Blown away – and not by knitting…

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?


16 thoughts on “Blown away – and not by knitting…

    1. kate Post author

      It’s such a miserable evening I’m thinking of breaking out another one. Hmmm – The Wicked Lady, I think – just about perfect!

    1. kate Post author

      I’m not sure… Hm – while I definitely prefer Gregory Peck to William Holden (and even Bogart, whom I don’t really warm to in Sabrina), I do prefer Sabrina. I need to watch them both again. Now. Shame about work…

  1. islandthreads

    Kate thanks for this extra info on the film, I bought the dvd a few years ago and love the film, seen it many times, I knew Bogart was not first choice I think Cary Grant was, I’m glad he didn’t take the part as I don’t think it would be as good with him though I do like both actors, hope you are feeling well and all your wood is cut and stacked, Frances

    1. kate Post author

      Yes, you’re right – it was Cary Grant. I’m not sure he could have pulled off the ‘workaholic’ thing like Bogie does, but he’d certainly have played better as a romantic hero (B. was so perfect in Casablanca I can’t really ‘see’ him as a romantic lead in any other movie). Apparently Bogart behaved very badly during shooting – didn’t think he was right for the part, was pissed off at being second choice anyway, and blamed marital problems as well when he apologies to Wilder later.

      Wood in giant wet heap. It started raining again, abandoned. Never mind, it won’t be used until the autumn. Hang on, isn’t that what we’re having now????

      1. islandthreads

        I agree G couldn’t have pulled off the workaholic and would have been a better romantic hero but that is why I think it wouldn’t work with him as it would be expected, agree re Casablanca another of my DVD’s,
        I knew B was miffed at being chosen after another actor and didn’t think he was right for the part but didn’t know he behaved badly I did read that he was supposed to have said if he looked like William Holden then he could understand why Lauren Bacall fell for him, wasn’t she ‘the wife’ at this time,
        reading the other comments and replies I love both Hepburns though Kate is my fav if I had to chose so glad I don’t, have many DVD’s of both, I do not have tv but love my dvds, Frances
        now off to see why you have lost yarnworks 🙂

        1. kate Post author

          Dare I ask what you’re favourite KH movie is? Bringing up Baby?

          The trouble is, these are all far too good to knit to, if you see what I mean. Dropped-Stitch Central.

      2. islandthreads

        Kate I don’t think I could name a fav, I love bringing up baby but I also love Adam’s Rib, Rooster Cogburn which she made when in her 70’s and many others, I know there are lots more than I have, and your fav is? Frances

        1. kate Post author

          BUB, Rooster Cogburn, yeah. But I think I’m an African Queen woman myself, and she was stunning in The Lion in Winter… striking a huge blow for older actresses in Hollywood, for which I will always deeply admire her over AH, I have to say…

      3. islandthreads

        when I was replying I forgot the african queen which I love, I have never seen the lion in winter, I know there are lots of her films I haven’t seen or heard of and many, many films I have not seen and heard of, that’s why I find favourite hard, I also have times when I watch a particular film alot then I switch to something else, Frances

        1. kate Post author

          Oh, you definitely need to get hold of / borrow The Lion in Winter. The script is a bit arch and theatrical, but there are some wonderful lines and her performance is great…

  2. Lydia

    Mmmm, I haven’t seen this film either – Audrey Hepburn is just so impossibly chic – how did she do it? I do think that women seem to have made a lot more effort in those days – did Audrey ever slop around in ugg boots and track pants on a cold and rainy day in Paris?

    1. kate Post author

      Oh, get it, get it, get it — I’m soooooo relieved I’m not the only one!

      I think the big difference between me and AH is height (and the rest – ed); she was something like 5ft 7. She also had HUGE feet – well, you do if you’re tall, otherwise you’d fall over. Size 8-8.5 UK:that’s big. No Uggs for Audrey; I bet the nearest she got to casual was that crop leggings – tight trousers, not leggings back then – and black top ensemble. When I dress like that I don’t go anywhere people can see me, as a public service. Sigh.

      Also I tend to be dressed by charity shops and Monoprix rather than Givenchy. That doesn’t help.

  3. karibu57

    Audrey Hepburn – My favourite actress EVER!!!
    Sabrina – One of my Favourite Movies EVER!!!
    The clothes – well she had all her clothes made by Givenchy…what else is there to add??!!
    I am amazed you had missed this beauty of a movie but glad you fell in love with it.
    Hope ‘tummy’ and hand recover soon 🙂

    1. kate Post author

      It’s sooo embarrassing to have missed it, and I do agree about AH. Mind you, I think in the battle of the Hepburns, my vote does have to go to Katharine, and not just because we share a name (and a spelling – entirely down to my father’s deep admiration of the feisty KH).

      We’ve stopped testing recipes so now I can eat what I want to – phew, better now – and the hand is doing really well… *cautious yipee*


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