Happy birthday, Brigitte Bardot
The French cinema star whose sexy, liberated style outraged and inspired in equal measure is about to turn 75. Agnès Poirier finds out how the pinup girl became an existentialist icon.
The Guardian, Tuesday 22 September 2009
After the internation uproar and scandal provoked by the 1956 film And God Created Woman, Brigitte Bardot said she wished she had never been born. Now, as Bardot – "the French export as important as Renault cars" according to Charles de Gaulle – turns 75 on Monday, exhibitions at national museums and private galleries, alongside tributes at fashion weeks in Paris, London and New York, are throwing the spotlight back on to one of the last living icons of the 20th century.
When she retired in 1973, aged just 39 but with more than 50 films under her belt, Bardot withdrew to her beloved Madrague, her retreat in St Tropez where she could dedicate herself to animals and a barefoot Mediterranean life. She would only leave her home to protest about animal rights and make some ill-advised comments about immigration. She was once linked to Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front but has never been a member or even a sympathiser. In fact, to this day, she has never stopped being herself: plain-speaking and natural. She has never resorted to any cosmetic surgery, whereas so many of her contemporaries including Sophia Loren, who also turns 75 this week, put their hopes of immortal beauty in the
surgeon's knife. Bardot has retained her authenticity. Her story is that of a refusal not only of hypocrisy and moral grudges, but also of caution, calculation and premeditation.
When she burst on to the public stage in the early 1950s, France and the world weren't prepared for her. "Women of my generation all remember her first cover of Elle in 1950," remembers French fashion historian Nicole Parrot. Bardot was barely 16. "She had short hazelnut hair and the magnificent posture of a dancer. She represented something that had never had its place before in society or in fashion: that of the jeune fille."
Before Bardot, teenagers were hidden from the public eye and from couture. Now here she was, rid of childhood's roundness, but not quite yet a woman. "On one side there were girls dressed by their mothers in blue navy skirts that they had already outgrown, with clumsy manners and chubby cheeks, and on the other side, married women. Nothing in between," continues Parrot. Nor were there magazines for teenagers or fashion for the jeunes filles. "Bardot's eruption changed all this. She created a fashion all of her own, which spread like gunpowder. And now, women across the world dress like jeune filles as long as they can!" Nabokov's Lolita was published five years later.
When Bardot became a woman, the world went mad. At 18, she married Roger Vadim, the film director who would four years later cast her as the amoral Juliete in And God Created Woman (above). In the years that saw James Dean and Elvis Presley arrive on the world scene…Read more