Along with juicy film gossip (author Truman Capote demanded that Marilyn Monroe play the lead), the book offers behind-the-scenes insight on how Hepburn and designer Hubert de Givenchy created Holly Golightly's iconic style.
StyleList spoke with Wasson about the film, its legacy, and that little black dress.
StyleList: What inspired you to write about "Breakfast at Tiffany's"?
Sam Wasson: It's really simple. Nobody -- I repeat, nobody -- knows the full story behind the making of the movie. I was amazed, in doing research for my first book, "A Splurch in the Kisser: The Movies of Blake Edwards," how I couldn't get a straight answer about how "Breakfast at Tiffany's" came about. So I started doing detective work, and the deeper I got, the more fascinating it became.
Really, it was an almost impossible movie to get made -- Audrey didn't want to do it, the material was risqué, the writers didn't know how to adapt Capote's novel, "Moon River" was nearly cut... I thought, Wow! The making of this movie is really as fascinating as the movie itself.
SL: Why do you think the movie has had such a lasting effect on popular culture and women?
SW: Before "Breakfast at Tiffany's" was released in 1961, the romantic comedies that were being made in Hollywood featured chaste women like Doris Day, Jane Wyman, and Debbie Reynolds who couldn't really enjoy a happy single life on screen. They had to get married. On the other end of the spectrum, you had Marilyn Monroe, who was far from a realistic depiction of a modern woman. She was a dream woman.
So if you're a young girl going to the movies, who are your role models? Who up there is saying, "It's OK to party and have fun and go out with a lot of guys." Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." It was a watershed moment, and its effects have been, and will continue to be, long lasting.
SL: Hepburn seems to have had a great deal of influence on how Holly dressed.
SW: Audrey had it in her contract that Hubert de Givenchy do her "Tiffany's" changes -- not all of them, but the big ones [like the iconic little black dress at the very beginning of the film]. If Audrey hadn't insisted upon Givenchy, Edith Head would have had the job, and Edith had an old-fashioned sensibility. I suspect her designs would have dated the film considerably.
SL: Holly's Givenchy dress was named most iconic on-screen fashion of all time. What made it stand out?
SW: Aside from being beautiful on its own, and even more beautiful on Audrey, the dress is a masterpiece of innuendo. In the context of [the] first scene, it implies more than it says. It winks. It tells more about what Holly is doing at night than the film's screenwriter was allowed to indicate. That right there is the very essence of sophistication.
SW: There were so many things that surprised me about Audrey. That is another reason I wanted to do this book, to explore that side most people didn't really see, that side that was, as you say, deeply rooted in insecurity and anxiety. She never thought of herself as an actress -- that's part of what made her so insecure. So, yes, her "intuitive" method, like her style, was pure instinct. She simply did what was right for her, not knowing it would be utterly right for the entire world.
SL: What was the most surprising thing you learned in researching the film?
SW: Oh, there are so many. Seems silly to pick only one, so I'll give you the first thing that pops into my head: They shot two separate endings.
SL: Do you feel this film marked the "beginning of the end" of sorts for Edith Head, given her conflict with Hepburn, and the era of the big-name costume designer?
SW: In a word, yes.
SL: Are there other examples of designers working as closely with leading ladies as Givenchy did?
SW: Well, Edith, for instance, worked quite closely with a number of leading ladies, Grace Kelly probably chief among them. And then there was [Marlene] Dietrich and Dior.
SL: What are you working on next?
SW: A biography about one of the most talented, complicated, and thrilling individuals I've ever beheld: Bob Fosse.
Meanwhile, check out the modern-day movie pairing of actress Tilda Swinton and designer Jil Sander.