No Need to Give Givenchy a Night Off

For Audrey with Love: Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy – written and illustrated by Philip Hopman, NorthSouth Books, 2017

In the comic adventure and love story How to Steal a Million, Peter O’Toole’s character, upon seeing Audrey Hepburn dressed decidedly down as part of their caper, comments that her choice of outfit gives Givenchy a night off. Philip Hopman’s charming picture book about the friendship and artistic partnership between Hepburn and the brilliant designer, there is never a day or night off. The bond between Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy was based on a mutual love of beauty and of one another.  The Dutch-born actress and the French couturier each had a vision of expressiveness and innovation in their respective fields. Hopman’s story of their lives emphasizes the individuality that characterized both of these gifted artists.  Young children may not recognize every character or allusion to the worlds of fashion and film, but they will definitely enjoy the vibrant pictures and the reassuring lesson that Hepburn and Givenchy supported and inspired one another.

The young Audrey at first aspires to be a ballerina, but realizes that acting is really her métier.  Hubert is drawn to design clothing; we see him busily dressing his dolls, a tape measure, pin cushion, and tailor’s shears surrounding him as the tools of his future trade. Both artists have mothers who encourage their gifted children.  As an adult, Givenchy develops a specific style, noting that clothing is “much too complicated,” and that simplicity equals elegance. The sketches of his early work, and the parade of famous women who eventually wear his creations, are a visual feast for adult readers.  From pastels to jewel tones, Marlene D., Greta G., Jackie K., and others, show off his outfits; at the bottom of the same page, the much less self-important young actress, Hepburn, is frustrated with the inexpert designs she is expected to wear in her movies.  Then, the two meet; in a Cinderella metaphor, Givenchy’s dresses fit Hepburn off-the-rack, “as if I made them for you.”

Each scene features a different perspective.  A vertical two-page spread shows two facing Holly Golightlys, introduced to young readers as “a frivolous woman who liked having breakfast at a jewelry store!” Denying the idea that beautiful clothes are only for the rich and slim, Hopman gives us a series of individuals as different as could be in face and form, but all dressed in the basic black of Funny Face. The author also casually summarizes Hepburn’s seeming contradictions: “Audrey had a glamorous life. Meanwhile, she traveled the world to raise awareness for children in need. She always wore Hubert’s clothes. Even when she baked chocolate cake.” 

Children’s books about people not necessarily of the greatest interest to children have a task; they need to justify the portrayal of their subjects for a young audience.  Hopman does an admirable job of conveying the connection between these two stars, and the importance of their loyalty and affection to each one’s professional trajectory.  Perhaps the most touching lines in the book, ones that define their relationship in a way that children will understand, are:

“ ‘Is that Hubert your boyfriend?’ friends would ask Audrey. ‘Oh no,’ she answered. He is much more than that.  When I wear his clothes, I feel safe. I’m not afraid of anything.’ ”

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