Regarded as one of Audrey Hepburn’s most stylish film moments. 61 years since the American musical was released. Funny Face, inspired by people at the forefront of the fashion industry, paying homage to Dianna Vreeland and Carmel Snow. A film in love with fashion.
Released in April 1957, Spotlight pays homage to the romantic musical classic Funny Face. Helmed for its ode to the fashion industry, starring the legendary Audrey Hepburn, over 60 years on Funny Face remains a cult classic.
Paramount’s American musical romcom directed by Stanley Donen and written by Leonard Gershe, featured assorted songs by George and Ira Gershwin. Despite have the same title as the 1927 Broadway musical Funny Face by the Gershwin brothers and featuring Fred Astaire, the plot is entirely different with only four songs from the state musical included. The film plot was instead adapted from another Broadway musical, Wedding Bells by Leonard Gershe.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios originally bought the rights to the film, as a possible vehicle to acclaimed actors Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. However, Audrey Hepburn was under a strict contract solely with Paramount. MGM eventually sold the film over to Paramount, with Hepburn insisting on Fred Astaire as her co-star. Industry insiders have long joked that Funny Face was the only MGM musical ever made at Paramount, with a host of producers, orchestrators and experts being borrowed from MGM. Vocal coach and choral arranger, Kay ThompsonW worked for MGM usually in the background but instead took centre stage landing the film’s most prominent supporting role as the fashion editor of the magazine.
The plot for Funny Face sees Maggie Prescott played by Kay Thompson, a fashion magazine publisher and editor for Quality magazine, looking for the next big fashion trend. Amongst a photoshoot set in a bookshop, she comes across Jo Stocken played by Audrey Hepburn, a timid and shy literature fanatic. Hepburn’s character famously described the fashion and modelling industry as nonsense, “it is chichi, and an unrealistic approach to self-impressions as well as economics”, before embarking on an incredible modelling career, becoming the cover star for the magazine in Paris.
The inspiration behind the characters for the film, came from real like people at the forefront of the fashion industry. Fred Astaire’s character is based on renowned photographer, Richard Avedon. Avedon was actually hired as the movie’s visual consultant, with his photographs featuring in the opening segment of the film and through the scenes in Paris. An iconic photograph by Richard Avedon, is an extreme close up shot of Hepburn focusing on her delicate facial features. The ditzy model featured at the beginning of the movie, before the discovery of Jo Stocken, was played by Dovima who often worked with Aveon and was a one of the top fashion models of the day.
Another famous model who influenced the film, was Suzy Parker who was said to have inspired Hepburn’s character, with Parker making several fashionable appearances during the opening Think Pink scene. Kay Thompson’s character, fashion editor Maggie Prescott, was inspired by real-life figures from the fashion world. It has long been reported that Vogue editor, Diana Vreeland and Harper’s Baazar editor, Carmel Snow served as inspiration to the creation of Maggie Prescott’s character.
Funny Face saw Hepburn take centre stage, singing all the musical numbers herself. Unlike her later film, My Fair Lady, Hepburn displayed her talent in her solo ‘How Long Has This Been Going On’, her duet with Fred Astaire ‘S Wonderful’, her duet with Kay Thompson ‘On How to Be Lovely’, and an ensemble performance of ‘Bonjour Paris’. Not only were Hepburn’s exceptional singing skills exhibited, Hepburn’s dance background was also put to good use with the iconic Bohemian dance scene in a French nightclub.
Funny Face received numerous awards and nominations, with The National Board of Review giving the film Special Citation award for the photographic innovations. The list of other nominations includes; Leonard Gershe nominated for Best Written American Musical, Stanley Donan nominated by the Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directional Achievement in Motion Pictures and for a Golden Palm at 1957 Cannes Film Festival. With a further four Oscar nominations such as; Leonard Gershe for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Directly for the Screen, Edith Head and Hubert de Givenchy for Best Costume Design, Ray June for Best Cinematography and Perira, Davis, Comer and Moyer for Best Art Direction Set Decoration.
Despite the extensive list of awards and nominations, on initial release Funny Face was considered a box office disappointment, failing to break even. It wasn’t until 1964, when Hepburn’s My Fair Lady was released with excellent reviews and huge box office grosses, that Paramount theatrically reissued Funny Face that it drew substantial crowds and finally made a profit.
When reminiscing about the 1957 musical, it is important to acknowledge the films adoration of fashion. Most of the consumes were designed by the fabulous Edith Heath, however Funny Face’s collection of show-stopping custom-designed gowns were by Hubert de Givenchy. Hepburn first approached Givenchy to design her costumes for the film Sabrina, unfortunately he was unable to commit due to other obligations but offered Hepburn a selection of garments in which she chose the memorable white strapless gown with black embroidery and double skirt. Edith Heath went on to receive an Oscar for her costumes for Sabrina and famously left Givenchy out of her acceptance speech. Following his Oscar snub, Hepburn ensured Givenchy would be fully credited for his work on Funny Face.
“HIS ARE THE ONLY CLOTHES IN WHICH I AM MYSELF”
- AUDREY HEPBURN
Funny Face is often noted for its fashion flair, with Givenchy’s designs given a starring role. Hepburn models the beautiful outfits, running down the steps of the Louvre with her red chiffon scarf blowing, fishing in Seine wearing a tailored cropped suit and straw hat and strutting through the Jardin des Tuileries in a cap sleeve, black dress. The most infamous costume worn by Hepburn in Funny Face is without a doubt the Givenchy bridal gown, worn in the closing segment of the film highlighting its romantic genre.
Funny Face remains a visually opulent classic and sumptuous product of the Golden Age of cinema. The aesthetically immaculate and vivid imagery has ensured the 1957 musical has remained a cult classic 61 years later. Hepburn’s charismatic performance and brilliant musical debut has seen Funny Face become one of her most memorable performances. The movie wholly presents the myth of Paris, with its reputation for romance and fashion, through beautiful picturesque cinematograph and an adoration of fashion.