The 1967 French film Belle De Jour was groundbreaking and timelessly relevant from the narrative to the fashion. This is in part due to the casting of then 23-year-old French beauty Catherine Deneuve and the partnership between the director Luis Bunuel and Yves Saint Laurent to bring the film’s protagonist to life. Laurent’s tailored classically modern aesthetic made Belle De Jour timelessly stylish. Deneuve plays a well-to-do housewife named Séverine who is dissatisfied with her marital sex life. In her longing for thrills that would put 50 Shades of Grey enthusiasts to shame, Séverine takes a day job at a brothel, unbeknownst to her husband.
Part of the overwhelmingly chic aesthetic appeal of Laurent’s design is the many precisely cut, impeccably tailored coats worn by Deneuve. Séverine’s luxurious, minimally sexy clothing designed by Laurent aptly displays the internal struggle of the protagonist, a beautiful woman who seemingly abhors the comforts and pleasantries of her privileged life. Her skirts fall just above the knee, in spite of the miniskirts being all the rage at the time. Séverine is exquisitely classic in appearance and beauty.
The opening scene of the film shows Séverine and her husband Pierre in a horse drawn carriage. Denueve sports a sinfully red double-breasted coat (pictured above) and it is revealed that first impression of the couple is but a false start, a fantasy of the protagonist who is shown in the next scene in a pale nightgown. Later, Séverine sports a pale tangerine cable knit cardigan buttoned up to the very top. While in the company of her husband Séverine seems cold, childlike and the pale colours suggest a sheltered innocence.
In the scenes where Deneuve ventures about alone she dons sleek trenchcoats, chic sunglasses and fur trimmed accessories that suggest but a hint of sexuality mixed with a more classic femme fatale allure and a minimalism that never overpowers or distracts from the narrative, but rather helps to tell the story.
In the brothel scenes the class difference between Denueve’s character and the other working girls is clearly communicated through Laurent’s costumes for the French starlet so stunning in fit and colour juxtaposed against the non-couture pieces sported by the other actresses.
The beauty in the film is outstanding, Denueve is alabaster skinned with the prefect amount of subtly smudged liner just a hint soft blue shadow and blush that highlights her impeccable cheekbones. Her hair is blown out in perfect voluminous 1960s fashion. The film’s makeup artist, Janine Jarreau did an excellent job of portraying the class level and repression of Denueve’s bourgeois character against the other girls who worked at the brothel, whose makeup was darker and more deliberate in appearance.
Laurent considered Deneuve to be a great muse and friend. Their friendship lasted decades and Laurent designed costumes for 5 more of the French actresses films following Belle De Jour. Deneuve reportedly mused that Laurent designed clothes for women with a double life. “His clothes for daywear help women to enter a world full of strangers,” said Deneuve. “They enable her to go wherever she wants without arousing unwelcome attention, thanks to their somehow masculine quality. However, for the evening, when she may choose her company, he makes her seductive."