Hepburn + Givenchy = Preetty

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In Morges, Switzerland

So I’m perfectly aware that no one is able to now visit the exhibition I’m about to write about, but I hope that maybe it might be useful to those of you who, like me, find out about an exhibition too late/that’s too far away and wonder what it was like.

The town of Morges happily trades on its 30 year long Audrey Hepburn connection.  She lived on the outskirts of town, in a villa in Tolochenaz, and is buried in the local cemetery.

The exhibition looked at the partnership between Hepburn and designer Hubert de Givenchy, who created some of her iconic outfits.  They met early in their careers – Hepburn needed Parisian outfits for her second Hollywood film, Sabrina, and Givenchy was just setting up his own fashion house.  Theirs was one of those serendipitous meetings that changed the lives of both of them; and as well as helping each other’s careers, they shared a deep friendship that lasted till Hepburn’s death in 1992.

If you want to read about how the two met, with some insights by Givenchy himself, there’s a Vanity Fair article out there that’s well worth reading: www.vanityfair.com

The exhibition in Morges was approved by Givenchy, who at the age of 90, not only gave items from his personal collection to put on display, but also drew new sketches of some of the Hepburn dresses.  The exhibition was originally across three sites, though by the time we got there the section at the Fondation Bolle was closed.  The other sites were Morges Castle and the Musee Alexis-Forel.

Musee Alexis-Forel

It was here that Givenchy’s new sketches were on display, along with Hepburn’s dresses, photos and magazine covers dedicated to her.  There wasn’t a lot to it, but what they had was charming and a few key items made it worthwhile.

There was some footage of Givenchy drawing the sketches.  It’s great to see that he still has a very steady hand, a great memory and more talent than people a quarter his age – look at the lovely lines of the drawings.  They are a real pleasure to look at.  I also liked the way he kept using one colour highlights.

This picture below is of Hepburn’s wedding dress when she married Mel Ferrer in 1954.  Interestingly they married at one of Switzerland’s other lakes, Lucerne, in a place called Bürgenstock.   This was the place where she decided to accept Ferrer’s proposal as she was recuperating after their Broadway run of Ondine.  She came to associate peace and quiet with Switzerland, and they made their home, “La Plaisible” (the Peaceful) in Tolochenaz in 1963, where she could bring up her child.  With her continental background, it is very interesting that she chose this patch of the world to settle in, but she said that there was nowhere else that she felt so at peace – which is a wonderful sentiment.

Givenchy designed both of Hepburn’s wedding dresses – as well as the one she wore on screen in Funny Face.  Though the first dress wasn’t on display, Givenchy’s drawing was and it was amusing seeing how much more puffily he decided to sketch it.

It was sweet that Givenchy was also happy to share some more personal items, like the notes the pair exchanged and a couple of photographs – though a few more pictures would have been nice!


There was no information with the drawings, but I’ve since found out that it was drawn by Hepburn for UNICEF to use on greeting cards.  Apparently the original was auctioned off during a televised event for UNICEF in Finland – the funds bought four camels in Chad which were used to transport vaccinations to children in remote regions of the country.  Her style is very sweet and the simplicity is very effective.

So now we come to the star item: Hepburn’s second wedding dress.  She married Dotti on the 18th January 1969 at l’Hôtel de Ville in Morges and wore this unusual choice, designed for her by Givenchy.  In the pictures from the day it looks quite light, but actually it’s a heavy jersey.  Standing in front of it was odd because to modern eyes the fabric is a cheap choice, and so the dress, to me, looked a bit on the cheap side.  However, I get that it would have been cool at the time, and as a design for a civil ceremony and second marriage it’s a fun choice.

Morges Castle

The second part of the exhibition was at Morges Castle, in a beautifully designed space which let the dresses just shine (figuratively speaking).  It included Givenchy dresses that were worn by Hepburn in her films and in real life.

These are basically my favourites.  This dress below was worn in Charade (1963), a film I’m very fond of, so it was great getting so close to a fantastic suit from that film.  I took a picture of the seams because I thought the construction was interesting, and the workmanship perfect.

The highlight, strangely, was the only non-clothes item there: it was the chair that Hepburn used on the set of My Fair Lady.  It is in the personal collection of Givenchy, which I think is just lovely.

Apart from the joy you get from looking at exquisitely made dresses, what I found most interesting was being so close to Hepburn’s outfits that you could get a sense of her size.  She always looks so skinny and dainty you forget that she was actually 5ft 7 and therefore her figure comes across as being more statuesque and in proportion.  I can understand why she became a muse for Givenchy, and I can understand her loyalty and love for a man who made her look sublime.

To see what else is around in Morges Castle, please click here.







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