Next week the Newbridge Museum of Style Icons will exhibit — for one week only — one of Marilyn Monroe’s most iconic dresses.
It was the outfit she chose to wear for one of her final public appearances — singing Happy Birthday, Mr President, to JFK at Madison Square Garden. Three months later the actress would be dead.
The skin tight, sheer, flesh-coloured Jean Louis creation, that sparkled with over 2500 hand-stitched crystals, will go on display at the Kildare museum from Saturday October 29, before it goes under the hammer in LA on November 17, part of the most significant auction of Monroe memorabilia ever seen.
The Monroe dress is just a visitor. But housed permanently at the Newbridge Museum of Style Icons is one of the world’s largest and most unique collections of authentic couture and paper artefacts associated with Audrey Hepburn.
The actress is the worthy star of Newbridge Silverware’s first curated in-house display, which opened this year to a soundtrack of music from her movies.
The mix of movie and personal archive includes letters, designer sketches and, of course, those fabulous clothes.
There are even private letters to her family — including her father who was living in Ireland when they reconnected.
Today, Hepburn gets over 13m hits on Google and Allure magazine, an American glossy, recently ran a feature on the beauty lessons we can learn from her.
She was undeniably beautiful, blessed with huge dark eyes, strong cheekbones, and a dancer’s poise. But her allure goes far beyond beauty.
She was intelligent, driven, and focussed on fashion. And she was mesmerising when photographed.
You may never have seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s but you certainly have seen pictures of Andrey as that film’s heroine Holly Golightly in her unforgettable Givenchy-designed sleeveless black dress, accessorised with long opera gloves, over-sized sunglasses, and a cigarette holder.
It’s an image that has inspired countless glamorous ad campaigns.
Our continuing fascination with the actress comes as no surprise to William Doyle, MD of Newbridge Silverware. For him, she had always been the one to watch.
The briefest of glances at her image staring out from over 40 magazine covers in William’s Museum of Style Icons makes it hard to disagree.
It’s impossible not to feel touched by a sprinkling of movie star magic at the Kildare museum when you see the hot pink cocktail dress Audrey wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or the stunning black two-piece from 1963’s Charade in which she starred with Cary Grant.
Yet Audrey herself felt that her look was attainable. In a TV interview with US journalist Barbara Walters, she said that she had created it to make something of herself.
“Women can look like Audrey Hepburn by flipping out their hair, wearing the large sunglasses and the little sleeveless dresses.”
Having access to your very own designer would also help. Audrey had collaborated with Hubert de Givenchy, who described her as “a gift from on high”, since he first dressed her for her role in her second Hollywood film, Sabrina, in 1954.
She subsequently had it written into all her contracts that her costumes could only be designed by him.
The history of fashion could have been so different, however. The designer knew a Ms Hepburn was coming to see him and assumed it was the then well-established star Katherine. He was so disappointed to see Audrey that he offered her clothes he had already made rather than designing something specific for her. Yet she was to become his muse.
She would later say of Givenchy that: “His are the only clothes in which I am myself. He is far more than a couturier, he is a creator of personality.”
Their collaboration would prove fruitful for both. Givenchy gained access to Audrey’s legions of fans, while she was feted for her fabulous fashion.
The huge circulation of magazines such as Picture Post, Picturegoer and Life (all of which feature in the Newbridge exhibition) meant her image was seen by vast numbers of people.
She was Life’s cover star nine times, more than any other celebrity, including Marilyn Monroe.
From the start of her film career, her wardrobe was enviable. In her breakout role as Princess Ann in Roman Holiday, her mix of belted circle skirts, fitted cotton blouses, and bright silk scarves was perfect summer wear.
The legendary costume designer Edith Head (whose sketches of Audrey can be viewed in Newbridge) worked on that film and said “her figure and flair told me, at once, that here was a girl who’d been born to make designers happy”.
Even if we forget her cinematic performances, we can’t help but remember the way she wore black trousers and ballet flats in Sabrina and her head-turning evening wear in 1957’s Funny Face.
But she set a new standard for minimalist glamour when she took on the role of Holly Golightly in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
And it was this film which ultimately led to the creation of the Museum of Style Icons.
In 2006, while flicking through Hello! magazine, William Doyle’s wife noticed that Audrey’s iconic LBD from Breakfast at Tiffany’s was for sale at auction. It would prove to be a defining moment for Newbridge Silverware.
William had always been intrigued by the legendary Tiffany’s luxury lifestyle brand and at that time he was searching for a ‘cultural symbol’ to attract international attention to his company.
hat December, William found himself embroiled in a high-stakes auction battle against an anonymous French bidder for Audrey’s dress.
Thwarted after it was sold for a record price of €650,000, he would later learn that his opponent was the House of Givenchy, its original creator.
William would not return home empty-handed, however. The next lot at the Christie’s of London auction was a two-piece cocktail outfit worn by the actress in the 1963 comedy crime caper Charade.
The wool crepe confection is as striking today as when it was worn by Audrey. The price tag was a phenomenal €250,000, but this was only the start of William’s investment in historic couture.
