Audrey Hepburn: an eyewear icon

They say ‘god doesn’t gift with both hands.’

But in the context of acting-talent, intelligence, good looks and philanthropy, very few could rival the specialties of Audrey Kathleen Ruston.

More famously, you probably know her as Audrey Hepburn, which she later adapted as her shortened stage name. She was of course, a war baby, but despite the adversity and nomadic nature of her upbringing, she attained eternal fame as one of the most successful actresses of Hollywood’s golden age.

To this day, Audrey Hepburn exemplifies timeless-femininity, stardom and glamour and is recognised as one the most prominent British icons of motion picture.

Through her numerous acting roles, characters and outfits, her cult costumes continue to inspire the fashion trends of today. Outfits, hats, scarves, accessories and of course, her famously large sunglasses.

 

Audrey Hepburn wearing large frame sunglasses and black dress

Audrey Hepburn in Paris, circa 1964 | Image credit: Photo by Roger Viollet via Tumblr

 

Audrey Hepburn was born on the 4th of May 1929 in Ixelles, Brussels, Belgium.

During her childhood in the 1930’s, Hepburn’s family migrated several times between Brussels, Arnhem, The Hague and London due to her father’s work with a loan company. It was during this multinational upbringing where she famously learnt five languages; primarily English and Dutch from her parents, then Spanish, French and Italian.

Later, Hepburn was educated in Elham Kent, where she attended boarding school in 1938. It was there where she found her love for ballet in her final years before the beginning of the second world war.

This marked a troublesome turning point for Hepburn as her mother returned to Holland in fear of Germany’s declaration of war against Britain. At this point her father abandoned his wife and daughter as he was indoctrinated into the British Union of Fascists.

Thereafter, Hepburn and her grief-stricken mother faced an arduous period together in Arnhem.

During the war, Hepburn became malnourished from the lack of food supplies due to Nazi intervention and subsequent food shortages. In turn, this inhibited her pursual of ballet due to physical weakness, therefore she turned her focus to singing and acting instead.

 

Old photographs of Audrey Hepburn doing ballet

Hepburn began ballet dancing at the age of 5 and became very proficient by her early teens. During the war when she was with her mother in Arnhem, she danced for paid entertainment and raised money for the Dutch resistance against the Nazis. | All 4 images sourced from Pinterest respectively

Ballet photographs of a young Audrey Hepburn

 

After the war, Hepburn returned to London with her mother. There, she took acting and elocution lessons, participated in theatrical work and registered herself as a freelance actress.

She landed her first acting roles playing minor parts in various short films before her debut starring role in the bilingual comedy ‘Monte Carlo Baby.’ Throughout the following decade, her talent was recognised with her ability to act, sing and dance which led to her winning numerous accolades including an Academy Award, BAFTA award and a Golden Globe award.

After signing a lucrative 7-film contract with Paramount Pictures, Hepburn was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1953 where she first became known for her stunning looks and captivating fashion sense.

Her career began to unfurl as she progressed from role to role.

 

 

Audrey Hepburn on the front cover of Time Magazine1953

Audrey Hepburn, age 24 on the cover of Time Magazine, September 7th, 1953 | Image credit: Pinterest

A young Audrey Hepburn lying on her side on white background

Audrey Hepburn, circa 1957. | Image credit: The Sun

Side view of Audrey Hepburn sitting down wearing beige coat and large sunglasses

Audrey Hepburn on set during the filming of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" film, New York, October, 1960. | Image credit: Pinterest

 

Actress Audrey Hepburn wearing sunglasses and black dress holding coffee cup

 

Audrey Hepburn’s sunglasses

In 1960, screen writer Blake Edwards was headhunting for the female protagonist for his upcoming romantic comedy film. It was to be a remake of the novel ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and the author, Truman Capote, sought Marilyn Monroe to take the leading role.

However, it was Hepburn that got the job.

It was her defining moment.

In the opening credits of the film, Holly Golightly (Hepburn) gracefully exits a yellow New York taxi outside the famous Tiffany’s jewellery store. She stepped out wearing Hollywood’s most iconic black dress and possibly the most famous pair of women’s sunglasses to grace the big screen.

 

Audrey Hepburn outside Tiffany's New York wearing sunglasses and black dress

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" film opening scene, October 1960. Her dress was made from black Italian satin, designed by Hubert de Givenchy. Despite the road traffic being very quiet, there was a large crowd of unseen onlookers whilst this scene was filmed across the street | Image credit: The Evening Standard

 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s sunglasses

The sunglasses frame was designed made in 1960 by London-based optical brand Oliver Goldsmith.

The frame was were large and oversized, covering much of Hepburn’s face as she glided over the quiet street on 727 fifth avenue in Manhattan.

Peering through the window of the jewellers, a danish pastry in one hand, coffee in the other, you finally see the full shape of her sunglasses and their lightly tinted lenses.

The frame itself is full rim, made from a thick tortoiseshell imitation cellulose acetate. As she tilts her head to the side, subtle flecks of amber and brown catch the morning light. A timeless colourway in a timeless scene.

The enlarged ‘butterfly’ frame-shape emphasised her feminine features. She was small, her sunglasses were large. The subtly upswept endpieces gave the frame a modest cat-eye shape which complimented her slender stature and narrow face.

 

Audrey Hepburn looking through shop window in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's film

This scene was filmed on 727 fifth avenue, Manhattan in October 1960. Luckily, there was unusually low traffic whilst the film crew were shooting the opening scene. There were barely any cars on the street as Holly Golightly arrived in her yellow New York taxi. However, Hepburn had an ironic distaste for pastry and much preferred ice cream | Image credit: Pinterest

 

 

Like most acetate sunglasses at the time, the hinges were traditionally secured using solid metal rivets which would have passed right through the acetate frame front and temples. This is also how we make our spectacles and sunglasses, as this method provides a more stable and reliable structure.

 

Close view of Audrey Hepburn's sunglasses in Breakfast at Tiffany's film

You can see the diamond-shaped rivet-heads on her oversized sunglasses. Technically speaking, these are known as staple rivets which are two rivets conjoined by a single, decorative rhombus head. There are four of these in total, two for the frame front and one for each temple | Image credit: Promipool

 

Due to dominance of the frame, you can easily spot the rhombus-shaped rivet heads at the outer edges of Hepburn’s sunglasses. For the time, the design was relitively modern as it used a simplified saddle bridge. Instead of a traditional keyhole, the frame simply swept up and over her nose with little embellishment or intricacy.

In the opening street scene outside Tiffany’s jewellery shop, you can still see Hepburn’s eyes despite the large, lightly tinted, greenish sun lenses. Presumably, this detail was for the benefit of the viewer so her expression and eye movements were still visible, especially in the weak morning light.

 

Close view of Audrey Hepburn taking off her sunglasses

This image depicts the tortoise pattern of Hepburn's thick-rimmed sunglasses frame. You can see the flecks of transparent amber within the acetate frame front. The light tint on her lenses are actually slightly green which you can see more clearly in colour photographs | Image credit: Pinterest

 

Audrey Hepburn wearing a white hat and large tortoise sunglasses

Possibly one of the best close-shots of Hepburn's sunglasses. The timeless tortoise acetate is clear to see, along with the use of the rhombus rivet heads | Image credit: Vogue

 

Audrey Hepburn sunglasses tribute

Homage to the famous British actress and her iconic role, we’ve replicated our interpretation of the Audrey Hepburn sunglasses look.

Like the original, we've used thick acetate in an oversized butterfly shape. The bridge is a saddle style with in-built acetate nose pads for comfort.

Dark grey acetate sunglasses

 

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