Persona

Sean Hepburn Ferrer independent in Manila

Just a regular guy—the Audrey Hepburn’s son we met who did the city all by himself

At July 31 opening of Intimate Audrey, Sean Ferrer (center in white) with his team led by Giovanni Cerea (beside him), producer Carmina Sanchez-Jacob (second from right), and from left, TJ and Hazel Cabrera, Raymond Lagrimas, Aida Sanchez, Rusky Fernandez, Lorenzo Cerea, Silvia Papadakis, and Michael Salientes

Sean Ferrer doing pasta at small dinner hosted by Carlo Calma in his home (Photo by Carlo Calma)

The Intimate Audrey exhibit is open to the public until Oct. 31, 2023 at S Maison, Seaside Blvd., SM Mall of Asia complex, Pasay City.

By the time Sean Ferrer led the opening of the much-anticipated Intimate Audrey exhibit at S Maison last July 31, this son of one of the world’s most-loved women in history had already experienced quite a bit of Metro Manila, or had even gotten used to—how should I put it—its city jungle living, down to the flooding and traffic.

First Lady Lisa Araneta-Marcos and Sean Ferrer lead ribbon-cutting at the opening of Intimate Audrey exhibit, with, from left, Emma Ferrer, Tessie Sy-Coson (the woman at the helm of the SM group of companies), Carmina Sanchez-Jacob. (Photo by Lem Atienza)

This was because Sean flew into Manila a month before the exhibit opening—boarded the plane and booked the hotel on his own, without assistance from the exhibit producer/organizer Carmina Sanchez-Jacob. He didn’t want any fuss over his arrival, knowing that Carmina already had her hands full preparing for the exhibit. He chose a quiet nondescript hotel for the privacy—and its lush garden. He didn’t want to be in “a fish bowl,” he’d tell me at breakfast a few days after his arrival.

At breakfast in Manila, Sean Ferrer with the author and her son Luis Carlo

That morning of our breakfast, I walked onto the patio and espied this man seated alone at the table. Right away I knew it was Sean Hepburn Ferrer, who then lost no time in greeting us and offering our seats.

He insisted that we have breakfast even if I said I already had, suggested I have the French Toast, and asked the waiter to bring the bottled syrup he brought from Florence. He lives with his wife and children in an old vineyard just outside Florence in Italy.

At breakfast, we learned that he had managed his way around Manila in a cab or via Grab, at least to and from S Maison, where his team was to set up the exhibit. As early as then, we realized this would be one super independent guest who wouldn’t want to inconvenience his new Filipino friends and wasn’t afraid at all to experience the congested megapolis that is Metro Manila.

I felt incredulous that I was talking to the son of Audrey Hepburn, right then, right there—if only Auggie Cordero could see me now, he who became known for the Audrey Hepburn look in Philippine fashion.

Sean spoke so candidly about his mom, and more important, in an almost ordinary manner—it was as if Audrey Hepburn was the mom next door who’d sit down to help her sons with their homework (which she did), or to pick them up from school (which she did). Even if had interviewed him on Zoom weeks before, this face-to-face storytelling was nonetheless a privileged experience.

His mom, Sean recalled, would pack her own suitcases—two compact pieces of luggage, to be exact—for her travels to Africa as Unicef ambassador. How about an assistant, we asked. His mom didn’t do “assistants,” he said—Audrey Hepburn, the world’s global icon, long before the era of celebrityhood, did everything herself, including jotting down and paying the household bills.

What’s the first thing you put in when you pack, he asked, to which I had no split-second answer. His mom, he said, would lay out her travel essentials on the bed, from the clothes to other stuff—and in one visual sweep, you would get the essence of her trip, the story of her travels to be with the victims of famine and deprivation in Africa and Latin America. Audrey Hepburn, as the world knows, devoted the last stage of her life to bringing the world’s attention to the sad plight of humanity.

Perhaps that became the other reason why the world hasn’t forgotten her, that and of course, her iconic movies, to which, it was ironic, Sean and his younger brother weren’t regularly exposed to by their mother. Audrey left the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to have and to raise her sons.

Tourists continue to visit Audrey’s simple grave in the village cemetery in Tolochenaz, Switzerland. Sean visits it sometimes. He recalled how on one trip, the taxi driver, apparently not knowing that his passenger was Audrey’s son, told Sean that he was already his 60th passenger for that day who was bound for the gravesite of Audrey.

It was in Berlin, years ago, while watching the entry of visitors to the Audrey Hepburn exhibit, that it dawned on Sean that Audrey Hepburn the actress and fashion icon was more than a pair of ballerina shoes or cigarette pants. He watched an old couple stoop down to peer closer at the items on display. That was when he realized that an Audrey Hepburn exhibit must be immersive and not just a display of photos.

