Audrey Hepburn was Hubert de Givenchy’s muse and a fashion figurehead of the twentieth-century. She had the makings of a style icon: one who would take the fashion world by storm. The National Portrait Gallery have opened their doors to the ‘Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon’ exhibition and on the most simplistic level, the layout of the room alone reflects Hepburn’s minimalism and elegance. The exhibition displays a selection of photographs creating a timeline of the icon’s incredible life and whilst they do so successfully, they capture her elfin beauty and chic style perhaps the most effectively.
A few steps into the exhibition and the first photograph that immediately grabs your attention is one taken by Irvin Pen for ‘Vogue America’ in 1951. Hepburn pulls off a simple black crew neck sweater: a piece that would soon become one of her signature items featuring in a number of her cool compositions. The minimalistic sweater is perfectly styled for her elegant figure and the dark colour is universally flattering, drawing attention to the intricacy of the face. This single photograph conveys that Audrey Hepburn was all about making a simple garment bold and beautiful.
Moving further into the exhibition, there are a number of photographs that capture Hepburn in crisp, clean, shirts in shades of light blue and cool white. This is by far her most androgynous look, leaning towards tomboy, yet she still manages to remain effortlessly chic. Photographed by Mark Shaw, during the filming of ‘Sabrina’, Hepburn’s look consists of a fitted white shirt with oversized sleeves and a turned up collar. This is paired with cropped, tailored, trousers creating a sharp and sophisticated silhouette. Shaw describes his model’s style as the definition of ‘glamour and magnetism’, blurring the boundaries between conventional depictions of masculine and feminine.
Delving deeper into the exhibition you can discover photographs that depict Hepburn’s charming feminine style, creating a heady juxtaposition of the previously showcased androgyny. A standout piece, taken by Norman Parkinson, is the featuring picture for the exhibition itself. Here, Hepburn epitomises her role as Givenchy’s muse as she sports a pink cocktail dress from the designer’s Spring/Summer collection in 1955. The narrow waist and full pleated skirt of the dress are typical of the new look silhouette that was so popular in the post-war period, following Christian Dior’s introduction of this style in 1947. Hepburn’s attire embodies all modes of femininity during the 1950s.
Following this photograph is a shot of Hepburn sporting her most famous look – the look that defines her as the fashion icon she is today. The black, satin, evening gown, long and with a fitted bodice, slightly gathered at the waist and a sultry slit exposing one thigh. This Givenchy dress is cited as one of the most iconic items of clothing in the history of the twentieth-century and quite possibly the most famous ‘little black dress’ of all time. A photograph capturing Hepburn in this elegant dress was mandatory to making the exhibition whole.
Whilst reflecting on the array of magazine covers that Audrey Hepburn graces, you realise the domino effect she has had on the fashion industry today. Once styled by Audrey, androgynous style instantly became effortlessly elegant, chic and fashionable. The actress and humanitarian’s style is eternal and the exhibition captures this in the most striking collection of photographs. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but one word in particular comes to mind when viewing this heralded icon: timeless. ‘Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon’ is certainly a must see for all fashion and photography enthusiasts out there.