Audrey Hepburn: Why the Fuss?

She's again topped a 'most beautiful' poll. Yet many fans weren't even born when she started making movies. What's the enduring appeal of the original waif?

Audrey Hepburn. Lovely, wasn't she? And her old-school glamour has beaten off modern day pin-ups - she's been voted the most beautiful woman of all time in a poll for New Woman magazine. But why is she so popular, among film fans and fashionistas alike?

Today the Hepburn look has been around so long - and is so imitated - that it's easy to forget that when she starred in 1953's Roman Holiday, she broke the mould of Hollywood leading lady in one deft swoop.

Effortless grace

Born in Brussels in 1929, Audrey Kathleen Hepburn-Ruston was the daughter of John Victor Hepburn-Ruston and Ella van Heemstra, a baroness. "She is one of us," the Queen Mother is said to have told daughter Elizabeth after meeting her.

Educated at boarding school in England in the 1930s, she spent World War II at the Arnhem Conservatory in the Netherlands.

She then went on to study dance, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Margot Fonteyn. But at 5ft 7in, she was deemed too tall to be a prima ballerina (although she would be dwarfed by her successor as America's sweetheart, Julia Roberts, who says she is "too tall to be a girl" at 5ft 9in). Yet she never lost the poise and graceful movements of a dancer.

The waif

For the photographer Cecil Beaton, her look and her spirit embodied her times. "It took the rubble of Belgium, an English accent, and an American success to launch the striking personality that best exemplifies our new zeitgeist."

And the proof lay in her many imitators: "The woods are full of emaciated young ladies with rat-nibbled hair and moon-pale faces," he wrote. 

Broad appeal

Among the designers she worked with was Oliver Goldsmith, the British eyewear guru who also designed Michael Caine's iconic specs.

"She was quite clear on what she liked and what she didn't," says his granddaughter Claire Goldsmith, managing director of the company and a Hepburn fan. "Her look is timeless because it's simple; fuss goes out of fashion."

...For Audrey Hepburn was a woman not to be sexy, but to fall in love with.

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