Hepburn was reserved (she seldom gave interviews) and kept away from Hollywood’s social life, which she considered quite shallow. Her only marriage to Philadelphia businessman, Ludlow Ogden Smith, ended in divorce. She reportedly had several romances but never remarried or had children.
She was always ahead of her time when it came to fashion, and her casual, forward looking fashion sense contrasted with the more scandalous Hollywood stars of her time. It was a reflection of growing up amidst a rebellious family. Her daily outfit was a pair of beige slacks and an open-neck shirt. Hepburn always looked assertive, willful, and yet vulnerable.
However, the Great Kate could also dress up. She emphasized quality in every piece (gloves, furs and hats), and her radiant elegance fit her spontaneous nature. She was aware of the role fashion played in shaping each particular character, and contrary to popular belief, her wardrobe was meticulously manufactured and carefully studied. It was all made to order, as were her shoes and lingerie, made from the finest French lace. The actress also worked closely with designers like Valentina, Howard Greer and Muriel King to ensure totally perfect gowns for her movies and plays.
Dressed for The Stage and Screen, a traveling exhibition currently on display at Kent State University Museum, brings to life Hepburn’s couture treasures from her homes in Manhattan’s 49 Street East and Fenwick, CT. Most of the pieces come from her personal collection, which included glamorous gowns as well as her iconic tomboyish casual wear. The exhibit will continue to travel the US, showing off Hepburn’s wardrobe from film, television and theatre, as well as her day to day wear, alongside drawings, commentary, photographs and even handwritten notes from the actress herself.
The garments were found in perfect condition. Curiously, Hepburn kept a large number of them in storage, forty of which make up this exhibition. They reveal the slender frame she kept until her death at the age of 96. A monograph by Jean Druesedow, Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic (Rizzoli), published just in time for the exhibition, portraits Katharine as a fashion iconoclast through mostly unpublished photographs of the woman who defined an era. ■