How Audrey Hepburn defied the Oscars red carpet

Controversy at the Oscars isn’t anything new … even Audrey Hepburn couldn’t stay away from it back in 1954.

Actress Audrey Hepburn poses with her oscar of best actress for the film "Roman Holiday"on March 25, 1954. AFP Photo | INP | Archive

These days, the red carpet at the Academy Awards usually ends up being the subject of even more commentary than the ceremony itself. (Except of course, this year, when all anyone can talk about is how Moonlight won Best Picture … only after the award was mistakenly given to La La Land first, due to a faulty sealed envelope. Talk about a Hollywood ending to the evening, complete with a dramatic twist!)

Usually, actresses are under great pressure when choosing the dress they wear on the big night, to the point where award shows like the Oscars have become a huge “best dressed” competition. This year for example, Emma Stone wore a Givenchy gown, which is sure to top the “best dressed” lists circulated this week … and there’s already quite a bit of buzz about it, with reports claiming that it’s the first time that a Givenchy-clad actress has won best actress since Audrey Hepburn in 1954. But that’s not exactly true.

Fashion icon Audrey Hepburn was indeed nominated for Best Actress in 1954, and won, but she didn’t dress the way anyone expected her to … and the dress was pretty different to Ms. Stone’s gown. First, Hepburn’s dress was much simpler than the twinkling golden Givenchy gown Emma Stone wore because the historic actress didn’t search for a glitzy gown that sparkled under the lights in order to dazzle audiences, and it wasn’t expensive. And second, the dress Hepburn wore was not originally Givenchy.

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The simple but elegant lace dress Hepburn chose, with a tight waist and boat neck, was an adaptation of the dress that wardrobe designer Edith Head had made for the last scene of Roman Holiday, the movie for which Hepburn won the award. While, today, many actresses receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from designers to wear certain gowns, Audrey Hepburn was only gifted the dress, without further compensation (a more usual practice back then).

A dress (C) worn by the late Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn that she wore to collect her oscar award in 1954 is pictured during a photocall in London, on November 28, 2011. The dress will be auctioned on Tuesday November 29, 2011 in London, and is expected to fetch in the region of GBP40,000-60,000 (approx 46,500-69,700euros/62,100-93,200USD) AFP PHOTO/BEN STANSALL / AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL

In the center, the simple white dress Audrey Hepburn wore to collect her Oscar award in 1954. AFP Photo| Ben Stansall

The controversy back in ’54, though, wasn’t just that she was donning a dress similar to one that everyone had already seen her wear in the film, but that the adaptation of the gown wasn’t tailored to Audrey by Head herself. Instead, Hubert de Givenchy, whom Hepburn had met in a Paris boutique a year earlier, helped her with the finishing touches.

The controversy continued when Audrey Hepburn won the award for Best Actress at the award ceremony, and according to her mother, began to refer to that outfit as her “lucky dress” (which isn’t surprising, since she was wearing it when she won the only Oscar of her entire career). Shortly after the awards show, the actress demanded that it no longer be Head, but Givenchy, who would be in charge of her wardrobe in her following films … and that’s the way it stayed for the next seven years. Mostly, this little drama means that, today, many people wrongly credit Hepburn’s iconic Oscars dress to the House of Givenchy. So it would seem that Emma Stone is actually the very first Best Actress winner to don a true Givenchy gown.

Audrey Hepburn, wearing a sleeved version of her Oscars dress, plays Princess Ann in Roman Holiday, 1953.

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Although Hepburn did what no actress had done before on the Oscars red carpet by repurposing a dress that she had already used (in a rather high-profile way), her decision to go rouge from the red carpet norm was obscured by all the designer swapping, arguably giving more attention to the labels, rather than less. Otherwise it might have made an interesting statement: that you don’t necessarily need the most expensive dress or the one with the most luxurious fabric in order to stand out; sometimes, as Coco Chanel said, “simplicity is the key to true elegance.”

Adriana Bello
Adriana Bello
Adriana is the editor-in-chief of a fashion and lifestyle magazine in Venezuela. She believes elegance is a matter of good taste, not money. Her fashion icon is Coco Chanel but most of the time she feels like Bridget Jones.

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