The Intimate Audrey exhibit at S Maison (running until Oct. 31, 2023) displays Audrey’s wedding gown, when she married the famous director Mel Ferrer (Sean’s dad), designed by Pierre Balmain. According to Sean, Hubert de Givenchy at that time was still in the early years of his career so he couldn’t do Audrey’s gown.

Audrey Hepburn’s wedding gown by Pierre Balmain, at exhibit opening being studied by guests Irene Marcos-Araneta, fashion designers Joey Samson and Dennis Lustico

Also on display was a Vespa bike reminiscent of what Audrey (and Gregory Peck) rode on around Rome in Roman Holiday, the 1953 film which won for Audrey Hepburn the Oscar or the Academy Award for Best Actress. This year is the 70th anniversary of Roman Holiday.

To many guests this is easily the most Instagrammable part of the exhibit, with the First Lady Lisa Araneta-Marcos herself posing with it after she opened the exhibit.

Sean himself led the team that set up the exhibit at S Maison. He was hard at work on the exhibit with the team of Carmina. He took time out one evening to celebrate his birthday in the hotel privately with only a few guests.

As he told us in the earlier online interview, he quit his filmmaking career in Hollywood and decided, after his mother’s passing, to devote his time to maintaining and protecting the intellectual property involving the voluminous archival content (e.g. photos, films, images) that was and is Audrey Hepburn. After all, long before the Kardashian era on social media, Audrey Hepburn was already, Sean put it, a “permanently viral” star.

Sean experienced Metro Manila, with the typhoons (it has been a stormy July) and floods, and a few dinners he was invited to, such as the small despedida for the French ambassador Michele Boccoz hosted by her good friend Menchu Katigbak.

Outgoing French ambassador Michele Boccoz with Sean Ferrer

Menchu Katigbak with guests Ramon Ang and Sean Ferrer

When his daughter Emma Ferrer, a statuesque model, flew in to join Sean, his entourage toured Intramuros, and Emma also went to Greenhills where she enjoyed shopping for trinkets.

Emma Ferrer beside the wedding gown by Auggie Cordero, one of the Filipino designers whose works are on display in Intimate Audrey (Photo by Lem Atienza)

The most special dinner was in the chic home of architect Carlo Calma, Carmina’s good friend whom she was with in the World Architecture Festival in Amsterdam. It was on this trip in 2019 that Carmina discovered the Intimate Audrey exhibit. She wanted to bring her unforgettable experience to Metro Manila, emailed the organizer, Sean himself, and thus started the coordination to bring over the exhibit to Manila. With the Rare Diseases Europe foundation (EURORDIS) as beneficiary, Intimate Audrey was first staged in Brussels, Belgium, where Audrey was born, then in Amsterdam. Metro Manila is its first venue outside of Europe and will be the kick-off to Asia.

Sean offered to cook a pasta dinner for Carlo and a few guests. Sean arrived at 6 p.m., way before the guests, took over the kitchen, to prepare the tomato-based sauce and pasta. By past seven, we were all ready to dine and enjoy his pasta and Caesar’s Salad.

Tomato-based pasta a la Sean

Casual dinner hosted by Carlo Calma (3rd from right) for Sean and Emma Ferrer and their friends Lorenzo, Silvia, Rodrigo, with Anna Sobrepeña and the author

After dinner Carlo, his energy level still high, wanted his guests to sing along in his sleekly designed videoke room. Sean, in a courteous gesture, agreed to hit a few notes (not Moon River)—Sinatra’s Young at Heart. Not on the list. The Summer Wind. Now that’s a cool ballad. But also not on the list.

Groufie shot of the author with host Carlo Calma, Anna Sobrepeña, with the special guest in the background

How about Release Me, Carlo volunteered. That’s Engelbert Humperdinck! We all piped in.

None of his fave Sinatra songs on the list, Sean was spared the videoke limelight. Sing-along with Sean Ferrer aborted!

This down-home dinner became a fitting finale to the Manila visit of this casual guy.

I recall our breakfast a few days after his arrival, as he and my son Luis shook hands, my son, obviously celebrity-struck meeting Audrey Hepburn’s son, said, “Oh, am having goosebumps.”

“Don’t,” Sean said quickly. “I’m a regular person.”

Intimate Audrey exhibit runs until Oct. 31, 2023 at S Maison, Seaside Blvd., SM Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City. Tickets are available at SM Cinema or smtickets.com

Read more:

Exclusive: Sean Ferrer on mother Audrey Hepburn— ‘She gave up her career and became a full-time mom’

Auggie Cordero: Friends’ terms of endearment

About author

Articles

After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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