Warning – there is no knitting in this post. Or very little, anyway, because I had to put it down.
How could I have missed this?
I wasn’t feeling very well – testing and editing too many rich dishes for a forthcoming chefs’ recipe book – so I settled down in front of the TV with a herb tea, hot water bottle and a tension swatch. And I was gripped. Tea went cold, so did hot water bottle. Tension swatch didn’t happen. Heaven only knows how I’ve avoided seeing this 1954 Billy Wilder film, but my goodness I am glad that I’ve finally caught up with it.
Anyone who has followed this blog for a bit will know about my fascination with all things vintage (well, except for the plumbing and 1950s recipes – ergh), especially when it comes to clothing. If you are similarly afflicted and if – like me – you have managed to miss out on what is possibly the most stylish film if the 1950s, you need to get hold of it now.
The story is an ugly duckling one, really – well, given that Audrey Hepburn was no ugly duckling. But it wasn’t the story that stopped me knitting, it was the costumes. They’re wonderful, and the designer won an Academy Award for them. Or – er, not quite… or maybe…
Sabrina’s father is the chauffeur to the wealthy Larrabee family who live on Long Island. She has a crush on David, the (slightly) ne’er do well, raffish younger son, played by William Holden. But she is sent, reluctantly, to Paris to learn to cook – and hopefully break her addiction.
She returns transformed.
As, indeed, are her hair and, most strikingly, her clothes (the dog’s name is also David, by the way).
And now David finally notices her, but there’s one disadvantage: he’s engaged – it will be his fourth marriage – to a wealthy debutante whose family will become profitably allied to the Larrabees. Nonetheless he invites Sabrina to a ball, at which she – er – distracts him.
Not surprisingly. That dress is just gorgeous.
The threat she now poses motivates David’s businessman brother Linus (aka Humphrey Bogart, though he wasn’t the first choice for the role) to try and break them up by making Sabrina fall for him instead. Of course this backfires… and in case anyone apart from me has not seen this movie, I will leave the plot there.
But not the clothes.
This dress – with its catwoman-like hat – is one which really set fire to a nice little Hollywood controversy, though some of the other post-Paris costumes are also implicated. Edith Head was the studio designer, and she went on to get an oscar for the costumes – and that essentially means for Audrey Hepburn’s costumes, since they steal the whole movie.
(How come I don’t look like this in black leggings, eh?
That would be the fact that I’m just not Audrey Hepburn, alas. Oh well; love those ballet flats.)
All Hepburn’s clothes were supposed to be entirely designed by Head, but when I finally saw the film I couldn’t quite believe that they had been – compare them to most of her other relevant work and you’ll see what I mean. And there is still a lot of debate about them, but for me, most of the post-Paris ones are just too different to have been all Head’s own work.
The story goes that Hepburn asked Billy Wilder if she could wear a ‘real Paris dress’. Mrs Wilder recommended Balenciaga, but he directed the young star to his friend Givenchy. Givenchy was working on a collection, and AH chose all her post-Paris wardrobe from that. Allegedly. Controversy particularly surrounds the black dress, as Head sent out sketches – done quite normally in the course of making the costumes – signed by herself, thereby creating the strong impression that they were completely her own work. Givenchy’s name ‘wasn’t allowed’ in the credits and Head accepted the Oscar without giving Givenchy any acknowledgement at all. In fairness to her, the costumes had all been made up by the studio, but some of them were from sketches by Givenchy (or were they – there’s some debate about whether they were actually his drawings, or sketches of his clothes made by Hepburn). Whatever the truth of it – and I don’t imagine we’ll ever really know, since everyone appears to have an axe to grind – Givenchy is, of course, the name forever associated with Audrey Hepburn, not Edith Head.
Let’s have another look at that ball dress:
Sometimes it’s worth not feeling entirely well.
And now I must drag myself back to the real world, and a great heap of logs and a man with a chainsaw. Where are my wellies?