If she hadn’t ended up on the cover of Elle magazine, she might have continued to study music and ballet at the Conservatoire in Paris. But she became an actress and, with the film Et Dieu… créa la femme (And God Created Woman, 1956), the BB phenomenon took off. “It was post-war France: quiet, sleepy and conformist. She shook it all up”, said writer Henry-Jean Servat about his friend, Brigitte Bardot. She had already stirred up something in the French society when she appeared on the Elle cover: she was barely 16 and “she represented something that had never had its place before in society or in fashion: that of the jeune fille“, remembers French fashion historian Nicole Parrot.
The perfection of a button-front shirt dress, a versatile classic that will never go out of style.
Brigitte Bardot looked like a goddess and had such a physical presence, the magnificent posture of a dancer. She was no studio-manufactured star, she lived the way she pleased, throwing conventions away, and she invented a fashion all of her own: it was this freedom that made her so provocative. Much like Brigitte in real life, Juliette, her character in And God Created Woman, directed by her husband at the time, Roger Vadim, is an uninhibited young woman, exuding spontaneity and insouciant sensuality, who loves freedom and independence and who scandalizes the small fishing village of Saint Tropez with her unconscious exhibitionism – “the child-woman, or more precisely, the infant-woman”, François Truffaut would name Bardot’s character.
With long, golden, artfully tousled hair (she invented the choucroute, the ruffled and back-combed hair style, which became a trend in the 1960s and is still imitated today –
the secret is in the expert build-up of layers, they say), feline eyes with black eyeliner and heavy mascara and sulky lips emphasized by a slightly darker pencil, wearing clothes that reflected her character, seemingly innocent, yet extraordinary sexy, the myth of Brigitte Bardot was born – Bardot was in many ways playing herself.
Designed by French fashion designer Pierre Balmain, whose clothes were of a perfect simplicity, slender, elegant lines, yet representing the “architecture of movement,” Juliette’s clothes – linen shirt-dresses, boat necks, and close-to-body pencil skirts – perfectly embody her personality and show off her silhouette, as everything is body-conscious or unbuttoned, but still leaving enough to the imagination.
With her white lace wedding dress, Juliette wears flats. Just as Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot championed flats, but on her feet ballet shoes seemed almost transgressive. Juliette is also seen in jeans and t-shirt, walking barefoot, as she often does in the Mediterranean sun, just as Brigitte would do in real life, causing a sensation when she walked in her bare feet in a restaurant in Paris. I love how Juliete uses clothes to express her libertine self. On the saturated background of the seaside village, painted in bright primary colours, she feels as free as the proximity of the sea can make you feel. “She has the courage to do what she likes when she likes,” one of the male characters describes her.
A pencil skirt has more power of attraction than any mini skirt.
When the film opened in France to harsh criticism, François Truffaut was very sympathetic towards it: “I thank Vadim for the way he has directed his young wife in such a way that she repeats before the camera the ordinary gestures of everyday life, like playing with her sandal, or making love in the afternoon, less ordinary, maybe, but just as real. Instead of imitating other films, Vadim wanted to forget the cinema to copy life, to achieve true intimacy on the screen, and, with the exception of two or three less convincing scenes, he has perfectly achieved his goal.”
Suggestively dressed in black, prior to a turning-point in plot.
Again in a shirt dress. Unbuttoned skirt, rolled-up sleeves.
The scene in which she dances barefoot and dishevelled, hair loose, skin glowing with sweat, waist-high unbuttoned skirt to the sound of carioca, became an instant and defining moment in the history of cinema. And God Created Woman was a star vehicle and Brigitte Bardot changed what was deemed acceptable to portray on film. It was only the 1950s and she shocked and enchanted the whole world, embodying a new era breaking away from the stifling conventions of the older generations. “It’s a film that belongs to this generation,” Truffaut further commented, “simultaneously amoral (rejecting the current moral system but proposing no other) and puritanical (conscious by its amorality and disturbed by it).” In Et Dieu…créa la femme, and in real life, Brigitte Bardot exhibited an almost fanatical refusal to be like everybody else.
photos: screen stills from the film And God Created Woman
Editorial sources: A Matter of Style: Intimate Portraits of 10 Women Who Changed Fashion; The Films in My Life, by François Truffaut