Emma Ferrer on Art, Charity, and Being Audrey Hepburn’s Granddaughter
By: Mies Allen
Although Emma Ferrer may not be a name you are familiar with yet, this artist/UNICEF ambassador/model is certainly one young woman that we should all be looking up to in 2019.
Emma is a Swiss-born woman living in New York who has spent her most recent years studying art in Italy, gracing the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and carrying on her grandmother’s legacy through her charity work with children’s foundation UNICEF.
Who is Emma Ferrer’s grandmother you ask? Audrey Hepburn – star of classic movies such as Roman Holiday, Sabrina, and Breakfast At Tiffany’s, famous for her timeless style and dedication to children’s causes, and a woman so many of us through the 20th and 21st century have idolized.
Emma was kind enough to speak to me in an exclusive interview for Madame Blue, and from our brief talk, it is clear that she carries so much of Audrey Hepburn’s spirit within her.
She is warm and articulate, speaking candidly and lovingly about art, the causes she is involved with, and of course, her grandmother. Keep reading to find out what Emma’s favorite thing about living in Florence, Italy, is, what she finds inspiring about her grandmother, and what her favorite Audrey Hepburn movie is.
Is it correct that you studied art in Florence?
Yes, that’s right. I was born in Switzerland but did middle school, high school, and university in Italy. I moved there originally with my family, and around 2005, my father got married to an Italian woman and also moved there, so I decided to stay after high school and continue to university.
It was a really big culture shock when I moved there – I had been going to Europe for summers as a kid, but I was living in LA, and when I got there I discovered that I felt so at home in Florence and there was so much more freedom. I just really loved it and felt a big shift in me from being around so much beauty all the time.
Are you still creating art?
I am. I was working in a gallery for three years from when I’d just finished school and moved to New York, and that was great and I was still painting at that time but I do feel that burned me out because it was very intense, so for the last year and a half I’ve just been painting for myself which has been so wonderful. I’m just chugging along, trying to learn my craft! I’m always very impressed by artists who are like, in their 20s, and already seem like they’ve figured out what they want to be doing. For me, I think it’s going to take some more time of thinking about my work and being in my studio creating work that I hate before I make something I’m proud of.
Is creating art therapeutic for you?
Of course, although I think that’s a very broad word. The work I was doing in school was very technical and academic and rigorous, and so when I finished school I was so desperate to break free from those constraints. We were discouraged from any creative impetus or thinking about our work. Afterward, I wanted to do anything other than that, so I was creating more abstract works and dabbling in poetry which felt so good because it gave me a different kind of confidence. Now, however, I do think I’ve discovered that the work I like producing is perhaps the more academic, technical kind all along, so it was good for me to experiment.
Your are involved in charity work with UNICEF as your grandmother, Audrey Hepburn, was. What do you enjoy most about this work?
I was always involved lightly with UNICEF as a kid and it’s been great to find my place there in more recent years. It’s amazing to see the numbers changing every year in UNICEF, we see these massive reductions in harm and preventable causes of children’s deaths – you know, sickness, starvation – and then growth in access to education and water, etc. To see that improvement in one’s timeline there is so inspiring. It just feels right being involved with something like that.
I have family in the Netherlands and members of my family lived in the same town that your grandmother lived in during WWII, so I am aware of the struggles people faced during this time. Hoe do you think this experience impacted her approach to life?
It was something that shaped her and I think it was something that influenced all aspects of her life. There was the fact that she almost died of starvation – the Dutch people were eating bread made of tulip bulbs, which is something I always mention because it’s so poignant in showing the desperation of the situation they were in. She had this great appreciation for the importance of human life which stemmed from her survival, and actually, the way she viewed wealth as well was greatly influenced by her experience as a child. Not many people seem to know this but she was actually the first female movie star to make a million dollars, but she always maintained this humbleness and gratitude for this, which I do think is unique because she didn’t see it as her own, it was something she wanted to share with others and use to help people. It was UNICEF that saved her and her family when she was in the Netherlands as a child, and so she felt she owed her life to that cause.
The thing I have found most inspiring about Audrey Hepburn was her gentleness, warmth, and emotional intelligence. What do you find most inspiring about her?
Well, I started a research project with my father a couple of years ago looking into why her style is so iconic and timeless – you know, what it was about her that keeps so many young girls looking up to her and now messaging me and telling me how much they love my grandmother – and I think that it was partly the fact that she came about at this time of really voluptuous actresses so the ideal female form was quite opposite of what she was, and so she really did forge her way and created her type of beauty away from the status quo, but that was something she never took lightly. She was always conscious of what she had created and so she was humbled by her position in the world of entertainment and beauty.
That certainly comes across in her interviews. She seemed to never quite grasp the fact that her life turned out the way it did.
I completely agree – we all know that she did so much public speaking throughout her life, whether it was speaking for the CFDA or presenting awards or doing these press conferences in her later life, but something I loved learning about my grandmother was that she was deathly terrified of speaking in public. My mother told me that Audrey used to say that her knees would knock under the podium, and I think that’s just so interesting because although she was so afraid she always maintained this wonderful poise and grace – but to know what was going on in her mind is also so humanizing.
What do you think you and your grandmother have the most in common?
I get this question a lot, and the really short answer is that it’s hard for me to say because I didn’t know her myself. Some people tell me that I have her eyes or that I look like her, and sometimes I can’t see it at all and other times I think, well, maybe I do, who knows. But I think more than that I do feel connected to her through the work I do with UNICEF and the humanitarian causes I’m involved with which is wonderful. When I was younger, I did somewhat prevent the feeling of being connected with her because I never really believed I could be as good as her, so it’s wonderful that now through this work I’m doing I get to feel a more spiritual connection with my grandmother. I feel that I have to do good things in this world in the ways she would have wanted them to be done.
What is your favorite role Audrey Hepburn movie?
It has changed over the years. When I was young it was certainly Funny Face, mainly because the clothes and the music and the dancing make it so much fun to watch, and I was enamored by that movie. But now, as an adult, I’m aware of the movies which were important to her in terms of her artistic career, which were Wait Until Dark and A Nun’s Story. Taking on these roles was in a way quite foreign to her, and I think she identified with these things in these characters that she didn’t even know she could have, which was very trans-formative for her, and so she brought those characters to life.
Of course, I also still love Breakfast At Tiffany’s (which I know can be seen as a bit of a blase answer as it’s everyone’s favorite!) because it’s so unique, and it’s one of those films that you can watch in different periods of your life and keep noticing new things about it, which I think makes it timeless.
For such a big, Hollywood movie, Audrey’s portrayal of Holly Golightly is so dynamic. It seems so out of the box for that period.
Exactly. Exactly. And also what makes it so interesting is that it’s essentially a movie about a call-girl, yet you can pretty much watch it at any age. I never picked up on it when I was younger, I only saw her as this chic socialite, and it’s amazing how young girls can watch a movie about a call-girl and have this completely different experience with the character than we do when we grow up, yet we appreciate and can even relate to the character so much either way, which I think is so special.