Out of the throngs of Golden-Age Hollywood glamour girls, one leading lady and her legacy have stood the test of time like no other. Audrey Hepburn remains the epitome of timeless elegance even to this day.

One of the world’s most understated beauties, yet she reigns supreme as one of film’s most celebrated icons. She carried herself with both a princess-like dignity and a childish playfulness and innocence.

“Audrey’s charm is like the Mona Lisa,” one of her directors, Peter Bogdanovich, once said, according to SeattlePi.com. “You can’t define it; you can only experience it.”

Any mention of the British actress brings one glorious, cinematic scene to mind: a young woman wearing white pearls and a little black dress stands amid a serene cityscape, sips hot coffee, bites into a pastry roll, tilts her head to one side and gazes dreamily into bright, sparkling diamonds beyond a store window.

Right away, she is mesmerized by what she sees. And so are we.

That enchanting scene from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” put Hepburn in the defining role of her entire career. As the call girl and socialite Holly Golightly, Hepburn solidified her place as a global fashion icon whose feline face and little black dress would come to decorate young girls’ dorm rooms for decades to come.

Born in Brussels, Belgium in 1952, Hepburn aspired to be a top-tier ballerina. After her parents divorced, she moved to London and went to studied ballet on a scholarship until she was told she was too tall to ever be a prima ballerina.

But she kept her graceful poise and movements, did a few minor films and, after catching the eye of French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, took to the stage in a starring role in the Broadway play “Gigi.” From there, her career took off.

Director Billy Wilder spotted Hepburn onstage and deemed her perfect for the lead role in “Roman Holiday,” where she would play a runaway princess who falls for a commoner, played by Gregory Peck. Peck was originally supposed to receive top billing — with the words “introducing Audrey Hepburn” to follow — but he insisted on giving her equal footing because he knew she would make it big one day.

And he did not know how right he was.

The role of Princess Ann won Hepburn the 1953 Academy Award for Best Actress and she became an instant sensation. She went on to play other Cinderella story roles and was nominated for four more Oscars later in life.

Although she was hailed as a legendary actress of her time, it was not just her silver-screen talent that fueled her rise to Hollywood stardom. Several factors contributed to her popularity and success.

Among them were her style and rapport with powerhouse designer Hubert de Givenchy, her redefinition of the concept of “beauty,” her natural modesty and diffidence and her humanitarian work with UNICEF. Even after she was inflicted with abdominal cancer in 1993, she continued her humanitarian work.

Hepburn is perhaps even more famous today than she was when she was alive and at her prime. It was more what she represented, rather than any discernible on-screen talent, that has inspired generations of young women and has lent Hepburn’s fame the longevity that it still possesses in contemporary times.

“She was such a role model for young women across all generations,” says James Grove, an English and cinema studies professor at Mount Mercy University in Iowa. “She had a graceful, cosmopolitan dignity about her and she was a proper lady who wasn’t sexualized like Marilyn Monroe.”

Rachel Moseley, a film and television studies professor at the University of Warwick, agreed.

“Her enduring appeal stems from her inner and outer beauty,” says Moseley. “In a time where more actresses are getting breast implants and plastic surgery, Audrey is a constant reminder to 21st-century women that you can achieve success with selflessness and dignity. She is a beacon that harkens back to the most glamorous era of film.”

Hepburn was not conventionally beautiful. And perhaps that’s part of the secret, too. She did not possess the voluptuous, full figure of stars like Monroe that the nation so embraced. Truman Capote himself even said he had envisioned the role of Holly Golightly for Monroe and called Hepburn “grossly miscast.” But Hepburn — a thin, delicate, waif-like creature with big eyes, a long neck and a crooked smile — defied that stereotype in every way.

“This girl, singlehanded, may make bosoms a thing of the past,” director Billy Wilder told Regard Magazine, adding that the natural thickness of her brown eyebrows made her “funny face” all the more memorable.

But Hepburn also proved she was much more than just a pretty face. After years of taking on fairytale princess roles in films like “Sabrina” and “Funny Face,” she tackled darker, more serious subjects by playing the part of a lesbian in her 1961 film, “The Children’s Hour,” and a terrorized blind woman in her 1976 film, “Wait Until Dark.”

While she was well aware of her celebrity status, Hepburn was never quite comfortable with it. She preferred to focus on her family life, having been married and divorced twice and raising two sons — one from each marriage.

Her post-World War II brush with childhood malnutrition also sparked a passion for philanthropy. She worked closely with UNICEF since the 1950s to help distribute food to starving children in war-torn areas like Somalia and Sudan. She was eventually appointed to Goodwill Ambassador and never manipulated her fame except to spread her message.

She once told a Congressional subcommittee: “The ‘Third World’ is a term I don’t like very much, because we’re all one world.”

“Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist,” she added. “I have seen the miracle of water, which UNICEF has helped to make a reality.”

Today, Hepburn’s image still spans the vast regions of the world. She has featured in ad campaigns from Gap commercials in the U.S. to Kirin black tea in Japan. The American Film Institute also named Hepburn the third Greatest Female Star of All Time in 1999, after deeming her a significant screen presence in American feature-length films.

Even with all of the commotion and chaos of being a celebrity, fashion photographer Richard Avedon wrote, Hepburn remained true to herself.

“I am, and forever will be, devastated by the gift of Audrey Hepburn before my camera,” writes Avedon in the book “A Star Danced: The Life of Audrey Hepburn.” “I cannot lift her to greater heights. I cannot interpret her. There is no going further than who she is. She has achieved in herself her ultimate portrait.”