Relatable Elegance

SEP 26, 2017

At Christie’s exhibition of Audrey Hepburn’s personal belongings at LANDMARK ATRIUM, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, the eldest son of the late screen icon, passes on some insights and words of wisdom he’s learnt from his mother and her enduring legacy

“I honestly believe that Audrey is perceived as one of us and not one of them,” says Sean Hepburn Ferrer, the oldest son of the late Audrey Hepburn, who rose to fame as an actress during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Ferrer is alluding to his mother’s enduring dual legacy — as an icon of elegance and a respected humanitarian, one who despite world adulation was always able to keep two feet on the ground.

Ferrer was in Hong Kong for Christie’s exhibition of Audrey Hepburn’s personal belongings at LANDMARK ATRIUM, a first in Asia, which offered fans a glimpse into the auction of more than 300 items held in London on September 27.

“After 25 years of using her collection to create exhibitions all over the world and raise money for children, we have looked carefully at this collection of memorabilia and decided what we wanted to keep for us and for the children, and what we felt would be nice — rather than keep it in a dark room with air conditioning — to pass on to future generations,” says Ferrer.

One such item is a small painting by Hepburn herself — an item that is dear to Ferrer but one that he nevertheless donated to the auction. “This is the only thing in the auction that is actually made by her — I want to be sincere when I say that I wanted to pass on her things. This painting is the gift of sincerity.”

Prior to her death in 1993, Ferrer was able to spend precious time with his mother at her home in Switzerland. “She would wake up in the middle of the night with the lights down and we would talk — we knew that time was precious,” he says.

Ferrer shared his memories, anecdotes about his mother and photos in the book An Elegant Spirit, which remains the best-selling Audrey Hepburn biography. “Elegance is not something that comes from the outside, but it is something that you must cultivate, your mind, your persona, and then it will communicate to the way you look, but basically it’s a state of mind,” says Ferrer.

Hepburn’s state of mind was well represented at the Hong Kong exhibition, which showcased her clothing, scripts from classic films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and photographic portraits of the screen icon at her most glamorous.

“She wasn’t a fashion icon, she was a style icon and those two are very different things,” says Ferrer. “She found a look that worked for her and she stayed with that look throughout her life.

Hepburn, of course, was much more than symbol for all that is chic. “When my mother was sick and when she died, that was the time I had a complete realization of how far reaching her fame was,” he says. “Not just as the actress, or the style icon, but also the humanitarian work that made her even more of a legend.”

Hepburn served as Goodwill Ambassador for United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), from 1988 until her untimely death at the age of 63. Hepburn’s passing, however, has not been accompanied by a decline in popularity. Ferrer estimates that as many as 50 per cent of her current fans are women in their teens or even younger.

“It’s sweet in a way because my mother spent the last six years of her life working for children, and now it’s the children of today who are carrying her legacy into the future — there is something lovely about that,” says Ferrer.

Hepburn epitomised Hollywood chic, and successful bidders at the London auction will purchase a precious piece of her legacy. Yet, as Ferrer says, “Audrey was the girl from across the landing who put on a little black dress; she doesn’t have too many means but she’s got a nice haircut, little flat shoes and she goes out and conquers the world.”

And that, perhaps, is the secret of her everlasting fame, moving from relative insignificance to the sine qua non of stardom. Such a magical transformation has universal appeal.

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