A phone call from Julien’s Auction House in Los Angeles, and a meeting with Martin Nolan, the Athlone native who is its executive director, led to an agreement about a collection of Marilyn Monroe’s clothes to be put on display at William’s museum.
There was only one small problem — William didn’t have a museum, but he did have eight weeks in which to build one.
The result was the Museum of Style Icons, and today it features clothes from such luminaries as Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and Diana, Princess of Wales.
But the star remains Audrey Hepburn, and William was to pay homage to Breakfast at Tiffany’s by spending €120,000 in a 2007 auction at Christies in New York on a pink, silk cocktail dress worn by the actress in that film. That sum was more than six times its pre-auction estimate.
Entering the exhibit, you are immediately transported into the glamorous, rarefied world of a true style icon. All of Audrey’s clothes on display — both on-screen costumes and her private wardrobe — are, as expected, timelessly chic.
Seeing them, however, it’s impossible not to be struck by the frail physique of the 5 ft 7in actress who at 60 still weighed only 50 kilos.
She had learned what it meant to be truly hungry during the Second World War Two, and was to suffer life-long health issues as a result.
Audrey was born in Brussels on May 4, 1929, to Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch Baroness, and Joseph Hepburn-Ruston, an Anglo-Irish banker. At the age of five, she went to boarding school in England, but when the Second World War broke out, her father sent her to the Netherlands, as that country was expected to stay neutral.
Shortly afterward, he was imprisoned for his fascist beliefs — it is believed he once dined with Hitler — and it would be many years before Audrey would see her father again.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is the collection of letters — bought by William Doyle at that Christies auction in 2007 — from Audrey to Joseph.
They had reconciled after Audrey tracked him down through the Red Cross. Joseph was living in Dublin’s Ballsbridge with his third wife Fidelma, and father and daughter met in the capital’s Shelbourne Hotel.
f Noureen Quirshi could say one thing to Audrey, it would be “write in pencil”… The paper conservationist, who has over 20 years’ experience, spent three weeks working on a selection of personal letters by the actress, and her favoured felt tip pen made Noureen’s life difficult. Yet Noureen clearly felt a close connection with the star.
“They [the letters] became mine while I was working on them.”
The letters were in reasonably good condition, but Noureen’s work has immeasurably improved them. They provide a real insight into Audrey’s private life as she tried to re-establish a relationship with her father.
The correspondence is chatty, friendly, and affectionate. When Joseph suffers from ill-health in 1970, she expresses deep concern and a desire to help financially.
Her own health had suffered during the war. After Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940, food was scarce and it was said that Audrey and her mother ate tulip bulbs and cooked grass to survive. When the war ended, she weighed just over six stone.
She had dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer and, throughout the Nazi occupation, continued to attend lessons and performed in secret to raise money for the Dutch Resistance. She also worked for the Resistance, carrying messages in her shoes.
After the war ended, she returned to London, but her hopes of becoming a ballerina would not be realised. She became a chorus girl, and got her big break as the lead in Broadway musical Gigi, winning rave reviews.
The magazines exhibit at Newbridge show the glamorous side of Audrey’s movie-star life. It’s a striking display, 44 covers from 1951 to 1969, immortalising snapshots of her life.
She appears in various poses, in casual attire and all dressed up. The one constant is her striking style — one that women throughout the world continue to emulate.
Audrey died on January 20, 1993. She had married and divorced twice, and said that she never regretted for one minute quitting movies to spend time with two sons.
During her career, she won an Emmy, a Tony, a Grammy, and an Academy Award. In latter years, she acted as ambassador for Unicef.
She was as stylish and enchanting in her 60s as she had been when she first burst on to cinema screens at the age of 22 .
The Audrey exhibition at the Museum of Style Icons lets us enter a world of beauty and glamour, and there are some particularly special items not to be missed.
One of the pictures on display shows Audrey congratulating Jack Warner after he won an Academy Award for Best Picture. Standing beside her are fellow Oscar winners, actor Rex Harrison and director George Cukor.
The three had won awards for My Fair Lady, in which Audrey had starred as Eliza Doolittle. But her casting had caused controversy, as it was believed the role rightfully belonged to Julie Andrews after her acclaimed Broadway performance.
Audrey was humiliated when the Warner Brothers studio used a voice double when she sang. The film garnered 12 Oscar nominations, but Audrey’s performance was snubbed.
Audrey’s 1957 film Funny Face is a cinematic homage to fashion, and Givenchy’s silk, floral-print dress with its boat neckline and cap sleeves, accessorised with a fabulous straw hat is its standout outfit.
The mannequins at the museum are custom-made to Audrey’s measurements showing off the designer’s work to best effect.
Audrey’s off-screen wardrobe was simple but striking. The Yves Saint Laurent dress she wore for the christening of her younger son Luca in 1970 is a stunning example of her style.
The actress had suffered several miscarriages and her second marriage to Italian Andrea Dotti was marred by rumours of his infidelity. After they split up, she would find lasting happiness with Dutch actor Robert Wolders.