Holland before she moved to London in 1948 to
continue her training.

Perhaps more than any other star of the 20th century, such a
reminder is necessary for Hepburn; read through the list of
contributors to the exhibition and it’s easy to mistake it for a
‘who’s who’ of modern photography. Classic and rarely seen prints
from Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton and Irving Penn sit alongside
candid stills from screen tests and vintage magazine covers are
juxtaposed with previously unseen childhood photos, all documenting
the life of a woman whose son recalls her inability to comprehend
“why people see me as beautiful”.

More importantly, however, they also document the creation of a
fashion icon. In early photos shot by Erwin Blumenfeld and Angus
McBean, as well as her first photoshoot for Vogue with Irving Penn,
Hepburn is awkwardly candid, her startling eyes ostensibly
intimidated by the camera. Audrey Hepburn the muse, the icon most
familiar to us now only appears in photos after 1953, when Roman
Holiday catapulted her into the limelight.

In these images, we see Hepburn pout, pose and play, newly
comfortable with the intimacy of the camera. Dressed in a chic
black turtleneck in Yousuf Karsh’s famous portrait, her hair in a
simple ponytail and just a flick of eyeliner visible above her long
lashes, she demurely tilts her head to one side. Most others,
including Bud Fraker’s headshot for Sabrina, see her gaze straight
into the eye of the camera, sometimes with a pout that suggests a
familiarity with its scrutiny, although more often than not it’s
with the coy smile immortalised by the promotional photos of Holly
Golightly, cigarette holder in hand, for Breakfast at

Mention the latter and Sabrina and, of course it is impossible
to talk about Hepburn’s status as a fashion icon without mentioning
her famous friendship with couturier Hubert de Givenchy. The pair
met on the set of Sabrina and began a lifelong partnership with
Givenchy creating outfits for Funny Face, How To Steal a Million
and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A costume test shot portrays the making
of one of the most famous looks, and shows Hepburn sitting casually
on a cocktail stool with ‘Cat’ in her lap, dressed in Holly
Golightly’s iconic wide-brimmed hat and little black dress.
Twenty-three years later, she is photographed in Givenchy again,
this time in an embrace with the designer, smiling, as she shows
off one of his couture creations.

This is the fashion icon that we know and revere, dressed
immaculately, smiling and welcomingly her audience. It’s an image
of a woman who, as her son Luca Dotti recalls, “didn’t live a life
secluded or behind bars” and indeed one of the final images shows
Hepburn on set, clad in another of her trademarks, a little black
dress. Her arms stretched above her in a childish pose, she smiles
in the middle of a camera set, refusing to take her iconic status
too seriously, or even acknowledge it.

Discover More
Sue Kreitzman: A Portrait of an Artist