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The woman, not the icon: Discover the life of Brussels-born Audrey Hepburn
Original, unique and unforgettable are three accolades given to Brussels-born Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993). One of the world's greatest movie stars, her second life was as a Unicef champion. To celebrate what would have been her 90th birthday year, her son Sean Hepburn Ferrer has created a captivating exhibition focusing on Audrey - the woman, not the icon - "coming home".
Almost the first thing you see in Brussels’ Espace Vanderborght (Rue de l’Ecuyer 50) is the charming bronze statue Little Audrey (by Françoise Gillet) made from a photo of Audrey on a Brussels bench. This will ultimately be placed at Ixelles' Solvay park, very near her birthplace, Rue Keyenveld 48.
Ten years in the making, Intimate Audrey is laid out in 10 sections over two of the not-so-intimate Vanderborght’s vast floors: The family tree; Born in Brussels; From London to New York; Oscar night; A Swiss wedding; Audrey and Mel; Sean; Friends; La Paisible [Tolochenaz, Switzerland, her final home]; and, Final Chapter.
The exhibition includes largely unpublished original and reprinted photos, souvenirs, gorgeous dresses and accessories, as well as never-before-seen fashion drawings and humanitarian writings.
A glass case-worth of ballet shoes is particularly poignant. Hepburn’s first choice career was dancing. But Ballet Rambert told her because of her height and weak constitution (due to wartime malnutrition), she could not be a prima ballerina.
Hepburn’s film career is highlighted by posters, film clips, including her rendition of I Could Have Danced All Night (actually the voice of Julie Andrews) in My Fair Lady and the famous Vespa used in Roman Holiday (1953). This gained her an Oscar, Bafta and Golden Globe for Best Actress, also on show.
You can further see Hepburn starring with cinematic greats including Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart and first husband Mel Ferrer. But the show’s major strength is in portraying Audrey’s private moments. "It’s a walk through her life," one of the exhibition organiser's, Rodrigue Laurent, tells The Bulletin.
The exhibition wants you to experience what it was like being Audrey. You can even smell her perfume: L’Interdit by Givenchy.
This incredible photo journey shows the young girl playing with ceramic dolls in Brussels to the 60-year-old woman working with children in Africa. "I always loved children," Hepburn said. "As a child, I used to pick them out of their prams, to my mother’s stern disapproval."
This passion is reflected in her second career, which she called her most important. "She directed people to the plight of children in Africa,” actor Billy Wilder emphasised in one of the videos in the Friends section of the exhibition.
Other tributes include that Audrey was funny, enchanting and never complained. "She always made you feel special," actress Elizabeth Taylor remembered.
Meanwhile, this radiant woman with her huge, dark eyes (an exhibition article recounts she changed the film actress standard - men looked at her face, not her body) "didn’t care about her beauty," Mel Ferrer said. "She thought she was a little too tall and had big feet."
He clearly adored her. Delightful photos of their 17-year relationship include a young Audrey wrapped in Ferrer's overcoat or the couple cross-legged on their sofa, posing for a Christmas card. Sean’s early life and his mother’s devotion shine out from an impressive collection of pictures. You can even see Sean’s crib and christening gown.
The exhibition omits to say the Hepburn/Ferrer relationship did not last forever. In 1967, the lovebirds divorced and in 1970, Hepburn had another son Luca with second husband Andrea Dotti.
But this does not detract from a very successful and emotional look at one of the world’s most famous women, seen from the eyes of her son, who is donating the exhibition’s profits to EURORDIS – the voice of rare disease patients in Europe - and to the Brugmann and Bordet children’s hospitals in Brussels.
Intimate Audrey, Monday-Sunday 10.00-18.00 until 25 August