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Audrey Hepburn's sons are in a legal dispute over the use of her Givenchy gowns and image for charity

For years, Audrey Hepburn’s two sons hosted charity exhibits featuring their famous mother’s elaborate evening gowns, awards and photographs.

Throughout the world, they showed off more than a dozen Givenchy dresses that the Oscar-winning actress and humanitarian wore in movies and to award shows, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a charity they created in her name after she died in 1993.

But now, the half brothers are at the center of a legal dispute over whether the charity — headed by Luca Dotti, the younger of the two — has the right to continue using Hepburn’s memorabilia and likeness to raise money, according to Los Angeles County Superior Court records.

The Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Hepburn’s older son, Sean Ferrer, accusing him of hampering fundraising efforts by sabotaging exhibits planned in Australia and South Korea and requesting payments from the fund for the use of Hepburn’s likeness.

“The saddest part of this is this is being done for children’s charities, to carry on Audrey’s work, where her heart lies,” said Steven Young, an attorney representing the charity in the lawsuit.

According to its website, the Pasadena-based charity has donated to more than a dozen children’s organizations, including hospitals, an equine therapy program and a child soldier relief foundation. Ferrer’s actions, the lawsuit alleged, has rendered the fund unable to meet commitments to certain hospital programs.

An attorney for Ferrer, who according to the lawsuit lives in Italy, could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit comes almost two years after Ferrer sued his brother in Los Angeles court, claiming he and Dotti were unable to agree on how to divide their mother’s personal belongings, including posters, costumes, jewelry, scripts, shoes and awards. That case is still pending, records show.

The saga stretches back to 2008 or 2009, when Ferrer — who at the time was chairman of the nonprofit — suffered a financial crisis and began to meddle with the charity’s fundraising efforts, the lawsuit said. In 2011, he asked his younger brother to join the board, and over the next several months, Ferrer gradually gave up his role in operating the charity. 

In 2013, after Ferrer resigned from the fund’s board, he sent a letter to the fund in which he said he was terminating its right to use Hepburn’s name, image and likeness, which was owned equally by him and his brother, the lawsuit stated. The suit claims that the charity didn’t need Ferrer’s permission.

After that, Ferrer began meddling with the charity’s fundraising activities, changing the password of its GoDaddy account, which manages its domains and emails, and causing exhibitors in Australia and South Korea to pull out of prospective events, the lawsuit alleged.

In 2015, the lawsuit alleged, Ferrer asked Hubert de Givenchy to falsify and backdate a letter saying that he’d donated his gowns to Hepburn’s sons, not to the charity.

Givenchy, the founder of the French fashion house whose designs Hepburn wore in seven movies, including “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “How to Steal a Million,” refused, according to the suit.

According to Young, Ferrer had penned a letter in 2002 thanking the fashion designer for donating the dresses — which Hepburn wore between 1968 and 1991 — to the fund.

Most recently, Ferrer, through an attorney in Switzerland, contacted an exhibitor in China, where charity events are scheduled for this year and next, and threatened legal action if the exhibitor went forward with the project, the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit requests that a judge determine that the charity has the right to use Hepburn’s name and likeness for its fundraising efforts without having to pay or get permission from Ferrer and award an unspecified amount in damages.

alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @AleneTchek


UPDATES:

6:40 p.m.: This article was updated with information about another lawsuit over Audrey Hepburn’s property.

This article was originally published at 4 a.m.

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