Audrey Hepburn is covering Vanity Fair this month, a few months after she covered Tatler. She’s also been the face of GAP and Galaxy. That’s a lot more covers and campaigns than many actresses alive get.
Hepburn was an amazing actress, a dedicated humanitarian and, as a person who went from nearly starving during World War II to the heights of Hollywood, an inspirational tale of where hard work and resilience can lead.
“Sometimes I ask myself, “How would Audrey Hepburn handle this?”” (Henceforth to be shortened to The Question), Natalie Massenet admitted to Hester Lacey (Financial Times) when asked, ”Who was or still is your mentor?” for The Inventory’s question last May.
Who hasn’t asked The Question? When faced with a difficult situation or wondering how to improve our selves, we often look to people we admire, questioning how they would handle things.
The Question has given birth to a juicy business exemplified by Pamela Keogh’s book What Would Audrey Do?: Timeless Lessons for Living with Grace & Style, a part biography, part rule book suggesting following Hepburn’s attitude can better your own life. The Question even has its own Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest profiles that offer Hepburn’s “best quotes, photos, fashion tips and everything else you need to know to live a fabulous life”. They are part of a marketing campaign by an author writing a teen book on Hepburn. Who cares whether Hepburn would actually have been a social media user (Keogh suggests not)?
When do you stop asking The Question? If Massenet “the founder of Net-A-Porter, the hugely successful luxury fashion retail website”, with style credentials equal to Hepburn’s and a vision and achievements spanning technology and fashion, is any indication, never.
In fact, Massenet’s career makes her the perfect subject for The Question. “What would Natalie Massenet do?” many professionals wonder. I most certainly do, alongside its sister questions focused on Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Anna Wintour, Christine Lagarde, Coco Chanel, Sheryl Sandberg, my friend Stacy, some of the very impressive women I have the chance to work with, C.J. Cregg and Scarlett O’Hara. They’re fictional? Does it matter? The Question is purely theoretical. We build an answer based on the skewed understanding of a character, of her public achievements and image. This is not really about how she would handle it, it’s more about how she would appear to handle it.
Raising The Question to people I am close to has taught me that answering it is hazardous at best. On more than one occasion, when discussing a particular situation, I realised they didn’t have an answer any more than I did and that their way wouldn’t necessarily work for me. Not that it’s stopped me.
The Question is more about working out an answer by trying to glimpse alternatives through another personality, about getting advice, even if it’s fictional, and about being comforted in one’s position. I have multiple versions of The Question because each person can bring the answer I need most, which can often be translated as the answer which comforts me in my way.
Depending on my Monday morning mood, I can look up to Anna Wintour, famous for getting up at 5am to play tennis or to Audrey Hepburn, who according to Keogh, stopped exercising. And it doesn’t matter that picking the role model most practical for me at this time defeats the purpose of choosing a role model in the first place.
In the Vanity Fair feature on Hepburn, her son’s new book on her time in Rome is anecdotal. What the media have picked up on is that she “never thought she was beautiful”.
That’s the thing about The Question. We like looking up to these people for inspiration, but we also like knowing that role models have the same doubts and feeling as us, that they’re human. Because if despite all these doubts, they achieved what they achieved, why wouldn’t we manage to?