In Jules et Jim (1962), François Truffaut, my favourite French New Wave director, wanted to depict something films never had: showing a woman who, throughout her life, loves two men simultaneously, all her life. And he wanted to do it in a way in which he would keep the film from being typecast into an existing film style. Which he did with exceptional flair: I avoid calling it a love triangle, because there is a true friendship among the three of them, such freshness, simplicity and naturalness in the relationship of Jules and Jim and Catherine, somehow “the ideal image of romantic life, minus the cruelty brought about by the desire of possession that leads to jealousy”, as Jeanne Moreau explained in a comment about the film. You don’t judge Catherine, because as Jim says to Jules, “she is an apparition on this earth, not a woman for a man.” This was pure film-making and the movie’s allure remains unmatched to this day.
As for Catherine, she was a new kind of femme fatale: she is intensely feminine and sexually provocative even when she disguises herself as Thomas, surprising herself too of how she gets away with wearing men’s clothes and a mustache in a scene of shared dandyism. Jeanne Moreau is stunning in her role: “her qualities as an actress and a woman made Catherine real in our eyes, plausible, crazy, abusive, passionate, but above all loveable, in other words, worthy of adoration.” (Francois Truffaut)
Jules et Jim is hardly a film I can call stylish. Catherine’s costumes at the beginning of the film are very simple period costumes. It was the character’s tomboy fashion that became iconic. The French New Wave invented a whole new cinema style, from experimenting with new film form, to costume approach. As Jeanne Moreau said in an interview, “I was at that age where one lives very egocentrically; I saw it as the chance of a lifetime a chance to escape the ‘star’ style… all of a sudden we were filming in the street with very little makeup, costumes you found yourself. No one was telling me anymore ‘you have circles under your eyes, your face is lopsided’, suddenly it was life.” A lot of the clothes Catherine is wearing in the film belonged to Jeanne.
After the war, Catherine’s outfits become more modern. She usually wears a white dress, that slightly reminds me of a couple of dresses from Chloé’s Spring 2012 collection, or a white skirt with boyfriend sweaters.
The film had such an impact that young women fantasized of cutting bangs, wearing a wide headband or a rakish newsboy cap and an oversized pullover or cardigan; they wanted to instill a little of Catherine’s spirit into their lives. There are stripes of every kind in Catherine’s wardrobe: from mariniere tops to a single stripe detail around the neckline or sleeve edges of a sweater. There are also checks and skirt pants and preppy looks, but what I am the most interested in is her take on the late ’20s-early 30s style: she always wears boyfriend sweaters so casually over a floppy dress or pleated skirt, paired with either t-strap character shoes, espadrilles or midcalf boots. It’s so effortless, but let’s not forget that the dandy woman loves showing off her most hidden feminine side. It’s the male/female puzzle that so much fascinated in those days as it does today.