Knock-Down, Drag-Out Glamour At London’s Audrey Hepburn Sale Preview
When Kerry Taylor previewed her Audrey Hepburn auction in Paris, 2,000 people showed up, including Hubert de Givenchy, who’d designed most of the dresses on display. Taylor introduced a little crowd control for Monday’s London preview—you had to buy a £10 catalog before you got in the door—but if the turnout was substantially smaller, it was just as avid. No surprises there: Given Hepburn’s unimpeachable style icon status, who could resist the opportunity to own the black cloque silk dress she wore in Paris When It Sizzles, or the Chantilly lace cocktail dress from How to Steal a Million (minus, unfortunately, the lace mask that accompanied it in the film), or a ravishing organza evening gown, embroidered with blue floral sprays? With its estimate of £4,000-6,000, this last item seemed a snip, though Taylor optimistically insisted her conservative pricing would invariably be blown out of the water during Tuesday’s auction.
It’s inevitable when you’re contemplating the wardrobe of a woman like Hepburn that a dozen poignant intimacies rear their tiny little heads. She was wearing the Elizabeth Arden cocktail dress—absolutely flawless after nearly 60 years—when she met her first husband, Mel Ferrer, at a party for her breakthrough film Roman Holiday in London in 1952. The ivory satin wedding dress, also from 1952, was designed by the Fontana sisters for what would have been her first wedding, to James (later Lord) Hanson. After she called it off, she instructed the Fontanas to pass the dress on to “someone who couldn’t ever afford a dress like mine, the most beautiful, poor Italian girl you can find.” A gown in printed summer crepe, which Hepburn may have bought when she was filming Breakfast at Tiffany’s, had tiny cigarette burns, a reminder of a lifelong bad habit. “Buy a dress like that and you become part of its story,” vintage guru Steven Philip of Rellik murmured. He was also taken by the other lots in Taylor’s auction, which include a collection of proto-supermodel Marie Helvin’s Oldfields, Ossies, Prices, and Alaïas from the eighties; a rare and precious handful of Bill Gibb’s spectacular knitwear from the seventies; and some evening dresses by the likes of Balenciaga and Paquin, which backed up Philip’s claim that what people are looking for in vintage now is proper knock-down, drag-out glamour. Eyeballing a luscious Madame Grès in turquoise chiffon, he said, “No one knows how to do it properly now, so you have to go back to the past.”