Today has been Audrey Hepburn’s birthday. She would have been 86 but she died in 1993, alas. For me, she is the quintessential gamine, a kind of divine apparition, and she is the only actress of whom I have bought an entire photo wall calendar, an artistic homage I usually reserve for artists such as Alphonse Mucha. I think the first movie of hers I ever saw was her first big hit, Roman Holiday. But the movie I – like so many others – will enduringly associate her with is Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
We can leave aside the fact that Truman Capote (who wrote the story on which the movie was based) thought she was badly miscast and wanted Marilyn Monroe for the role. Let us also for the moment leave aside the terrible casting of Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi (his scenes should be re-shot with George Takei presenting an entirely different and better version of the character, in my opinion). The rest of the movie is lovely, even though some people might think it a bit tawdry and no one could call Holly Golightly a saint. But I want to talk about Tiffany’s.
Or, more particularly, Tiffany. Such a gem of a name, soft, sighing in the wind, the ff waving like a field of heather or timothy. Yes, Tiffany is a more heather-like name than Heather, I think. But it’s also more delectable, like a perfect little tiffin or tea. Now, yes, it can have a girlish faddishness or faddish girlishness, I suppose, and it does call forth a certain preciousness. There was a girl in my high school named Tiffany, and actually she didn’t seem precious and expensive at all, but then she wasn’t in my grade so maybe I was wrong. I actually used to think Epiphany would be a good name for a girl, though I’ve never seen it; it has a similar sound but perhaps more of a coruscating phonetic epiphenomenon. No?
The famous Tiffany, though, and the Tiffany of the movie, is the family name of Charles Lewis Tiffany, who founded a jewelry store that is now one of the anchors of 5th Avenue in Manhattan. It is a place you can go to look and dream, though not really to have breakfast. It is where you see the bright shiny priceless things.
But there is another Tiffany, one more in line with Alphonse Mucha: both had connections to Art Nouveau, an artistic movement I shamelessly adore. (I once bought an entire book of Art Nouveau wrapping paper.) Such beautiful botanical curves, softly illuminating their surroundings. The Paris Metro seems a wonderful thing just because at some stations you pass through Art Nouveau entrances. It is a perfect fairyland home for the gamines and assorted theophanies of the world. And the most luminous artist of them all was Louis Comfort Tiffany, maker of stained glass – lamps, windows, what have you. Was he related to Charles Lewis Tiffany? He was Charles’s son. (Comfort was a personal name held by several men in the Tiffany clan.)
There are also musical connections to Tiffany – an American singer who had a hit with “I Think We’re Alone Now”; a K-pop singer, member of Girls’ Generation; and the song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something, which I heard a gazillion times on the radio 20 years ago, which was 17 years before I ever saw the movie.
Oh, yes, the movie: I first watched it on an Air New Zealand flight from LA to Auckland – a flight where the flight attendant spontaneously offered us sparkling wine with breakfast, quite the contrast to the horrible United Airlines flight from Sydney to San Fran on the way back, where our direct request for sparkling wine at breakfast elicited a look of disgust and a flat refusal. Well, never mind, that UA flight was from hell for several reasons, but sparkling wine on Air NZ on the way to NZ was at least as heavenly as a Danish in front of a jewelry window.
So. Sparkling wines. Art Nouveau glass. Jewels. Audrey Hepburn. Such divine manifestations indeed. And fair enough. Tiffany is a name given in honour of the epiphany – the divine manifestation, the revealing of Jesus to the magi. Epiphany is a Greek word, but the Greek word for ‘divine manifestation’ is theophany.
Which is the etymon of Tiffany.
That’s right. Just as Dionysos became Dennis, Theophany became Tiffany. What the heck… St. Audrey became tawdry, you know. But not in Breakfast at Tiffany’s she didn’t. Or maybe she did, just a little bit, to dip into the weary tarnished but hopeful joy of humanity and raise it back to the divine. You know, Louis Comfort Tiffany sought out the glass with impurities, because it made a more beautiful glow…