Features Columnist


Fashion can be fickle, but the style of the French New Wave era continues to appeal to the fashion world. Why?

Trends come and go, but classics are forever. Few styles can boast about holding such a mantle, yet, with a hypnotically red-lipped smile and raised eyebrow, La Nouvelle Vague has endured. 

It comes as a surprise how gracefully it has aged. The French New Wave burst from the “explosion of youth” in 1960s France - a fashion exclusively born during intellectual revolt and exploration, most notable in its nouveau cinema – and yet, in our more despondent era, its style of rebellion still resonates.

"A fashion exclusively born during intellectual revolt and exploration, most notable in its nouveau cinema – and yet, in our more despondent era, its style of rebellion still resonates."

With its founding directors working with little-to-no budget, actors - most significantly the female actors - were given free rein to dress as they felt best for the film, and so newly-birthed icons carved out signature styles with their individuality.

There was Anna Karina’s 60s thick-set hairband and “cat-eyes” eyeliner (her stage name christened by Chanel herself); Jean Seberg’s pixie-cut hair, neckerchiefs and Breton-stripe tees (now so stereotypically French, children need only add a beret and garlic necklace for Sports Days or model United Nations); Cathy Rosier’s party-ready sequins, velvet and leopard print coat; Anne Wizaemsky’s printed mini-dresses, wide-leg slacks and ballet flats; Brigitte Bardot’s uninhibited use of the headband and short sundresses; and lastly Catherine Deneuve’s bouncy ponytails, pendant necklaces, black baby doll dresses and additional support from a leopard print coat. 

Women’s fashion remained centre stage, but men’s fashion still played a role, albeit less striking - casual blazers matched with a tie or open-neck shirt, fedoras and trench coats, V-necks and lumberjack coats – and yet no less thoughtful in intention.

The thinkers of the French New Wave are recognised as being at the forefront of modern expression when art and politics clashed over their purpose in the world. Its filmmakers used the medium to comment on real-world issues, and the clothes sold audiences on not only a new world, but a better-dressed one. Especially when shifting and changing in our identities, who doesn’t want to be imbued with an aura of sexy refinement? 

"Especially when shifting and changing in our identities, who doesn’t want to be imbued with an aura of sexy refinement?"

Paradoxically, the heavy connotations of this style and its subtle details combine to allow, rather than hamper, individual expression.  Styling simple colours paired with a signature statement piece, the wearer is wordlessly expressed better than any biography description could try. 

And, above all, French New Wave style appears effortless. Tousled hair and a mini-dress? I woke up like this. My cat eyes, slacks, and ballet flats? Just felt like it. 

With luxury and decadence making a return due to a post-lockdown lack of restraint - faux-pearl studded jumpers and glittery, rich, ruffled dresses already appearing in shops - our love affair with this forward-thinking dress will appear ever more classic during Christmas excess. 

Just don’t forget to draw on your cat-eyes. Très chic! 


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