Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, style icon
More than a dress, it is a work of art. The Ascot Dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the film "My Fair Lady," directed by George Cukor in 1964, is considered one of the most famous costumes in film history. But it went beyond that, becoming a truly iconic fashion dress. Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn), the protagonist of the film based on George Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion," wears it in the famous scene set at Ascot Racecourse, during her social debut at the famous horse race.
However, the stunning black and white dress, with the magnificent matching hat, is not the product of the creativity of a great designer. Like all the costumes in the film, it was designed by Cecil Beaton: the English costume designer and photographer who for decades captured the elegance of the English upper middle class, later became the official photographer of the British royal family, and was awarded an Oscar for best costumes for his work. Also his were the stage costumes and choreography for the musical My Fair Lady, which was staged at London's Royal Drury Lane theater in 1958 and from which the film draws.
It was the only occasion on which Beaton and Hepburn worked together, but undoubtedly that dress contributed to the actress' immortal appeal. For its creation, Beaton was inspired by some of the designs of fashion designer Lucy Christiana Duff Gordon: the result was a lace mermaid-style gown, inspired by 1920s Paris fashion, with long sleeves and a skirt slightly flared at the bottom. Decorated with a few ribbons and two black and white striped bows, it has as the highlight of the outfit the huge matching hat, adorned with red and pink flowers and white feathers.
Completing this very elegant and sophisticated creation is a parasol, also made of white lace, and gloves of the same color. A look that made history: in 1995 the Ascot Dress was also reproduced by Mattel for Barbie My Fair Lady. It became part of actress Debbie Reynolds' private collection of Hollywood memorabilia and was sold at auction in 2017 for the incredible sum of over $4.5 million. Over time, many designers have claimed to have been inspired by Cecil Beaton's work, from Vivienne Westwood to Ralph Lauren.