Thursday, August 22, 2013

Style Essentials--Catherine Deneuve In (and Out of) Yves Saint Laurent in BELLE DE JOUR

From the beginning of Luis Bunel's 1967 classic Belle de Jour, audiences are awash in his signature surrealism and aroused by an eroticism that has made this movie his masterpiece.  The story centers on Severine Serizy, a haute blonde wife who, despite having a loving husband, discovers a need to live out her sexual fantasies as a whore.  Perfectly played by a 23-year-old Catherine Deneuve, it's easy to see how the part made her an international star.  Her performance is subtle, remaining cool even as Severine's experiences fluctuate between pleasure and pain...morality and immorality...and exploring just how subjective each of those extremes are.  Despite the storyline, the sexuality never seems too strong and much of this has to do with the film's now iconic style.  Classic and timeless with a twist of fetish, Belle de Jour's costumes are courtesy of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

Few ascended the ranks in fashion faster than Saint Laurent.  He is an example of a true genius who showed signs of his art and talent quite early, designing dresses for his sisters when he was only a child.  His drawings alone were works of art, in quality as well as quantity.  At the height of his career, for instance, he could do tens of thousands; his famous 1976 "Russian" collection allegedly had something like 40,000 sketches.  He would learn the craft of couture from the master, Christian Dior, who saw these talents in Yves while he was still only in his teens.  He quickly made him an assistant and Saint Laurent was soon submitting designs for consideration in the collections.  Season after season, Dior noticed he was including an increasing number of designs from his young apprentice.  Thus, in only three years and with great confidence in his choice, Dior retired and handed his legendary fashion house over to a 21-year-old Saint Laurent.  It was as if a bomb went off in fashion and signaled the modern age.

Though hugely successful with his debut, Yves would soon leave Dior to open a couturier of his own.  This, too, was a great success, but he continued to push himself further.  Always interested in offering more women access to great design, he followed the lead of couturiers Jean Patou, Lucien Lelong, and mentor Dior to be among those from couture to make a mass-produced fashion line.  With his "ready-to-wear" collections, Saint Laurent became the first to turn back to classic cinema of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s for creative inspiration.  Costume designing giants Adrian, Travis Banton, Orry-Kelly, and Milo Anderson were all influential to Yves.  A great example would be his famous trouser suits...the result of much inspiration from Marlene Dietrich in the 1930s (Banton) and Katharine Hepburn in the 1940s (Adrian).  His now iconic Le Smoking mirrors much of Marlene's tuxedo in Morocco (1930).  His strong-shouldered skirt suits of the 1980s found their inspiration in 1940s film noir like Mildred Pierce (1945).  And trench coats, another favorite of Saint Laurent, drew on the spy style that suited Dietrich and Greta Garbo so well.  It's important to note that all these pieces are now considered staples of women's clothing.  As such, Yves Saint Laurent acted as the architect of much of our modern wardrobe...and did it using a blueprint from classic cinema.

Thanks to close friend and muse Catherine Deneuve, Saint Laurent was also able to join the ranks of the costume designers he had long admired.   They collaborated on her style offscreen as well as on, using costumes for 1967's  Belle de Jour to cement her image as a "cold, remote erotic object which dreams are made on" (BBC Radio film critic Phillip French).  This movie is a master study of costume design revealing character.  Even her hair styles offer you clues.  As Severine, you see Deneuve donning clothes in innocent shades of white and pale pink.  As Belle, and even contemplating being Belle, she struts around Paris in dark browns and black from head to toe.  Fabrics, too, are tough yet titillating.  Fur.  Leather.  Vinyl.  There is also a military influence in the clothing that adds to the fetish feel of the film, but the design (such as double-breasted coats) also helps Severine present a proper appearance during her double life.

Belle de Jour is among The Style Essentials because it is iconic costume design that should be celebrated in its own right, but also because of its impact on fashion both then and now.  This was highly coveted trendsetting style when it came out in the late 1960s and yet it is equally influential today.  Much like another fall favorite,  Love Story (1970), the coats alone offer perennial inspiration for designers like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren.  This year, designers from Chanel, Calvin Klein, Burberry Prorsum, and Valentino have all featured pieces in their Fall 2013 collections that reference Belle de Jour.  This includes the iconic "school girl" dress, which has been seen in numerous incarnations and worn by everyone from Emma Stone to Julia Roberts.  Stay tuned...there will soon be a companion piece here on GlamAmor that shows these Cinema Connections.

So whether you're a fan of great film or great fashion, I believe you'll soon share mon amour fou for the timeless style of Yves Saint Laurent and Belle de Jour.  

