Today it is hard to imagine anyone else as troubled call girl Holly Golightly, but Truman Capote, on whose novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s was based, was disappointed when Audrey Hepburn was cast in the role. When Capote sold the rights to Paramount, he had envisioned Marilyn Monroe as Holly and believed that Audrey was completely wrong for the part. Paula Strasberg, Monroe’s acting coach, felt that playing a call girl was not good for Marilyn’s image, and the actress dropped out of production. For Audrey, on the other hand, was a welcome change after her princess and chauffeur’s daughter parts she had played in the past, even though Holly Golightly’s character was softened for the screenplay. But Breakfast at Tiffany’s was still a very modern film for 1961, and Audrey was funny yet moving, sexy yet vulnerable, elegant yet vibrant in her role.
“I should be a stylish Holly Golightly. Even if that’s all I can contribute”, said Audrey. “I’m an introvert… Playing the extroverted girl in Breakfast at Tiffany’s was the hardest thing I ever did.” She and Hubert de Givenchy teamed up again for Blake Edward’s romantic comedy, after Sabrina (1954). Her wardrobe is simple, elegant, iconic, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s was the movie that, in 1961, consecrated the black sheath dress. The couturier designed two sleeveless black dresses for the film. The first one is the straight lined, black satin gown with a beautiful low-cut back, which was worn with long, black satin gloves, large tortoiseshell Oliver Goldsmith sunglasses reminiscent of the Ray-Ban Wayfarer model, a Tiffany necklace of strands of pearls and diamante hair ornament. Holly wears the dress in the opening scene, that time of morning when the dawn has broken, but the city is still asleep, and she steps out of a yellow cab on a deserted Fifth Avenue, outside Tiffany’s.
Riccardo Tisci, creative director of Givenchy, said of the dress: “It was 1961 and this dress is in a way very sixties. The front is severe, elegant, very clean, but at the back there is the very interesting neckline, somewhere between ethnic and Parisian; a softness that other designers in that time didn’t have.”
Three copies of the dress were made: one is held at Maison Givenchy, one at the Museum of Costume in Madrid, and one was given to Audrey. One of the copies was sold at Christie’s in 2006 for $923,187, making it one of the most expensive pieces in film memorabilia. Costume designer Renie Conley remembered observing Edith Head taking one of Givenchy’s gowns apart to create a copy. “It was full of horsehair stuffing and lead weights to make it fall a certain way.” In the scene above, Holly accessorised the dress differently, opting for earrings and a white scarf only.
The man’s shirt Audrey wears to bed in her own characteristic chic way was designed by Edith Head, who, once again, had to settle for filling out the remainder of Audrey’s needed costumes. But wouldn’t you say that this outfit, completed by the funny sleeping mask, is memorable, too? It’s very modern.
This is the second petit noir Givenchy designed for Holly Golightly. In cloqué silk, with a slightly flared frilly skirt, Audrey wore it with a wide-brimmed hat with an enormous cream silk bow and low-heeled alligator shoes, long gloves and again, oversized sunglasses.
To transform Audrey into Holly Golightly, her hair was streaked with blonde highlights, a look that made her look “jazzy” and “a little kooky”, helping her “get away from that primmer lady look, like nuns and princesses”, as Audrey herself said. “It was nice to become a new girl as easily as that. I liked it so much, I decided to keep it for offscreen.” Her bouffant, backcombed hair style, by Grazia de Rossi, launched a fashion, too.
It’s a bed sheet you see her wearing at her cocktail party. A scene was cut from the film in which Holly is taking a bath and has to improvise a gown on the spot. One more example that Audrey could look chic in just anything she threw on. At first I didn’t even realise it was a sheet she had on and she could have easily gotten away with that on the spur of the moment outfit if you ask me, but she soon changes into her short shift dress.
The blue jeans, grey sweater and cloth around the head she’s wearing as she sings Moon River on the fire escape were also designed by Edith Head. “The real girl comes alive in the blue jeans. Every woman is an actress in a Paris gown”, said Audrey. Holly Golightly’s true self does come to light in that sequence. And it is a look just as timeless as the little black dress.
The double-breasted orange wool coat was much copied at the release of the film. The funnel neck coat was classic Givenchy, and Audrey wore similar versions in Charade (1963), How to Steal A Million (1966), and in her personal wardrobe. In the movie, the coat was matched with a salt-and-pepper patterned dress, fur hat, kitten heels and classic tote. In her book, Audrey Style, Pamela Keogh Clarke writes: “the Hepburn Givenchy partnership reached the apogee of refined elegance as Holly Golightly’s hangover chic caused a run on triple strand faux pearl necklaces, sleeveless dresses and oversized dark sunglasses that continues to this day.”
The hot pink silk cocktail dress studded with green rhinestones and with a pink bow around the waist was teamed with a collarless, three-quarter sleeved coat in the same vibrant pink.
Then, casually dressed again, in pullover, slacks and ballet flats, Audrey seems to emulate her own personal style, that has become more enduring than her legendary Givenchy little black dress. “I never think of myself as an icon. What is in other people’s minds is not in my mind. I just do my thing.”
photos: screen stills captured by me from this DVD edition. Please link back to Classiq if you’d like to use any of these images.
sources: A Matter of Style: Intimate Portraits of 10 Women Who Changed Fashion , by Paola Saltari, Classic Hollywood Style, by Caroline Young, and Edith Head: The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Designer, by Jay Jorgensen