Talking Film Costume: Audrey Hepburn in “How to Steal a Million”

Few actresses had as much influence on the fashion of the fifties and sixties as Audrey Hepburn. To this very day, the items she popularised decades ago have remained essential to every woman’s wardrobe. Because true style has no age. Richard Avedon was one of the people who advised Audrey Hepburn to emphasise and not hide her distinctive traits like her body (a new, modern model of femininity opposed to the shapely sexiness in vogue at Hollywood at the time), her eye-makeup (created by the Italian Alberto De Rossi), thick eyebrows and her natural brown hair, cut short. “Audrey Hepburn is the most refreshing theatrical talent to appear since the war. Add to this the remarkable distinction which she emanates, and it is no rash judgement to say she is one of the most interesting public embodiments of our new feminine ideal,” commented Cecil Beaton in 1957.

In William Wyler’s 1966 How to Steal a Million, as Nicole Bonnet, the daughter of a master art forger, Audrey plays alongside Peter O’Toole, who she thinks is a society burglar, but is in fact a detective specialised in art fraud. It is a delightful lighthearted comedy, with a handsome couple in the leading roles, and beautiful decors and clothes, of course. Audrey’s wardrobe was designed by Hubert de Givenchy, her lifelong friend and the French designer who invented minimal fashion. His desire was to express a purity of line rather than decoration and a consistent perfection. This very clean, essential but sophisticated form of high fashion perfectly describes Audrey’s clothes in the film – “Givenchy’s dresses are so beautiful and simple, I felt wonderful in them.”

In her first scene, she wears the iconic helmet hat with Oliver Goldsmith white sunglasses and a cream skirt suit, one of the several streamlined day suits in the film. Audrey sported her new cropped hair-do in How to Steal a Million. The man who created it was the famous Alexandre of Paris, and he named this style “Coupe Infante ’66”.

One could easily name a few designers who were inspired by Audrey’s amazing pink coat and its cut over the last seasons. The shape recalls to mind one of Givenchy’s singular ideas: the chemise (sack) dress, a shape that he exaggerated in the 1950s, wide at the top and tapered down at the hem. All the coats Audrey is wearing in the film are exquisite. If you wore each and every one today, every single one of them would look not even slightly out-dated.

A beautiful wool skirt suit. All the jackets and coats are 3/4 sleeved and the gloves are a must.


All the jewellery in the film is by Cartier.


The small heels were another Audrey Hepburn trademark. She didn’t need high heels (she preferred flat Capezio pumps) to be attractive, as Ralph Lauren commented in 1990: “There are two or three people who the public will never forget for their charm and elegance. Audrey Hepburn is number one.” Audrey was a ballet dancer by training and her “bearing and abandon of movement” owed “a large debt” to that, observed Cecil Beaton. And that’s another reason why she felt so at ease in low heels and ballet flats. “Audrey Hepburn’s stance is a combination of an ultra-fashion plate and a ballet dancer,” Beaton further rounded up his portrait of Audrey. “She can assume almost acrobatic poses, always maintaining an innate elegance in her incredibly lithe torso, long flat waist, tapering fingers and endless legs. With her arms akimbo or behind her back, she habitually places her feet wide apart – one heel dug deep with the tie pointing skywards.”

The make-up was once again the creation of Alberto De Rossi.


The military style coat, in beautiful navy hue, could not be overlooked as part of such a timeless wardrobe. This one and Yves Saint Laurent’s coat worn by Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour are two of the all-time most beautiful military inspired coats.

It’s all in the details: fabulous sculpted front pockets and a beautiful orange strap Cartier watch.


The hats are another department Audrey’s wardrobe excels in.


Audrey Hepburn had a unique sense of chic that will never be beaten, and her wardrobe in How to Steal a Million is a reflection of the perfect synergy between Givenchy’s elegant lines and her impeccable taste: it felt like they both designed the clothes. “She had a natural grace, an innate elegance, a dazzling splendor,” Cecil Beaton would conclude.

Images: screen stills from the film, courtesy of Classiq Journal. World Wide Productions.
Editorial sources: Cecil Beaton Portraits, by Cecil Beaton. A Matter of Style: Intimate Portraits of 10 Women Who Changed Fashion

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