On Point: Jackie and Audrey vs. Rihanna and Gaga

Rihanna & Lady Gaga
(Photo credits: Getty Images)

The CFDA fashion awards, the Oscars of the industry, recently awarded Rihanna the 2014 “Fashion Icon Award,” in which she showed up on the red carpet defiant and bare breasted. The past 2 female winners of this award, Lady Gaga and Rihanna, both donned their nipples for this momentous occasion (Lady Gaga said it was a “mistake). Perhaps, “style icons” Rihanna and Lady Gaga mistook the old fashion adage of “less is more” as referring to garments of clothing. However, a more logical explanation is the one-upmanship that is currently being displayed in the celebrity world with stars increasingly hungry for publicity, fame and most importantly, cash. In contradistinction to these flagrant fashion exhibitionists, are 2 true fashion icons, Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn, whose imprimatur of understatement and elegance has endured for decades. Hepburn and Kennedy deserve plaudits for their modest, majestic appearance as well as their humble and royal demeanor. In studying these 2 women it becomes clear as to what ingredients comprise a true fashion legend.

Jackie and Audrey’s fashion forward hats, strapless gowns, oversize sunglasses, elbow length gloves and flat heeled shoes are trends that have dominated the fashion landscape since they donned them. Their “effortless chic” is only one of many similarities between these 2 women whose impact on fashion is astounding. First, both Jackie O and Audrey Hepburn were born in 1929, and both died of cancer, Kennedy at 64 and Audrey Hepburn at 63. Audrey Hepburn became renowned for her “little black dress” and Jackie O gave white on white a new fashion life. They were both incredibly thin, 5 ‘7″ inches in height, and were closet smokers, perhaps accounting for their bony figures. These two women gave few interviews and lived their lives privately giving them a mystique that lent gravitas to their fashion choices. They were both mothers and tried to keep their family life hidden from public view.

They embodied the essence of elegance and glamour. Perhaps coincidentally, the favorite designer of both Jackie and Audrey was Hubert de Givenchy. While Jackie was patriotic and faithfully wore Oleg Cassini’s American-made couture she preferred French designers such as Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga and Givenchy. When Jackie showed up in Paris in 1961 with her husband, President Kennedy, in a white silk bell-skirted gown designed by Givenchy an amused Kennedy stated, “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.” Jackie’s love of lush fabrics such as duchess satin and shantung, and soft colors such as pink, green and yellow, captured the attention of her female American audience.

Hepburn with Givenchy in 1961

Similarly, Hepburn’s favorite designer and the one who created her look and remained a lifelong friend was Givenchy. The “little black” Givenchy dress designed for the opening sequence of the 1961 film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was sold by Christie’s for $923,187 dollars in 2006. This dress has attained such iconic status it is considered a staple in any stylish woman’s wardrobe and will always be synonymous with the name Audrey Hepburn. Another favorite designer of Audrey’s was Ralph Lauren, whom she presented with a CFDA award in 1992, and Salvatore Ferragamo for shoes. It is said that Audrey was Jackie’s personal style icon and while there is no record of them meeting, I am sure if they had, they would have a lot to discuss. Both Audrey and Jackie displayed minimalist, modern and ladylike attire with few accessories-allowing their head to toe look to take center stage.

Jackie Kennedy at JFKs Inaugural Ball in 1961
with Peter Lawford

If the expression “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” still remains apt, then these two women should be the most complimented in the world. Kate Middleton and Michelle Obama are often compared to Jackie Kennedy with Middleton recently wearing a pillbox hat which was made famous by Kennedy and Obama’s fashion conscious choices as a first lady analogized to Kennedy. Kim Kardashian recently (unsuccessfully), channeled Hepburn in a Miami photo shoot, with her much more bountiful buttocks placed on a bicycle, clad in a black turtleneck and pants with black ballet flats. Skinny pants, flat shoes, and oversize glasses, the dominant trends of the past five years, are ones that were popularized by these icons. The recent emergence of short locks, embraced by Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lawrence, Shailene Woodley, and Charlize Theron can be directly traced to the “roots” of Audrey Hepburn.

Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy

I wish current stars, such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna, would heed the sartorial examples of these two elegant, timeless beauties before they choose to engage in their primary fashion strategy of “shock and awe.” This new display of “fashion exhibitionism” should be deplored by the fashion community. When did nipples become a fashion accessory and why is no one speaking out against this unfortunate trend? The demeanor of Audrey and Jackie with their upright posture and hard to read expressions lent them a mysterious allure without baring all their assets. Moreover, these two women were not just fashion obsessives but were accomplished and intelligent individuals. Hepburn, made humanitarianism hip, before Angelina and Mia, and was an Academy Award winning actress. Jackie was a Doubleday book editor and a voracious reader. Rihanna and Lady Gaga, possess a fair amount of talent, so it is shameful that after all the strides of feminism we are reverting back to a time when women are viewed as nothing more than objects.

A true fashion trendsetter and sophisticate is not someone who desperately seeks publicity and attention at the expense of moral judgement. Furthermore, the public quickly loses interest in these shameless self promoters; notice the decline of Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus. To obtain an enduring and meaningful legacy, such as Kennedy and Hepburn, necessitates a thought-out and meaningful life where clothing reflects your inner values. Undoubtedly, there are great role models such as Lupita Nyong’o, Kate Middleton and Angelina Jolie. However, it is time for “streetwalker style” to be denounced by the fashion community as a trend that is more insidious than even high waisted jeans and to reward those with true elegance and class before the term “icon” becomes “indecent.”

Lieba Nesis

My love of fashion, writing and photography were something that always dominated my lifestyle however it wasn't until I was approached by the editor of Lookonline that I realized I could utilize these three skills in combination.

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