20 French New Wave Style Icons

Design Lists

French New Wave cinema was revolutionary, romantic, violent, kooky and above all, stylish. The genre, which was a generalization applied to a group of French filmmakers in the 50s and 60s known for their iconoclasm and experimental style, lent itself to fashion statements. It comes as no surprise, then, that designers have recently drawn inspiration from the era in various fashion campaigns (see Nicole Kidman for Jimmy Choo or Catherine Deneuve for Louis Vuitton) to book trailers (lookin’ at you, BJ Novak).

This resurgence of the genre had us thinking about the stars of La Nouvelle Vague and their stylish ways. Below is a list of our 20 favorite French New Wave film icons.

20. Jean-Paul Belmondo

Movies: Á bout de soufflé, Pierrot le Fou, Une femme est une femme
Style: Tipped fedora, slim-cut trousers, ever-present cigarette dangling from his mouth

With his laid-back attitude and carefully chosen accessories, Jean-Paul Belmondo was the epitome of the French New Wave antihero. Never the knight-in-shining-armor, Belmondo was most likely to be cast as a cop-killer or the pursuer of his best friend’s girl. His charm made him lovable nonetheless.

19. Brigitte Bardot

Movies: Le mépris, ¡Viva Maria!, La bride sur le cou
Style: Cat-eye makeup, bikinis, bustling circle skirts

The epitome of French beauty, Brigitte Bardot has had a tumultuous life that has often been reflected in her movie choices. Her full, blonde hair, voluminous lips, cat-eye makeup and habit of being seen in bikinis (or nothing at all) cemented her status as a sex symbol to this day.

18. Jean-Pierre Léaud

Movies: Les quatre cents coups, Masculin Féminin, La Chinoise
Style: Deep side part hair, tailored blazer, turtleneck sweaters

New Wave’s poster child got his start at the tender age of 14 with Truffaut’s debut 400 Blows. He went on to play the archetypical New Wave man, constantly searching for beauty and philosophical fulfillment while looking classically handsome doing it.

17. Jeanne Moreau

Movies: Jules et Jim, Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud, La Baie des anges
Style: elaborate dresses, men’s trousers, killer eyebrows

As Catherine in Jules et Jim, Moreau had to play a woman captivating enough to come between two best friends while simultaneously keeping them both hopelessly in love with her. Her striking looks and courageous style made her one of the most successful actresses of the New Wave era.

16. Jean-Claude Brialy

Movies: Une femme est une femme, Le genou de Claire, La Mariée était en noir
Style: blue suits and shirts, scarves, gentleman’s swagger

More of the striking leading man than the lovable scoundrel, Jean-Claude Brialy played it straight against flightier characters while maintaining a handsome charm that left the viewer sure that ending up with Brialy in the end was the right choice. Bonus points for the awesome beard in Le genou de Claire.

15. Marie France Pisier

Movies: Antoine et Colette, Celine et Julie vont en bateau, Baiser voles
Style: shiny finger waves, fantastic hats, high-low skirts

Marie France Pisier was not only an important actress in the French New Wave era, but she also participated in screenwriting. Piseir embodied the progressive notion that women could have intelligence within their elegance.

14. Oskar Werner

Movies: Jules et Jim, Fahrenheit 451
Style: messy blond hair, shawl-collar cardigan, leather newsboy cap

While his film career was decidedly short, it left a large mark in the film industry. As Jules in Jules et Jim he managed to pull the heartstrings in all directions as a slight misogynist but also a romantic hopelessly devoted to an irresistible woman. With disheveled hair and Austrian chateau style, he looked good accomplishing the difficult acting task.

13. Bulle Ogier

Movies: L’amour fou, Celine et Julie vont en bateau, Le navire Night
Style: bleach blonde hair, all black ensembles, a snake

Bulle Ogier actually worked in Coco Chanel’s house before she became a New Wave icon. It’s no surprise that the actress, who still gets steady work, picked up a thing or two about the no-fail all black ensemble. However, she wasn’t afraid to get a bit eclectic at times—for instance sporting tribal face paint an a snake in 1972’s La vallée.

12. Sami Frey

Movies: Bande á part, Manon 70
Style: polo shirt, wide-brim hat, Brigitte Bardot on arm

In the beginning, Sami Frey was more famous for his scandalous love affair with La Vérité co-star Brigitte Bardot than for his film work. But he later went on to be a part of some of France’s great cinema and theatre. In Godard’s Bande á part Frey charmed with his dark features peering from under his hat.

