behind the enduring appeal of Audrey Hepburn

In an age of overly photographed celebrities, Audrey Hepburn may represent the last generation of enigmatic icons. She broke stereotypes, represented style and sophistication with ease, and influenced multiple generations of ladies world wide.

A significant exhibition of images by Audrey Hepburn has opened on the National Portrait Gallery in London. Subtitled Portraits of an iconThe show features “classic and unseen” images of this most enduring of film stars. The portraits span her profession from her early roles in West End choirs to her humanitarian work for UNICEF.

The cultural lifetime of famous film stars extends long after their death. Classic images of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and other stars of the Hollywood studio era are still in circulation and recognizable to generations born long after the celebs died. In the digital age, such possibilities multiply endlessly; the recognition of @oldpicsarchive on Twitter, for instance, shows the nice interest in lesser-known star photos. Rare images of film icons are powerful because they appear to supply the chance to look beyond the familiar images that outline a star personality. The “invisible” photo could allow us to catch a glimpse of the “real” person behind the star.

All of this also applies to Hepburn. The ongoing international fascination with them (particularly pronounced in Japan) is of particular importance. Her personality seemed authentic and seemed that the Audrey we knew was not only a construct of the Hollywood publicity machine, but additionally the “real” Audrey: that she actually was who she appeared to be.

This aspect of Hepburn's image is due partly to the repeated emphasis on her huge and elaborately highlighted eyes in each her movies and her portraits. The way she is portrayed throughout, peering over or around things and looking out directly into the camera lens, convinced us of each her innocence and her honesty.

Contradictions and star appeal

Audrey Hepburn by Antony Beauchamp, 1955.
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In his classic account of movie stars: Richard Dyer found that a central aspect of star appeal is the power to carry ideological contradictions together. An example of that is Marilyn Monroe's ability to seem innocent and deeply sexy at the identical time. It was Hepburn's special ability to resolve central contradictions of Nineteen Fifties femininity that made her a star who particularly appealed to women during this time. She was a star for whom “sexy” rarely played a task.

Hepburn managed to be each feminine and boyish in various ways, “natural” yet confident, different yet acceptably feminine, across cultures and generations. While the fairytale femininities at the middle of her image were traditional – princess, ballerina, couture model – her interpretation of those elements suggested liberation and rise up.

Style and sophistication redefined

It wasn't particularly acceptable for young women to wear pants within the mid-Nineteen Fifties, and black wasn't acceptable either. The tousled, elfin detail of her cropped hair was light years away from the shorter coiffed varieties of older women seen in glossy magazines and on runways on the time.

Hepburn's slender body was the precise opposite of the bombastic hourglass figures of Monroe, Loren and Mansfield. Hepburn's look was harking back to Paris, of Beat culture, of a brand new generation and a brand new style. At the identical time, her demeanor, her voice, and her demeanor appeared to place her firmly in an aristocratic class that was directly ancient European and modern American.

A female star for eternity

Her roles portrayed her as “daddy’s girl,” but she appeared to know her own mind. When I wrote my book about Hepburn, the feminine admirers who shared their thoughts with me often described them as concurrently “classic” yet “crazy,” “natural” yet “perfectly put together.” They told me that their look was one they might copy, one they might take anywhere, a method that offered class but had something special. This was true each for girls who first met her as teenagers within the Nineteen Fifties and '60s and for young women who got here to Hepburn after her death in 1993.

Hepburn's rise to international stardom anticipated the period of enormous cultural change that may characterize the late Nineteen Fifties and Sixties. The combination of her perceived authenticity, an appropriate other femininity, and self-possession appealed to a generation of young women who would negotiate the changes feminism brought. In the Nineteen Nineties, it found wide appeal amongst young women grappling with the “having it all” contradictions of postfeminism. Audrey Hepburn was truly a female star for the ages.

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