The August issue of Toronto Film Scene is focusing on Fashion in Film, and since TIFF has been taking us to France this summer with their fabulous Summer in France series, I can’t think of a better way to dip our collective toe in the fashion waters than to take a look back at the fabulous style icons of the French New Wave.
A short history
The French New Wave (aka “La Nouvelle Vague”), depending on which authority you consult, started in the late 1950s and ended some time in the mid- to late-1960s. The main directors associated with the movement include FranÃ§ois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Ã‰ric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette and Claude Chabrol. Influenced by Classical Hollywood film and the more naturalistic style of Italian Neorealism, New Wave directors produced a whole slate of fresh, youthful, and inspired films. They experimented with filming and editing techniques, used natural light, direct sound recording, and mixed in the hand held camera work of emerging documentary filmmakers.
The results of these heydays of the New Wave were films both playful and thoughtful. Contemplative, sometimes nonsensical, and thoroughly enjoyable. Above all, they had style. And emerging fashion icons. Whether in black and white or glorious colour, everyone in the films just looked fabulous. They seemed to be able to pair a cute little sailor dress with what looked like their dad’s old cast off winter coat – casually throwing things together and somehow ending up looking both carefree and well put together at the same time. What should look awkward looks artless, free, unintended, and most surprisingly, unpretentious. Seriously. Who manages to look fabulous in an oversize cardigan and gingham apron? Anna Karina in Une femme est une femme – that’s who.
A recipe for chic
The ingredients to French New Wave style seem to be:
- one part sweet innocence (buttoned collars and ’50s style slim trousers and sweater-sets);
- one part accessories (miscellaneous mismatched scarves and hats, a boyfriend’s discarded shirt, or a pair of cateye glasses); and
- one part complete nonchalance
Directions: Mix well, and approach your clothing choices with a disregard for structure and an air of frivolity. VoilÃ ! Behold the careless chic of the French New Wave.
Exhibit 1: Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in A bout de souffle / Breathless (1960). It’s nothing but accessories, from his Bogart-esque hat to her cateye glasses. In just a T-shirt and slim black pants, Seberg looks like a bohemian version of Audrey Hepburn.
Exhibit 2: Jeanne Moreau in Jules et Jim (1962) makes stripes sought after and manages to look adorable despite the stretched out sweater and a pair of big lace up boots.
Exhibit 3: Jean-Pierre LÃ©aud in Masculine Feminine (1966) and Antoine and Colette (1962). In a suit that looks like he borrowed it from his university professor, LÃ©aud dons a scarf and looks like he belongs in a French cafe.
Exhibit 4: Perhaps the New Wave’s most prolific fashion icon, former Danish model and film star Anna Karina’s style always blows me away. Here she is in Vivre sa vie (1962), Une femme est une femme (1961) and Bande Ã part (1964).
Exhibit 5: And more New Wave fashion, this time in glorious colour, here’s Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo looking fabulous in Pierrot le fou (1965). Little red dresses, sailor hats and white ruffles!
That’s a whole lot of visual evidence for the careless chic of French New Wave Fashion. Of course, it probably wasn’t nearly as careless as it seemed to look – these were films, after all. They were no doubt trying to achieve that unstudied air. Whatever, it looked gorgeous.
So I’ll leave you with a look at one of the films in action. Here’s a trailer for Jean-Luc Godard’s 1962 film Vivre sa vie – two minutes of New Wave fashion fabulousness.
This month Toronto Film Scene is unzipping the mystery surrounding Fashion in Film. Who are the people behind the clothing choices, where in Toronto do they shop and what are some examples of great costuming? We’ll also check in with CAFTCAD, revisit the relationship between Edith Head and Alfred Hitchcock and look at films that have inspired fashion trends.
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