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The Original Top Model

'Funny Face' turns 50 this week, but its backstory -- Givenchy and Hepburn -- now speaks volumes about Hollywood, fashion and fidelity.

September 30, 2007|Monica Corcoran | Times Staff Writer

Long before the devil donned Prada or Tyra Banks fancied herself a modern-day, pop-eyed Henry Higgins, there was "Funny Face." The movie musical turns 50 this week, and it has aged better than a bottle of Cognac. Watch Audrey Hepburn -- as bewildered and fine-boned as a newborn fawn -- molt from a meek bookstore clerk to, well, America's next top model, and you realize the film is both a sly poke in the kohled eye of fashion and an hommage to the altar of style. It's "Pygmalion" in the most flattering shade of pink.

The film has fascinating footnotes too. Hepburn, then 27, crooned her own tunes. Fred Astaire was 30 years older, though he plays the fashion photographer who discovers her and later woos her. (Hepburn once confessed that she was terrified to meet her childhood idol: "I remember being so shaken that I threw up my breakfast." I just wish she had been more specific. Poached eggs? A pancake?) The photographs in the film, including that kicky photo montage of haute Hepburn in Paris, came from legendary lens man Richard Avedon, who inspired Astaire's character.

Then, there was Givenchygate. The story goes that Hepburn demanded that she be allowed to have designer Hubert de Givenchy create her confections. A few years earlier, Givenchy had created the iconic black gown and other Parisian looks she wore in "Sabrina," but Paramount head costumer Edith Head took sole credit when she accepted an Academy Award for best costume design for the 1954 film. This time around, Hepburn made sure Givenchy got his due; he shared a credit with the famous costumer on a "Funny Face" Academy Award nomination. A furious Head had been relegated to outfitting the costars.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, October 07, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
'Funny Face': The Sept. 30 Calendar DVD File column said that Audrey Hepburn's character in the film "Funny Face" worked in a Parisian bookstore. She worked in Greenwich Village in New York.

Hepburn and Givenchy went on to become the most celebrated of muse and maestro duets. He referred to her as a "sister"; she likened him to a "psychiatrist." Who wouldn't kill for an analyst-stylist? Oh, to caper from the couch to the shoe closet. When the designer introduced his fragrance L'Interdit, he allowed only Hepburn to wear it for a year until he released it to the public. But it was the sprite's style, honed by Givenchy, that women craved.

These days, most actresses flit from Miuccia to Marc and flutter their lashes at lucrative endorsement contracts. The ever-changing front rows of fashion shows indicate mass infidelity. Does Lindsay still love Karl? Will Charlize desert Dior? It's about time all these naughty muses quit slinking from fitting to fitting. I would hate to see costumers replaced by fashion designers, but there's no harm in a loyal off-screen relationship. Sometimes, in fact, as the song goes: S'wonderful.


For vintage photos and a visual retrospective of Audrey Hepburn's style with practical how-tos, visit Monica Corcoran's daily blog, All the Rage, at

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