Audrey Hepburn is the quintessence of humanitarian style and grace. You may be most familiar with her as the classically timeless icon of Hollywood, but did you know that she was also a tireless advocate for global poverty and orphans as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador? Her life story is one of drama and intrigue, and is worth a deeper look: a child survivor from WWII saved through UNICEF’s global peace work who went on to become the cultural symbol of French elegance and Givenchy’s muse. And, despite the fame and fortune that came her way, she never forgot the non-profit that saved her life.
Famine To Fame
I have known UNICEF a long time. For, almost forty-five years ago, I was one of the tens of thousands of starving children in war-ravaged Europe to receive aid from UNICEF, immediately after our Iiberation. –Audrey addressing the United Nations in 1989
Born in Brussels on May 4, 1923, her relationship with UNICEF began in Holland after the “Hunger Winter”. She had been sent to the Netherlands in hopes it would remain unoccupied. Dutch liberation came in 1944 and UNICEF was the first organization to send trucks with food. A malnourished, sixteen year old Audrey would always remember the salvation those trucks brought. After the war, she returned to her ballet lessons and landed her first role as an airline stewardess in an educational travel film (we’ve all got to start somewhere!) It only took her ten years to rise from famine to fame and she began donating to UNICEF in 1954. The same year her first film with Givenchy premiered.
The Iconic ‘LBD’
Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy, whom we all know and love as plain ‘ol “Givenchy”, was the costume designer for Sabrina. Initially disappointed that she was the “other” Hepburn (aka not Katherine), the two sparked a friendship that transformed film and fashion forever.
Simple, elegant, black. These are the elements of what Audrey wore that deified Givenchy as the creator of the “Little Black Dress”. The two francophiles became inseparable after Sabrina’s success. Audrey insisted that Givenchy be her principal costume designer and she became his muse. Givenchy elaborated on Sabrina’s dress to create the most iconic LBD ever worn. In the opening scene of Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Miss. Golightly enchanted the world with sleek lines and uptown elegance. These days, the dress can be seen on the walls of dorm rooms across America.
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador
Audrey graced the silver screen in gorgeous Givenchy gowns for years. Her fame rose and rose, but her personal life was tumultuous. The child-loving beauty had multiple miscarriages with her two husbands, Mel Ferrer and Andrea Dotti. She bore each a son, but like many Hollywood romances, both marriages ended in divorce. Her experiences compelled her to return to her youth and speak up for the global plight of starving children. In 1988, after three decades of giving privately to UNICEF, she began to use her fame for good as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
Children are our most vital resource, our hope for the future. Until they not only can be assured of physically surviving the first fragile years of life, but are free of emotional, social and physical abuse, it is impossible to envisage a world that is free of tension and violence. But it is up to us to make it possible. – Audrey addressing the United Nations in 1989
The last years of Audrey’s glamorous life were spent traveling around the world to raise awareness about child hunger. She visited more than twenty countries, including Ethiopia, Turkey, Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador, Sudan, Bangladesh, Vietnam. Her last trip was to Somalia in 1992.
She passed of Appendiceal cancer in 1993. Her son, Sean Ferrer, founded the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund to continue her mission. His brother, Luca Dotti, is now the Honorary Chair of the Audrey Hepburn Society, a recognition group created by UNICEF to honor the spirit of Audrey. To date, the society has raised almost $100,000,000.
You can carry on Audrey’s legacy by supporting UNICEF on Goodshop. We have donated over $20,000 and counting.