11. Anna Karina

Movies: Une femme est une femme, Pierrot le fou, Bande á part
Style: straight-across bangs, the color red, flat shoes

Godard’s muse, lover, and inspiration for Bardot’s dark wig in Le mépris, Anna Karina is essential in any list of New Wave stars. Her girlish beauty and charm was hypnotizing on screen and her she somehow had the power to make playing a stripper seem innocent. Her dark hair and blue eyes especially popped when she was dressed in her signature bright red.

10. Alain Delon

Movies: Le Samurai, Nouvelle Vague, L’Eclisse
Style: Trench coat, thick framed glasses, French cut suit

Considered a French James Dean, Alain Delon had the “cool” aesthetic down pat. His smile was so charming that it was written into two death scenes specifically for him. His style is so iconic that to this day his name graces a plethora of products including watches and cigarettes.

9. Stéphane Audran

Movies: Les Bonnes Femmes, Le Boucher, Les Biches
Style: soft bangs, polka-dots, dark pink lip gloss

Another New Wave star that happened to be married to one of its directors (this time it’s Chabrol), Stéphane Audran had the striking looks of a mature seductress in contrast to Karina’s doll-faced innocence. No one made putting lipstick on sexy like she did in Les Biches.

8. Anouk Aimee

Movies: Lola, Un homme et une femme, La dolce vita
Style: Pearls, big dark hair, black lace bustier

Though she was thoroughly French, Anouk Aimee had an exotic elegance that also made her an Italian cinema star in the heyday of Fellini. Often portraying a femme fatale, Anouk Aimee oozed a dangerous sex appeal that gave her characters power that other actresses couldn’t touch.

7. Charles Aznavour

Movies: Tirez sur le pianiste, Les vierges, Le Rat d’Amérique
Style: shearing collar motorcycle jacket, tuxedos

Better known for his composing and music, Charles Aznavour was really only a part-time actor, but if style and music don’t go hand-in-hand, I don’t know what does. It wasn’t just his ability to tickle the ivories that attracted Truffaut to cast him as troubled Charlie in Tirez sur le pianiste—his effortless charm made him a natural for a difficult part.

6. Anne Wiazemsky

Movies: Week End, La Chinoise, Lotte in Italia
Style: straight auburn hair, Mao cap, solid sweaters

German-born Wiazemsky’s large eyes were hypnotizing on screen. As Godard’s post-Karina muse and wife, she had a darker style that went with his more political works. Her style and beauty were effortless, possibly due to her royal bloodline.

5. Jean Yanne

Movies: Le boucher, Week End, Tout le monde il est beau, tout le monde il est gentil
Style: Button-down shirt partially unbuttoned, flower on jacket lapel, Alfa Romeo

Jean Yanne’s surly façade was perfect for roles such as a man plotting to kill his in-laws or a working-class butcher. However, his adherence to French style staples made him the ideal leading man for some of the biggest New Wave directors.

4. Catherine Deneuve

Movies: La Sirene du Mississippi, Un Flic, Belle du Jour
Style: Yves Saint Laurent everything, blonde chignon, black sunglasses

Deneuve is a timeless beauty that exudes class. Her soft eyes and blonde hair gave her a look of innocence even when playing a hooker-by-day with a penchant for black rubber coats. Deneuve cemented herself as a style icon as the muse of Yves St. Laurent.

3. Marie Dubois

Movies: Tirez sur le pianiste, Jules et Jim, Le voleur
Style: toussled hair, Edwardian blouses, “steam engine” cigarette

A free-spirited look that contrasted against the more regal nature of actresses like Deneuve and Moreau, Marie Dubois had a smile that lit up the screen. Her more youthful style made her a natural for period pieces like Jules et Jim and a favorite of directors like Truffaut.

2. Henri Serre

Movies: Jules et Jim, Les Combat dans L’ile, Le Feu follet
Style: Moustache, all-black ensembles, pinstripes

Tall, dark and handsome, Henri Serre had the whole French-guy-look down pat. Even though he was discovered as a comedy act, he broke our hearts in Jules et Jim as the man stuck between too many true loves. His easygoing style often left him cast as the ill-fated nice guy.

1. Jean Seberg

Movies: Á bout de soufflé, Bonjour Tristesse
Style: pixie cut, striped shirts, cigarette pants

It may be strange, but one of the most iconic and stylish women of the French New Wave movement was an American girl. Jean Seberg’s striking beauty and ability to rock short hair left girls pining to run off to Paris to smoke Chesterfields and wear Dior dresses.

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