Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer in 1956.
June 12 2017 — To lovers—and fans—almost any object that’s been in contact with the loved attains the status of a relic. Sometimes the value of that object—a receipt signed by Elvis, say—is more emotional than material; at other times the lineage of ownership enhances the inherent value of a piece. In auction speak, this association of object and owner is called provenance, and it will be a driving factor at Christie’s upcoming sale of the Personal Collection of Audrey Hepburn.
Few screen stars were/are more loved than this gamine actress with her wide-eyed beauty and perfect poise. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hepburn played a madcap good-time girl with a heart of gold, but only the good-time part was an act; Hepburn’s inherent goodness was revealed through her extensive charity work. Since her death in 1993, Hepburn’s sons have spearheaded a variety of nonprofit efforts. “Today my half-brother Luca Dotti is caring for a nonprofit in California, [Audrey Hepburn’s Children’s Fund], and I am the chair of the Audrey Hepburn Society at UNICEF,” says Sean Ferrer from Italy. “After 24 years, we’ve decided what we’re able to keep—we don’t have that many homes to fill—and we hated the idea that the things that wouldn’t be exhibited one day or that wouldn’t be utilized toward moving her nonprofit efforts [forward] would just sit in storage. It felt like it would be the right thing for all those people who loved her, who cared for her, to be generous and to share those few things.”
Among this precious cache are many pieces from Hepburn’s personal wardrobe, including a cocktail dress from her friend and favorite fashion collaborator Hubert de Givenchy, a classic Burberry trench, and a rainbow-hued selection of ballet flats. Photographs, Hepburn’s annotated scripts, and more will also be offered for sale in London on September 27; if the Internet breaks that day, you’ll know why. Decades after her passing, Hepburn’s popularity only continues to grow. “I think it’s safe to say,” Ferrer says, “that probably close to 50 percent of her base today is tweens and teens, which is quite extraordinary.”
Hepburn’s style is sure to have drawn many to her. “People have always talked about her grace, [and wondered], What was the secret of her elegance? What was her system? What was her style?,” says Ferrer who, with his 20-year-old daughter, is writing a fashion book, slated for 2018, that will tackle these questions, though he believes that some answers will emerge at the Christie’s preview, “when people see not just iconic pieces of clothing, but also more intimate things, things that she wore on her off time or at home.”
If the sale will offer fans a more complete picture of Hepburn, it sounds like it will free the family to move forward with their charitable efforts on their mother’s behalf. Things, Ferrer says, are static. “For us, action is more dynamic and vital, just like verbs, if you will. So the exhibits that we’re going to be doing in the future are going to be about concepts [and] new technology,” he adds. “[They’ll promote] images, of course, but [also] promote her philosophy and her way of thinking. As far as moving into the future, I don’t think things will help us, therefore it’s only fair that those who would like to have a keepsake of her can do so.”
Audrey Hepburn’s colorful ballet flats (estimates from $1,900) to be sold in London in September at Christie’s sale of the Personal Collection of Audrey Hepburn. Photo: Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2017