There’s so much to love about Billy Wilder’s, Sabrina; from the charming and witty Cinderella-esque screenplay to the cast that features three of Hollywood’s all-time screen legends in Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden. However it is the costumes, in particular the Givenchy designer gowns that Audrey wore, that are the true stars of the film.
Sabrina helped solidify Audrey Hepburn’s status as a fashion icon and marked her first collaboration with Hubert de Givenchy, a partnership that would last throughout her lifetime.
At the time Audrey started work on Sabrina, she was not a household name. She had completed work on Roman Holiday, for which she would go on to win the Oscar for Best Actress, but it hadn’t been released yet. Paramount sensed the film and its star would be a hit, so they cast Audrey in their next project, an adaptation of the play, Sabrina Fair, by Samuel A. Taylor. Veteran Director, Billy Wilder, whose previous credits included Sunset Blvd. and Double Indemnity, signed on to direct and renowned Costume Designer, Edith Head, who had previously worked with Audrey on Roman Holiday, was brought on as Costume Supervisor.
Wanting as much authenticity as possible, Wilder requested that Sabrina’s gowns be made by an actual Paris designer, much to the chagrin of Ms. Head. Audrey was sent to meet with the then, up-and-coming designer, Hubert de Givenchy, at his Paris studio. When his assistant told him of the meeting with Miss Hepburn, he assumed she meant Katharine, but instead he met his muse. Unfortunately, Givenchy was busy preparing for his next collection, so he could only provide her with samples from the previous season. Luckily with Audrey’s height and petite frame, the clothes fit perfectly and she knew immediately they would be the right fit (pun intended) for the film.
When we first meet Sabrina, she is a shy, awkward young woman, perched up in a tree overlooking one of the Larrabee’s glamorous outdoor parties. She is dressed rather plainly in a black top, patterned dress, and her long hair in a ponytail. Her gaze is intently focused on David Larrabee (Holden), the younger, womanizing son of the house, as he dances with yet another girl who is not her. Sabrina’s father, the Larrabee’s chauffeur, comes along to encourage her to get some sleep in preparation for her upcoming trip to Paris to attend cooking school, but more importantly to get over David.
As the saying goes, time heals all wounds. Two years later, upon graduation and having gained much needed perspective, Sabrina returns home to Long Island. We first catch a glimpse of her glamorous transformation courtesy of Givenchy at the Glen Cove Train Station. Her new look is unveiled as the orchestra plays “La Vie en Rose,” and we see Sabrina dressed in a chic double-breasted grey suit cinched at the waist with a fitted calf-length skirt, low heels, and her short hairdo hidden under a fashionable turban. She even manages to stop David in his tracks as he’s driving by. He offers her a ride not realizing it is Sabrina until they arrive home. He is so captivated and eager to reconnect with her that he momentarily forgets about his own engagement party and invites her to come along.
Sabrina’s dreams are finally coming true as she is now a guest at one of the Larrabee parties instead of simply observing from a tree. When she arrives at the party she stands out amidst a sea of frilly dresses in a strapless white organdy column gown that features a detachable train with black ruffles on the bottom and black floral embroidery and beading on the bodice, skirt and train. She dances the night away with David, which catches the eye of his older brother, Linus (Bogart) and Mr. Larrabee. Worrying that Sabrina might derail David’s engagement to the daughter of a potential business partner, Linus sidelines his brother and hatches a plan to get rid of Sabrina.
As Linus and Sabrina spend more time together, their feelings towards one another grow. It’s on one of their Manhattan dates that Sabrina wears the infamous black cocktail dress that is arguably Audrey’s most iconic look. Made from ribbed cotton piqué, the fit-and-flare dress features a bateau neckline with bow detailing on the shoulders, and buttons leading up to a deep V back. She completes the look with black gloves and a rhinestone encrusted headpiece. Even to this day, the bateau neckline is referred to as the “Sabrina neckline” because of this very dress. Givenchy claimed Audrey favored this style because it concealed her small collarbone. She even wore a “Sabrina” style dress when she accepted her Oscar for Roman Holiday in 1954.
Finally, her last outfit is designed by Edith Head. While not a glamorous gown, it does capture Audrey’s casual elegance that we’ve all come to know and love. When confessing her feelings for Linus at his office, she wears a black sweater with a V back, similar to the cocktail dress, tailored black capri pants, and ballet flats. This look we will resurface a few years later in Funny Face, as well as throughout Audrey’s own personal style. Now just in case you haven’t seen this classic film yet, I won’t reveal any more spoilers. You can see all the gowns yourself now on EPIX and Epix.com.
The film went on to receive excellent reviews, but Hubert de Givenchy’s work went uncredited. To add insult to injury, the film’s sole Oscar was awarded for Best Costume Design in a Black-and-White film. Edith Head accepted the award and took credit for his designs. This infuriated Audrey and she promised her friend that this would not happen again. Eventually word got around that it was Givenchy who was responsible for the designing gowns in the film and the pair would go on to collaborate on several more of her films, including Funny Face and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
If you would like to learn more about Audrey and her work with Hubert de Givenchy, as well as the making of Sabrina, check out this article. Catch Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina and Breakfast at Tiffany’s on EPIX this month.