She wanted to wear a real Paris dress in Sabrina. Audrey Hepburn had a style that was very much her own, knowing exactly what complimented her slender figure, and insisted that she selected her own wardrobe for the film. In Billy Wilder’s 1954 romantic comedy, Audrey played Sabrina Fairchild, a chauffeur’s daughter, who falls in love with one of the sons of the wealthy employer her father works for. Lovesick, she leaves for Paris, only to come back two years later and cause an uproar when the two high society sons, David (William Holden) and Linus (Humphrey Bogart), fall for her.
Edith Head, the wardrobe supervisor for the film, had prepared sheets of drawings on which she and Audrey could collaborate sketching the dresses. She was shocked to hear the actress’s wish, as this was a film that would have given her a great opportunity to design for a leading lady “looking like a Paris mannequin”.
Sabrina transforms from a shy waif into a sophisticated Parisienne after her trip to Paris. When she returns, her hair is fashionably cropped too, because, as one of the characters she meets in Paris says about her previous hair-do, “this is not a hair style suitable for Paris”.
One of the outfits Audrey selected in Paris was the elegant double-breasted wool suit, collarless, that she wears on her first day back home. The actress was given instructions by Edith Head to buy a dark suit, “the type you would wear crossing the Atlantic by plane and arriving in up-state New York by train”. She was also advised by the costume designer not to choose “dead black or dead white” (and go instead for dark blue or oxford or charcoal grey), as these non-colours did not show up well on film, so costumes were usually made in derivations of tones. Audrey chose “that jazzy suit” – an Oxford-gray wool-ottoman tailleur with a cinch-waisted, double-breasted scoop-necked jacket and a slim, calf-length vented skirt. Hepburn finished off the suit with the hat with which it had originally been presented, a miniature turban of pleated pearl-gray chiffon, created by Givenchy’s in-house milliner.
Some sources say that Billy Wilder’s wife (others say that Gladys de Segonzac, wife of Paramount’s Paris executive) sent Audrey to Cristóbal Balenciaga in Paris. The designer would surely have provided her a fabulous wardrobe, but he was too busy preparing his latest collection. He sent Audrey to his friend, Hubert de Givenchy, who had worked for Balenciaga. As it turned out that Givenchy couldn’t design something especially for her either, as he was in the middle of a collection himself, Audrey asked him to show her his previous collection. It was exactly what she needed and she ended up buying a capsule wardrobe, formed of three outfits (the aforementioned suit and the two gowns she would wear in the film), which amounted to the sum of $850, from the French couturier for her post-Paris make-over. It was their first collaboration.
Edith Head, much to her disappointment, had to design the rest of Hepburn’s outfits, a lot less glamorous, but which, in my opinion, beautifully shaped up her character. The costume department also had to manufacture duplicates of the Givenchy clothes that would be needed in case the original ones were ruined during production.