Ready To Wear: Doe-eyed and docile – the importance of not being Audrey


Does anyone actually want to look like Audrey Hepburn these days," I asked a colleague last week as yet another soon-to-be-published volume extolling the virtues of the actor's style – So Audrey: 59 Ways to Put a Little Hepburn in Your Step – landed on the fashion desk.

"Nope," she answered, while I couldn't help thinking that even the title of the book is irritating. "I want to look like Eleanor of Aquitaine. I want a wimple. And power over England. And France. You may kiss my ring."

The celebrated medieval consort in question is an obscure role model, admittedly, but she is impressively old-school at the very least.

Whatever. Poor Audrey. After years as the unfailing symbol of chic par excellence, her iconic status is now under scrutiny. Holly Golightly, go do one – or words to that effect.

Here's Miuccia Prada on the subject in the new Vogue. "I like Audrey Hepburn," the designer says, which is nice of her, "but intellectually, I refuse to go back to that. I'm interested in chic that comes from different ways of dressing. Classic chic I know. And I struggle all the time, because if I didn't, I would turn into classic chic. That's easy."

Easy if you happen to be Miuccia Prada, perhaps, but La Hepburn's allure relies precisely on the fact that, for the rest of us, being in possession of impeccably good taste is not always quite that simple. Nor is it any longer desirable. By today's standards, her determinedly doe-eyed demeanour appears uptight to the point of tiresome, delicate to the point of docile, pretty to the point of passive, not to mention bourgeois in a not remotely ironic way. In an age obsessed with status and power, her image is neither power-driven nor empowering. Discreet elegance is the message and it's lost in a fast-moving and remorselessly over-exposed world.

Above all, the time-honoured image of Hepburn – slender as a fashion illustration in little black Givenchy dress, cutely coquettish in wide-brimmed straw hat, or waif-like and winsome in skinny black pedal-pushers – is by now obvious in the extreme. And obvious, by ever more sartorially aware and attention-seeking standards, is rarely fashionable.