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Audrey Hepburn, a lady of mystique, the woman we all think we knew, but never really quite. The National Portrait Gallery has an exhibition of photos of Ms Hepburn from personal archives and family collections of her sons. The 35 strong collections gives us classic Audrey, snippets of her childhood, and a background to different stages in her career. The pictures are as you would imagine Ms Hepburn to be, beautiful, mysterious, always leaving us wondering what she is thinking. This is Audrey as we know her…and yet I wanted more.
One of the greatest misconceptions about Audrey Hepburn in today’s society is that her life was largely spent being a fashion muse, conversations about her never really seem to go past her acute sense of fashion, her body of work, life’s work, and activism largely forgotten. Fashionable she was, but she was so much more.
The collection spans three rooms, most the same classic Audrey; the mystique, that unique jawline, that hint smile or big laugh, eyes so beautiful and teasing. She had such an effect that invoked a unique sense of beauty, and remains the inspiration for many a fashion shoot today; its hard not to be moved by such a complete muse. Her relationship with Hubert de Givenchy, who often clothed her, makes me compare the house then and now, and how far common it has become, an unfair comparison, but you have to admit it lacks that certain class it gained from a woman of Hepburn’s mystique.
As memorable as this exhibition is, it lacks a certain sense of the personal; we never really gain much insight into her life away from the cameras, as a mother, her loves, heartbreak etc. These are the things we often wonder about Audrey: even in death she maintains that aura of mystery that leaves us wanting more.
In the third room, on your way out, is where she gets you; on one wall, are images of some magazine covers, to the right are other pictures, most notably one with Givenchy himself, and on the wall to your left are images from her years as a goodwill ambassador with the UN, you get the sense this was more fulfilling to her than most other things she’d accomplished. But its this picture above, captured by Steven Meisel, that really touches me, its Audrey in her element; full of life, her body not in profile but fully turned to the camera, dancing. It was taken two years before she passed, absolutely beautiful and so completely Audrey.
Its worth a stop if only for this shot.
Audrey Hepburn; Portraits of an Icon; National Portrait Gallery, 2nd July- 18th October 2015, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE