Fashion's triumvirate continue to inspire
By Samantha Critchell
By Samantha Critchell
NEW YORK In an age when the word is grossly overused, they remain, incontrovertibly, icons: elegance embodied, high fashion at the dawn of the television era, with charmed lives and striking beauty.
Celebrities fuel fashion that comes as no surprise. But the women with the most influence over today's tastemakers aren't the ones on the covers of all those celebrity magazines.
Instead, it's Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who continue to set the standard. Their names are shorthand for the looks that are at the root of modern style many years after their respective deaths.
The patrician style of Main Line Philadelphia is defined by Grace. One of the world's most coveted handbags the HermEs Kelly bag is named after her. The two-handles satchel has become a symbol of understated, ladylike luxury.
When Jackie was a Kennedy, she popularized the pillbox hat and skirt suits. When she was an Onassis, it was the glamorous oversized sunglasses worn with yacht-appropriate attire.
The pearls and black dress that so many women use as their cocktail-party uniform? That's all Audrey. The Givenchy black dress that she wore in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," a simple-yet-elegant sleeveless sheath, was sold last week at Christie's in London, fetching a shocking $807,000, almost six times the highest pre-sale estimate. Proceeds will go to the Indian relief charity City of Joy Aid.
Designer Hubert de Givenchy donated the dress that he created, and the company that bears his name, now a division of LVMH, repurchased it to support both the charity and the heritage of the brand.
The film series Grand Classics, in conjunction with American Express RED, polled fashion designers earlier this year about the most influential fashion movies, and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" was the No. 1 choice. "My Fair Lady," also starring Audrey, was in the top 10.
(It was in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" that Hepburn also wore the black plastic Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses, ushering in a new look of eyewear that had largely relied on thin metallic frames until then.)
"Audrey had a timeless quality," said Avril Graham, executive fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar, which recreated Audrey's look pearls and all on young actress Natalie Portman for a recent cover. "Anyone could wear that black dress now. It doesn't seem to be dated in any way."
"Timeless" is the word that comes up again and again with designers, editors and fashion watchers when they talk about these women. And they do talk about them a lot.
"They are the triumvirate," designer Michael Kors declared. "All three of these women were about clean, sharp lines, so you notice the woman first. And they're very archetypal types: If you're fine-boned, you see Audrey Hepburn and say, 'That works for me.' If you're sporty and angular, you see yourself in Jackie Kennedy, and for patrician and classic, you automatically think of Grace Kelly."
Fame, especially with the growth of television in the 1950s and '60s, allowed Grace, Jackie and Audrey to have a worldwide audience, and they all made fashion approachable, so it didn't seem like an only-for-insiders pursuit, Kors added.
It's also worth noting, according to Tommy Hilfiger, that even though European designers get credit for setting fashion trends, Jackie and Grace were American. And Audrey, with roots in Belgium, Holland and England, moved to the U.S. to advance her career.
Of course, the three were the closest thing to American royalty. Grace, already the toast of Hollywood, became a real-life princess when she married Prince Rainier III of Monaco; Jackie was the face of the country's most famous family; and Audrey modernized the Cinderella story as Eliza Doolittle and Sabrina on the silver screen.
Hilfiger wrote the forward to the new book "Grace Kelly: A Life in Pictures" (Pavilion) and helped choose the cover photo a 1954 portrait for Life magazine showing her blond hair, porcelain skin and slightly red lips. She wears a simple satin spaghetti-strap gown.
Since the troika's heyday, women have adopted a more casual approach to fashion. But the trio's style and influence have endured.
"People look up to them and people think of them as glamorous," Hilfiger said. "The glam factor is important in this world of entertainment, fashion and style it still makes them exciting after all those years."
In contrast, the Gwen Stefanis and Sheryl Crows, or even Lindsay Lohans and Paris Hiltons of today, may not have that same staying power. Refinement, elegance and a serious approach to style endure, Hilfiger said; trendiness does not.