Lights, Camera, Fashion: Breakfast At Tiffany’s

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Sprawled across countless iconic posters, famed for it’s classic simplicity, and credited for it’s fashion credentials, is the fashion of Breakfast At Tiffany’s a hype, or simply a reflection of the fashion conscious time it was made?

As one of cinemas best dressed characters, Audrey Hepburn’s iconic role of the eccentric, though undeniably elegant Holly Golightly wouldn’t have been possible without her faithful black dress, but costume choice and conflicts surrounding one of the most famous dresses on the planet is still shrouded in mystery. Why was it excluded from the film, and whatever happened to it?

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Tailoring every inch of the unforgettable floor length design specifically to Audrey’s figure, longtime friend of the actress and designer, Herbert De Givenchy wanted to design a dress that would prove unforgettable for Holly’s opening scene, but his final design proved unforgettable for the wrong reason.

Described as ‘Parisian’, the Italian satin of the dress is described as ”a sleeveless, floor-length gown with fitted bodice embellished at the back with distinctive cut-out décolleté, the skirt slightly gathered at the waist and slit to the thigh on one side, labelled inside on the waistband Givenchy; accompanied by a pair of black elbow-length gloves.” Teamed with black satin gloves and pearls decorating the open shoulder design, the dress is the epitome of classical elegance.

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So after months of laborious designing, Givenchy unveiled his design, which was received with negative backlash from producers of the film, who deemed it far too revealing, and requested something a little more demure. For modern audiences, Holly’s playfully coy disposition would pair perfectly with an innocent flash of her bare calf, but we’re forgetting the film revolves around the 1950′s socialite circles of the rich New Yorkers, and such behaviour would brandish such a lady a harlot – that’s definitely not Holly!

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Rather than asking Givenchy to make slight amendments to the design, costume designer Edith Head was requested to redesign the lower half of the dress, resulting in the subtle and silhouetted floor length frock we’re familiar with. Of the two replicas of the dress presented by Givenchy, one is held at The Museum of Film in Madrid, while the other one surfaced to auction at Christie’s in 2006 – only sampling a trace of it’s dazzling potential for Natalie Portman’s tribute cover shoot for Harper’s Bazaar.

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Baring a flattering resemblance to Hepburn, does the sight of Portman in Givenchy’s dress create regret for what ought to have been? The dress, as well as the accompanying accessories were whole-heartedly designed to compliment the fusion of Audrey to her character, Holly. 

For example, Givenchy tailored to Hepburn’s transformation to Holly’swaifish‘ figure and her finite attention to detail is apparent through her large black hat, silk gloves, and oversized sunglasses. Her willingness to be disguised under shadow merely creates more intrigue to delve more into her character and find out more. From this, Givenchy’s influence shines through onto the film, defining the fundamental elements needed to recreate Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

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It would seem Givenchy’s role is complete – he’s credited for inspiring an iconic fashion trend for ‘The Audrey look’, while his unused dress made history when auctioned for Christie’s, fetching a final price of £467,200 by an anonymous telephone bidder. Givenchy speaks of the dress’ absence from the film with no regret, declaring his delight that the auction donated to a good cause.“I’m absolutely dumbfounded to believe that a piece of cloth which belonged to such a magical actress will now enable me to buy bricks and cement to put the most destitute children in the world into schools”, he says.

As for the real dresses, Hepburn and Head are responsible for destroying them, having probably underestimated the level of iconic status they would hold upon popular cinema culture.

About Julia Powney