We meet seemingly perfect couple Pierre and Severine Serizy (Jean Sorel and Catherine Deneuve)
on a carriage ride in the French countryside

Highly influential military style suiting in red from Yves Saint Laurent
and iconic hair and makeup that continues to inspire

But reality is instead a fantasy--we immediately delve into Severine's sexual desires, 
which include domination, sadomasochism, and bondage

More players in the drama include the couple's friends Renee (Macha Meril, above right)
and antagonist Henri Husson (Michel Piccoli)

Arriving at home wearing a military-inspired brown leather coat from YSL that is even trimmed in fur

Tennis isn't the only game being played when Husson hits on Severine,
especially when they discuss a friend who began working at a brothel in Paris

This time the military inspiration comes in black (note the shoulder epaulets, too) 
and paired with accessories that include a hat, handbag, and sleek sunglasses

Another aspect of Deneuvian style are Roger Vivier's legendary "pilgrim" pumps,
which she favored both on and offscreen along with other timeless style icons like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis 

Down comes the prim and proper updo as Severine assumes the role of Belle de Jour

Great shots of Catherine's iconic hairstyle
along with YSL's camel zippered shirtdress

The hairstyle once again demonstrates the difference between Severine, the good wife...

...and a return to being Belle de Jour

Another incredible piece in Severine's wardrobe is this YSL vinyl trench coat

More moments of humiliation and dominance that bring Severine great sexual pleasure

Severine makes the mistake of falling for a customer--gangster Marcel (Pierre Clementi, below)--
whose obsession with Belle ends up threatening her way of life

Deneuve and YSL show how you can be sexy
even when in a subdued brown shift dress

The YSL "school girl" dress--whose design owes a lot to 1930s film fashion as well as Chanel--
has become iconic in fashion today

 Note scalloped edges of the black pumps (most likely Roger Vivier, who originated the stiletto heel)
that are paired with this seemingly innocent frock

The reality is that her husband has been paralyzed as the result of her need to be Belle de Jour,
but Severine's active fantasy life has them living happily ever after


Marline said...

Tres, tres bien! Great insights into this most iconic French fashion film. Love the background on YSL and yes, those pilgrim pumps were de rigeur in the late 60's! So sleek and so sexy without being overt. C'est fantastique, mon amie! Merci bien, K.

Irene said...

I remember seeing this film for the first time a few years ago, and thinking the fashion was absolutely wonderful, especially the military influenced clothes. Love your posts about iconic fashion in movies!

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you thank you, Kay! I'm thrilled that you enjoyed it so much and appreciate you sharing it. :) Totally agree--sleek and sexy without being overt. Great style lessons.

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you, Irene! I'm so glad to hear that you've been enjoying them. Yes, it was great fun to go back and revisit the wardrobe in BELLE DE JOUR for exactly the reasons you say. The military influence is so strong and great inspiration for today's designers.

Silver Screenings said...

I didn't realize YSL was the first couture designer to mass produce his designs. Fascinating post and wonderful photos. The designs are fabulous, but I suspect Catherine Deneuve can make anything look wonderful, no?

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thanks Silver Screenings! I learned a lot about YSL as well and he was quite the talent. So much of the way we dress now can be attributed to him (and classic cinema, of course). And I agree--Catherine can pretty much wear anything (or nothing at all) and look stunning. ;)

The Lady Eve said...

Kimberly, You’ve beautifully described Deneuve’s style, from head to toe, in Belle de Jour. I adore both Deneuve and YSL (and the House of Dior). I’ve been catching up on her films since TCM honored her with a day during Summer Under the Stars, and have watched documentaries on YSL (5 Avenue Marceau, His Life and Times, L’Amour Fou) time and again (while sighing) over the years – so, as you might imagine, I savored every word of your piece.

One of your captions, “Deneuve and YSL show how you can be sexy even when in a subdued brown shift dress,” alludes to an approach to sexiness that all young girls could learn from.

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you, Patricia! We share a lot in common. I, too, have been quite invested in French chic started with an event I hosted this summer that had a "Saint Tropez" theme and led up to TCM's feature of Catherine Deneuve in August's Summer Under the Stars. I absolutely adore the YSL documentaries that you mentioned, having seen L'AMOUR FOU more times than I can count (and is one of the reasons for my great affection for Pierre Berge). :)

I'm delighted that you enjoyed this analysis of BELLE DE JOUR and hope that many can learn from its sophisticated yet sexy style!

Anonymous said...

Just a correction—Dior did not "retire" and name YSL to take over. Dior died suddenly in 1957 of a heart attack, and Dior's investors named YSL as head designer.

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