Style in Film: Bonjour Tristesse

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I think I prefer this little black dress to the one worn by Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. Audrey’s dress, made by Edith Head after a Givenchy sketch, was chic and girly, this one is glamorous. In my opinion, it should be as iconic as that one, at least. It’s perfect. Seeing it next to a man’s tuxedo is a proof of its flawlessness: its sophistication matches the most elegant piece in the men’s wardrobe. And we all know that you can hardly beat that kind of elegance. The interesting thing is that Jean Seberg’s dress was designed by Hubert de Givenchy himself. He was the designer for Bonjour Tristesse and I think he was in charge with the more formal part of the wardrobe in the movie, whereas Hope Bryce coordinated the rest of the costumes.

In Otto Preminger’s golden-age film, Bonjour Tristesse (1958), based on Françoise Sagan’s book by the same name, Jean Seberg plays Cécile, the amoral teenage daughter of rich playboy Raymond (David Niven). They are vacationing on the French Riviera and their free-going, pleasure-seeking existence is threatened by her father’s sudden plan to marry his late wife’s best friend, Anne (memorably played by Deborah Kerr). Cécile plans to drive Anne away, but the plot takes an unexpected turn. The masterful use of colour affords a striking contrast between the sun-drenched hues of summer in the South of France and the present, a Paris shot in a chilly black and white – the idyllic holiday compared to the dark reality of the consequences of their vacation.

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Shirts already play such an important role in my wardrobe, but watching the film again prompts me to want to make the up-coming summer the summer of shirts. Cécile wears shirts stolen from her dad’s wardrobe and tied at the waist and finished with the sleeves turned up just so. She has a passion for denim shirts. She pairs them with colourful one-piece bathing suits, bare feet and a short hair cut, so carefree, so coastal living, so French chic. And yes, the photo above inspires me to wear a denim shirt with a strapless dress.

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I took the shot above especially for the slit in the neckline. Tiny details that transform even the simplest designs.

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Jean Seberg’s summer wardrobe in Bonjour Tristesse has inspired so many summer vacations and continues to be celebrated. Breton tops, linen shift dresses, boat-neck tops, cropped trousers, shorts slit on the side, white ballerina shoes and flat sandals, and baskets for handbags long before Jane Birkin made her debut in La Piscine (1969). There’s an evening gown too, a floral printed white dress with full skirt, clearly another creation of Givenchy’s. It’s beautiful!

The clothes dress up Cécile’s character only too well: fresh and striking. Her “wide-open blue eyes” have “a glint of boyish malice” and “when Jean Seberg is on screen you can’t look at anything else. Her every movement is graceful, each glance is precise. The shape of her head, her silhouette, her walk, everything is perfect; this kind of sex appeal hasn’t been seen on the screen.” (quotes by François Truffaut)

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David Niven’s and Deborah Kerr’s clothes have their influence too: shirts again and what I love the most in Deborah’s wardrobe is the sack dress with large front pockets and picnic style white bag (image above). It’s an immaculate look. So Givenchy.

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I hope this post leaves you inspired for the weekend. Have a good one!

photos: stills captured by me from this DVD edition of Bonjour Tristesse / credit: Wheel Productions


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