The Sabrina Dress

After uploading my video about Jackie Kennedy's wedding dress to TikTok, I was genuinely shocked to see that it went semi-viral. As I continued to post my existing work onto TikTok (in the form of one-minute videos) I began to receive content requests for subjects I hadn't studied.

The first fashion history content I created just for TikTok was a four-part video series on "The Sabrina Dress"! Here is the transcript:

In 1953, Audrey Hepburn was not yet a huge movie star. She had already filmed Roman Holiday, but it wasn’t out yet. She was then working on her next film, Sabrina. The costume designer was Edith Head, who was on contract with Paramount Pictures.

So here’s how the story allegedly goes: Parts of the film were to take place in Paris, the capital of fashion. After Hepburn saw Head’s costume sketches, she actually went over Head’s head to the director and suggested that they employ a real French couturier for those scenes. The director, Billy Wilder, loved the idea and had it approved, and they sent Hepburn to Paris on a shopping trip.

That’s when Hepburn made an appointment at the atelier of Hubert de Givenchy. The only reason the appointment was confirmed was they mistook her for a famous actress with the same last name, Katherine Hepburn.

Upon meeting, the two had great chemistry and fell into a friendship that seemed written in the stars. Hepburn tried on Givenchy’s designs and picked out three for Sabrina to wear: a suit, a strapless white ball gown, and a black cocktail dress. The cocktail dress had a fitted bodice and full, flared skirt, a boat neck line with bow-fasteners at the shoulders, and a plunging V-back.

Hepburn took her Parisian couture back to Hollywood, which was a major first. While Givenchy’s designs were slightly adapted for the film, this collaboration fundamentally changed the relationship between film and fashion.

Some believed that Givenchy’s collaboration on Sabrina was Edith Head’s idea, but she professed in her autobiography that this wasn’t true. The situation actually infuriated Head, and she allegedly almost quit. After all, they essentially took away the leading lady’s most show-stopping costumes and left her with the boring stuff!

In the end, Edith Head won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for Sabrina, and did not credit Givenchy for his part. In fact, while she acknowledged Givenchy’s other designs in Sabrina, Head actually claimed that the black cocktail dress was a design of her own.

Whats funny is, even Edith Head’s own friends did not believe she designed the black dress. They believed that the dress looked nothing like her previous work, whereas it had Givenchy written all over it!

In conclusion, this black cocktail dress from Sabrina is so well-known that it is actually simply referred to as “The Sabrina Dress.” You might even recognize it from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, (which fun fact - I was a background extra on all 3 seasons so far!) And although Edith Head has claimed credit for the innovative design, it is popularly credited to Givenchy.

Plus, like I said earlier, Givenchy and Hepburn sparked a long-time friendship and collaborated on future films, including Funny Face and Breakfast at Tiffany’s - where he designed a little black dress for Holly Go Lightly that is arguably even more iconic than Sabrina’s.

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