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Audrey Hepburn's Wardrobe Goes Under The Hammer

Twenty-four years after her death, the late actress's enduring appeal is set to be proven once more in an auction of her personal archive, including gowns from Givenchy 

Audrey Kathleen Hepburn, born in 1929 in Belgium, left Europe at the age of 22 to star in the Broadway adaption of Gigi. It all escalated from there. She took to Hollywood for Roman Holiday in 1953, and became the first actress to win an Academy Award, a BAFTA, a Tony Award and a Golden Globe in the same year. With wide eyes and sweeping brunette hair, she soon became a paragon of all that is chic.

In September Christie’s will auction a collection of personal items that Hepburn had when she died in1993, aged 63, from abdominal cancer at her home in Switzerland. Items from her wardrobe and professional photography and film archive will all go under the hammer. Estimates range from £100 to £80,000. The collection has stayed with her family for the past 24 years: some were exhibited, but most items remained in storage.

“Often with memorabilia on the secondary market the proof of the value is always in proving the provenance,” says Adrian Hume-Sayer, director of private collections at Christie’s. “Obviously all these items have the most impeccable origin, and proving it is simple because it’s come directly from her family.”

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The actress’s two sons, Sean Hepburn (from her first marriage to American actor Mel Ferrer), and Luca Dotti (from her second to Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti), are joint owners of the collection. “They’ve already made their selection of what they would like to keep,” says Hume-Sayer. “It was a process they went through with the whole family, thinking about what they would like to pass on to future generations.”

The lots are wide-ranging – sometimes seemingly random – but all reveal something about the personal life of one of the 20th century’s most beloved stars. There will be a pair of cream dial telephones from that same home in Switzerland (estimate £800-£1,200); a film camera Hepburn used for making her own films (estimate £2,000-£3,000); portraits by Cecil Beaton (estimates POA); and an Italian gold powder compact with the initials AHF enamelled on top, from her first marriage (estimate £2,000-£3,000).

As far as Hepburn’s time on screen is concerned, “she doesn’t seem to have been hugely sentimental”, according to Hume-Sayer. “Certainly not on the scale of Elizabeth Taylor for example, who kept a massive amount of film props and things to do with her career. The things that Hepburn did keep were obviously really special to her.” Among them is a gold lighter given to her by Gene Allen, the art director of My Fair Lady, who won an Oscar for the film’s production and design (estimate £3,000-£5,000) – and a few particularly noteworthy sheets of paper.

A letter from Truman Capote relays his feelings about Hepburn being chosen to play his leading lady Holly Golightly (estimate £4,000-£6,000). “I believe it was widely reported that he was not very happy she had been selected, because really he wanted Marilyn [Monroe],” says Hume-Sayer. “So it’s quite interesting that there’s this letter sort of enthusing about her selection.” With an estimate of £60,000 to £80,000, the headline lot is Hepburn’s script for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, marked with turquoise ink – her favourite.

“You can see where she’d enunciate certain words and where the emphasis in the sentence was going to land,” says Hume-Sayer. “Having read a page of it, when you watch the film it suddenly all makes sense. Like the scene where she’s calling the cat a slob. She really emphasises the words ‘cat’ and ‘slob’, and underlined them completely in turquoise.”

Hepburn’s enduring appeal is, in part, due to her innate sense of style. “Her look is almost as fresh now as it ever was,” says Hume-Sayer. “I’ve noticed that people look at the clothes in the warehouse and say, ‘Oh I would wear that now.’” The actress once described her obsession with clothes as bordering on a vice, and her elegant silhouette was developed in large part by Hubert de Givenchy. Their close relationship began after he was hired – at Hepburn’s suggestion – to design her wardrobe for Sabrina. It was Hepburn’s second Hollywood job, the success of which made her the highest-paid actress in the world, when she was offered $350,000 for her next role.

Givenchy went on to design many other costumes, including for Funny Face and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but the pair’s friendship went well beyond the realms of fashion. When she was not well enough to travel by commercial plane in her final days, Givenchy arranged for a private jet, full of flowers, to take Hepburn home for the last time to Switzerland.

A number of pieces by Givenchy, including a blue satin fringed cocktail dress used to promote the 1967 film Two for the Road, will be in the sale (estimate £10,000-£15,000). Missing, however, is the simple black Breakfast at Tiffany’s dress. Christie’s auctioned it in 2006 for £456,200, surpassing its high estimate of £70,000 and setting a new world record for a lot associated with the actress. Other lots, like a selection of ballet pumps (from £1,500), are from her day-to-day wardrobe. “Even though most are not great ball gowns, when you go along the rails of clothes, you can almost take anything off and it’s somehow chic,” says Hume-Sayer.

Unsurprisingly, interest in the sale is high. Before the catalogue was printed, more than 500 copies were already sold, which, he continues, “is pretty unheard of. These are numbers that we just don’t see.” Even today, Audrey is set to make more waves. 

On view 23-26 September, and for sale 27 September, 8 King Street, SW1Y; online bidding from 19 September, www.christies.com