LONDON • A five-day exhibition to precede the largest-ever auction of Audrey Hepburn's private possessions opened at Christie's auction house in London last Saturday, with some of its most enthusiastic visitors expected to be the late film legend's growing fanbase of teens and millennials.
"An extraordinary migration has taken place," said her eldest son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer. "Now, 50 per cent of her fanbase are teens and tweens. She has replaced James Dean on that closet drawer in kids' bedrooms. It's quite extraordinary.
"I can only explain that by saying that children are very instinctive and, in a world of a lot of smoke and mirrors with social media, I think they feel there is something very real about her."
Looking around the spotlit exhibition - which includes dresses, film scripts and other treasures from her Swiss attic - it is perhaps no surprise that Hepburn should appeal to those who have discovered her on the very visual world of the Internet.
There are almost too many highlights with Tumblr and Pinterest currency to list, such as the image of Hepburn sitting beneath a shiny hooded hairdryer on the set of Sabrina in 1954, wearing a simple white shirt and black trousers, and the 1957 Bud Fraker photograph in which she is clad head to toe in black, her slender frame curved to one side like a painter's brushstroke.
The working script for the 1961 film Breakfast At Tiffany's, including deleted scenes, is another rarity being sold along with numerous other scripts featuring Hepburn's hand-written notes.
Many of the clothes feel as modern today as they were in the 1960s. There are the little black dresses for which she was so famous, such as the feather-trimmed Givenchy cocktail frock from 1968; the Burberry macintosh and heritage checked skirt suits; the 1967 shearling jacket worn in Wait Until Dark; the 1960s coats with their clean, classic lines; the pristine Louis Vuitton luggage.
But while the style feels contemporary, the flawless condition in which the items appear speaks volumes about their owner's values.
"She kept them in the closet in Switzerland," said Mr Luca Dotti, Hepburn's younger son, by her second husband, Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti. "She was very attentive, a girl out of the war. When Valentino used some of her pieces in an exhibition, he wrote her a note saying, 'All the others are stained and ruffled up and yours are as good as new' and she was very proud of that."
Hepburn was born in Belgium on May 4, 1929, and moved to the Netherlands with her family after the outbreak of World War II. They went hungry for months during the way while on the run from Nazi troops.
An array of luggage being sold off includes a battered black- lacquered suitcase she is believed to have arrived in London with to take up a ballet scholarship in 1948, before she became one of the world's most famous actresses.
She had her first starring role in Roman Holiday (1953), playing a European princess who falls in love with an American journalist played by Gregory Peck.
She married American actor Mel Ferrer in 1954. They divorced in 1968, the same year she met her second husband on a Mediterranean cruise. She died in Switzerland in 1993 at the age of 63.
Her family said they chose to keep a number of items such as her collection of awards, including the Oscar she won for Roman Holiday. Other items were also too sentimental to sell, including family photos from Hepburn's childhood.
"I'm particularly fond of the beginnings. Her life before becoming Audrey Hepburn," said Mr Dotti.
But the collection does include some more personal pieces such as My Garden Flowers - a 1969 artwork by Hepburn that she painted while pregnant with Mr Dotti.
The most worn-looking items are perhaps the most evocative: several pairs of ballet pumps in fondant-fancy colours, with bulges and grooves in the leather marking out the shape of her toes in a way that feels extraordinarily intimate.
Those shoes are being sold in lots of three pairs, with estimates of £6,000 (S$11,000) to £9,000, so it is unlikely that Hepburn's youngest fans will get a look in.
But, says Mr Ferrer, there are small pieces starting at £100 which, he says, "it is my wish" young fans will acquire.
"I have long discussed this with Christie's - to try to keep some of the lots light enough that some young girl can try to have something that belonged to her without having to go to the bank and take an advance on their college loan," he said.
Sharing his mother's legacy with the world "in the spirit of the keepsake you might receive when you lost a grandparent" was the auction's intention, he added.
Letting go of Hepburn's possessions - which Mr Ferrer said "as a normal family without a chateau", they did not have space to keep - 25 years after her death has clearly been an emotional process.
He talked of "complex tax situations" and pointed out that, though the proceeds are going to the brothers on this occasion, they have spent so much of their lives doing charity work in their mother's honour that giving back has been their life's work "regardless of how you slice it".
Mr Dotti described Christie's staff as "shrinks" as much as organisers.
The behind-the-scenes machinations are unlikely to matter much to Hepburn's youngest fans, for whom her image is an obsession.
"I think she was the first true teenager," said the exhibition's creative consultant, Ms Meredith Etherington-Smith. "She came up in the 1950s, when girls looked like their mothers after the age of 16, all trussed up. But she dressed very simply. She dressed like a ballet dancer, actually."
Through her image, said Ms Etherington-Smith, "she is immortal. People still want to look like her. Short hair, strong eyebrows, wonderful ballet shoes. What does that sound like? That sounds like today."
Mr Dotti said Hepburn "would be amazed" by her teenage fanbase, but she would not want to be considered an icon. "She would have hated that word. By its definition, an icon is an object of devotion without life and she would have hated both the aspects - being an object and, especially, being without life."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE