Givenchy little black dress, oversize wayfarers, cigarette holder—an image as iconic as Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly is nearly impossible to re-create. This was the challenge facing writer Richard Greenberg, who presented his adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s on Broadway last week.
But surprisingly, Greenberg didn’t go near it: instead of rehashing the iconic 1961 film, he pulled deeply from the original 1958 Truman Capote–penned novella, setting Golightly in the ’40s rather than the ’50s.
The shift carried over to the wardrobe department as well, to the surprise of many Golightly fans who showed up on opening night dressed as Hepburn in little black dresses and opera gloves. Instead they were greeted by a new chapter in Golightly history. This time Golightly, played by Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones), trots around the Cort Theatre’s stage in a wartime-era wardrobe conceived by legendary costume designer Colleen Atwood (Edward Scissorhands, Chicago).
Atwood says the aesthetic departure from the most famous incarnation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s was “quite easy, because it was a totally different kind of story.”
“The focus wasn’t on what she was wearing. It was more like the book—a more character-driven piece,” Atwood told The Daily Beast on Monday. This meant an array of darted slips, gowns inspired by the classic Mainbocher fashion label, and an array of nipped New Look waists that miss the historically accurate mark by four years (Golightly wears them in a scene dated 1943, while the New Look wasn’t presented until ’47).
It’s all an aesthetic counterpoint to Hepburn’s classic Golightly image—one that was famously reflected in a window of Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue flagship and has since trickled down to the dorm-room walls of many a frilly coed (in poster form).
When an iconic image winds up on the side of a bridal party’s commemorative coffee mug, as Hepburn’s has, it’s pretty much ubiquitous. So it’s probably a good idea that Greenberg and Atwood stepped away from the image’s status quo. Still, Clarke’s 25 costume changes are filled with the girlie gusto indicative of a proper scene-stealing socialite. They run the gamut from riding habits to café-society cocktail frocks. And judging from reviews, their froth is one element that is saving the show.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is receiving a batch of mixed reviews for exuding what The New York Times calls “a distinctly leaden step, as if it dreaded what might be waiting around every dark corner of the sinister city it portrays.” The article continues: “This particular soufflé seems doomed never to rise.”
But Atwood’s designs hold up against whatever “leaden” qualities play out on stage. “I was relieved and happy that the reaction was positive, because it is an iconic film in the costume area,” Atwood explains. “The nature of the material is different. It put people to believe it’s Audrey Hepburn, and it’s not so. It was exciting to me to be decently reviewed.”
No matter what she looks like, Atwood says, Holly Golightly’s appeal over time isn’t surprising. Like Carrie Bradshaw, she “is one of those New York girls that had a tremendous amount of style but no money. I think a lot of young girls go through that period in their life of finding who they are, and at that point looking good matters the most.”