custom, part two

Bill Hulseman
11 min readJul 14, 2022
My parents, newly wed and walking up the aisle, July 14, 1956.

A few months ago, my husband and I watched Funny Face. Oh, you haven’t seen it? If you can get past the 30 year age difference between Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn, though it’s too often forgotten, it’s one of the best flicks of the century. Funny Face is a for-the-time-unconventional romance between a fashion photographer (Astaire) and a bookish philosophy buff (Hepburn). He lures her out of the bookshop with the promise of fulfilling her desire to walk in the footsteps of Sartre and connect with her intellectual inspirations to Paris as the featured model of a new campaign. As their affection grows and sudden conflicts complicate their romance, we get a delightful satire of two idealized extremes of mid-century culture — the polished and high-powered fashion industry, and the grimy expressionism of Montmartre’s bohemian underground — and a series of delightful Gershwin numbers to show off the dance prowess of Astaire and Hepburn.

Our screening wasn’t part of my ongoing and surreptitious efforts to catch him up on classic films. I pulled up the film because “I just wanted to rewatch Hepburn’s iconic dance” through a bohemian café (yeah, that’s it), but, before we knew it, we were sucked in, thinking pink with Kay Thompson and delighting in every step Fred Astaire took. Every moment with Hepburn on screen was mesmerizing, in part because, well, because she’s Audrey Hepburn. But also, and in no small way, because of Hubert de Givenchy’s designs that transformed her Jo Stockton into a runway- and cover-ready model. As each gown appeared, I gasped and gushed about the longtime Givenchy-Hepburn collaboration and about his innovations in mid-century design even and especially beyond the iconic “little black dress” of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Other people might be irritated by my habit, inherited from my mother, of unprompted, pop-up commentary and trivia, but he knew what he was getting into when he married me.

I surprised myself, though, when Hepburn appeared in the climactic wedding dress, a Givenchy masterpiece that perfected and elevated all the trends of 1950s — a softened, tea length ballerina skirt, a trim and simple body with cropped sleeves, a long, low neckline, and a veil that framed and illuminated (rather than hid and diminished) the face. It’s mid-century perfection. When she appeared, my heart and breath stopped until I could mutter, “Oh my god. That’s my…