Art/Style/Travel Diaries

How Emma Ferrer, Audrey Hepburn’s granddaughter, reacts to our barong

Up close and candid with this model/artist at the Intimate Audrey exhibit

It had been raining endlessly the past days, and two days before the opening of the Intimate Audrey exhibition still saw no let-up. The exhibit, ongoing until Oct. 29, 2023, is on the life of Audrey Hepburn, created by her son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, to celebrate the global icon’s 90th birth anniversary. Sean and his daughter, Emma Ferrer, flew to Manila to open the exhibit.

This one-of-a-kind exhibit, a first in Asia, displays hundreds of original and re-printed photographs, memorabilia, dresses, and accessories, as well as the never-before-seen fashion drawings and humanitarian writings of Audrey Hepburn, the legendary actress who spent the last years of her life as Unicef Ambassador to call the world’s attention to the plight of impoverished children in Africa.

The exhibition first launched in Hepburn’s birth country, Brussels, Belgium, then moved to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, where she spent the war years. The exhibition was put on hold because of the pandemic, and now, with the exhibit on its fourth leg, Manila plays host to the event from August 1 to Oct. 29, 2023 in S Maison in Mall of Asia, Pasay City. was given a preview of the exhibition days before the opening, and a chance to do an exclusive fashion feature on Audrey Hepburn’s granddaughter, Emma Ferrer. The heavy rains didn’t deter us from trudging on with the shoot.

The stress of driving through floods, queuing for a parking slot, and lugging shooting equipment and clothes went away as soon as we entered the still-boarded-up exhibition site. The main entrance and the hallway with a floral arch were lined with never-before-seen portraits of Audrey Hepburn shot by renowned photographers such as legendary film director Cecil Beaton and Steven Meisel.

As we walked further onto the exhibition, we glimpsed movie posters and photographs already mounted on the walls, and the crew was still at work installing wiring, props, tables, etc. Emma Ferrer was casually seated in one of the exhibition areas, surrounded by early photos of her grandmother shot during the time long before she became the toast of Hollywood for iconic movies such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Roman Holiday, and Funny Face.


“Hi, I’m Emma,” she greeted us with a warm smile.

Hepburn died January 1993, and Emma was born May 1994. She never got to meet her grandmother, yet she bears that familiar simple, classic elegance that made her grandmother a larger-than-life figure to many generations. (Ferrer was so courteous and gracious that she even showed us where the mall washrooms were, no matter that we’ve been regular mall-goers of S Maison.)

As she was being prepped for the shoot, we had a chat about her grandmother’s movies, ranging from the popular My Fair Lady and Funny Face to the dramatic A Nun’s Story. Ferrer said that the latter was one of her grandmother’s dramatic roles, and that she even went to the convent to observe what it was like to live like a nun.

We explored the exhibition hall for corners to shoot. The space was already mounted with Hepburn memorabilia and props, including the vintage movie house seats from the 1950s, and her humanitarian Oscar trophy. We tried to restrain ourselves from ogling too much, though we were relishing the moment of getting first dibs at the exhibition pieces before the crowds.

Our vision for the fashion shoot, just like the exhibition: We wanted to capture Emma as Emma. No need to go all-out glam, in keeping with what her grandmother symbolized—a great woman’s presence and simplicity.

The shoot photographer, Lem Atienza, a new film major graduate of the De La Salle–College of St. Benilde, aimed the shoot to be the medium to get to know Emma and let her personality shine. “I wanted the shoot to be about her,” Atienza said. “Belonging to the bloodline of Audrey Hepburn, who is revered across art disciplines, must have been difficult for her to live in the shadow. I knew from the start that we were shooting Emma, and not Audrey.”

Yet Atienza was inspired by the candid photos of Hepburn. Realizing all were captured in film, decades before digital photography, Atienza was fascinated by how the photographers were able to capture the perfect moment.

“It truly takes talent and magical ability of the photographers to capture fragments of Audrey’s life that we get to appreciate now,” he said.

For her granddaughter’s shoot, “I aspire to capture more moments, taking lessons from the great image storytellers we get to see in the exhibit.”

She opted for the classic, sophisticated pieces—a little black dress with gold-button detailing, embroidered lace blouse with beaded tuxedo pants, and black ‘jusi’ embroidered barong tunic

We showed Ferrer the clothes we brought. It was no surprise that she opted for the classic, sophisticated pieces—a little black dress with gold-button detailing, embroidered lace blouse paired with beaded tuxedo pants, and black jusi-embroidered barong tunic. They were all creations of late Filipino designer, Auggie Cordero, whose ultimate design inspiration throughout his career was Audrey Hepburn. Cordero single-handedly introduced the “Audrey Hepburn style” of elegance and glamour in Philippine fashion.  Through the years, collection after collection, and in his publication shoots, he channeled Audrey Hepburn’s quiet elegance and classic femininity.

The black jusi barong became one of the main conversation pieces during the shoot, for it sparked the curiosity and fascination of Ferrer. We explained to her that the barong is the Philippines’ national wear for men, but great designers like Auggie Cordero, Jeannie Goulbourn, and Barge Ramos redefined it for women as well. Ferrer fell in love with the jusi’s soft and silky texture.

Ferrer even said that they were curious to go to Greenhills the next day to find Philippine handicrafts and pearls, and asked us what they could expect to buy there.

The makeup? Bare and minimal, with a little touch of color for the lips, a far cry from the usual made-up, ultra-glam look of in-your-face designer labels people have come to expect in in celebrity shoots. We meant the fashion shoot to be a breath of fresh air.

As the shoot progressed, our conversation veered to her art and her dogs. Her home, which is two hours away from Florence, in the Tuscan region, is considered the oldest vineyard in Italy. She loves to paint animals, and told us how she missed her two dogs who are both rescues. Who was taking care of her dogs while she’s in Manila, we asked, and like a coy schoolgirl, she said it was her boyfriend.

Being an artist herself, Ferrer was also curious about the Philippine art scene, which we told her is enjoying a boom.

We asked her how she would describe her style as a painter, and she replied, smiling, “Wow, that’s a difficult question to answer.” Ferrer was more a listener than a talker during the shoot; she was interested in us, what we do.

Despite her a busy schedule, Ferrer was a delight to work with—gracious, poised, candid and polite, indeed reflecting the qualities of her grandmother.

After shooting the final look, a classic LBD, we made our way through the exhibit set-up being completed, containing Audrey Hepburn’s drawings. “Aren’t they fascinating?” she asked us. It became apparent that these were the mementos of her grandmother she was really drawn to. The drawings were still not behind protective glass covers, allowing us to peer really closely. Despite their age, the colors of the art pieces were still vibrant.

As we wrapped things up, we had a surprise for her, mementos from the Philippines—the ecru barong, the white lace top and tuxedo pants of Auggie Cordero. “They are beyond stunning,” she said in fascination, “The materials, to me, are what set Filipino clothing apart. All of the handmade natural fabrics are so beautiful and unique, something that you really don’t see in the rest of the world.”

And like her grandmother, Ferrer is an artistic and passionate soul, and that’s what makes her extraordinary.

Emma with team—Luis Carlo San Juan, photographer Lem Atienza, and makeup and hairstylist Arvee Yadao

Photography Lem Atienza

Styling Luis Carlo San Juan

Hairstyle and makeup Arvee Yadao using Dior Beauty 

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