Belle de Jour marked the beginning of a long-standing relationship, a unique partnership between Catherine Deneuve and Yves Saint Laurent and fixed her image for many years to come as the epitome of chic burgeoise. With Luis Buñuel’s help and under his direction, Saint Laurent managed to convince her not to wear too short skirts in the movie in a time when mini-skirts were “in fashion”, so that the film would never become outdated and grounded to a certain historical moment.
The style in this movie has survived through generations, a quality of all Yves Saint Laurent’s designs, noted for their ‘classic modernity’. Catherine Deneuve has always evoked an eternal femininity through the timelessness of her classic looks and clothes and the designer played a great role in this from that moment on.
In Belle de Jour (1967) she is Séverine, an upper-middle-class wife who spends her afternoons as a prostitute in a luxurious Parisian brothel. Belle de Jour is something very rare in the world of cinema. As Jean-Claude Carriere, the screenwriter, said, for the first time in the history of cinema Luis Buñuel dealt in a perfectly clear and obvious way with female erotic fantasies, something no one else had attempted before. But it was done in the most discreet possible way, nothing explicit is revealed in the movie, as Buñuel wanted to see Séverine covered with clothes. He does not care for her nakedness, but for the clothes that cover it, and for her perfectly polished appearance. The imagination defies reality.
And Yves Saint Laurent did an excellent job. He worked very well with the director, understanding that garments must be sewn on the character. Figure-hugging, tailored, minimalist and cut just above the knee, including an element of sexual display, but a controlled and class-coded one, which protected the heroine. Buñuel watched clothes very closely and knew exactly what he wanted to express through them. In their ultra-sophistication, the clothes brought an almost surrealist aspect to the film, a typical Buñuel element.
In the ski resort Séverine is wearing a beautiful cream sweater with asymmetrical zips. A very interesting shorter sleeve length, above the wrist, leaving room to show the white cuffs of the garment underneath.
Under the sumptuous leather coat she is wearing a sleeveless, slightly flared dress, in the same brown colour. The simplicity of this dress is exceptional.
In a tennis attire.
The clean, perfectly cut military style coat. Almost all of Séverine’s clothes are military inspired, referring to the rigorous way she lives her life as a bourgeois. The grey wool coat she wears when she steps into the brothel for the first time is double-breasted, ventless, with wide-spread collar, epaulettes and just above the wrist sleeves. Black wool high hat, black gloves and tote, black Roger Vivier shoes.
A close-up of the accessories and the impeccable tailoring of the coat.
The safari dress. Sand tone, patch pockets, chain gold belt, fly front zip, epaulettes, shirt cuffs. In the sixties Yves Saint Laurent marked a turning point in the safari style with his iconic jacket.
Black patent trench coat with wool sleeves and very thin belt. A coat she’s wearing when she goes back to the brothel, a sign that she wants to continue with her double life. Tortoiseshell rimmed sunglasses.
The Roger Vivier buckled Pilgrim pumps may be legendary, but these suede shoes with scalloped edge truly stand the test of time.
The last outfit in the movie is this little black dress with contrasting white silk French cuffs and collar and black belt. Schoolgirl-like, incredibly suggestive for that reproachful last scene of the film.
Catherine Deneuve had all the qualities for the role: young, beautiful, with an aura of mystery emanating from her looks that she’s always managed to keep, and a kind of surface coldness; she could perfectly belong to that social class. And Belle de Jour is the most representative example of film as an art form.
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images: stills from ‘Belle de Jour’, captured by me/ production credits
sources for this article: the special features on the ‘Belle de Jour’ dvd and the booklet “Catherine Deneuve: from ice maiden to living divinity” included; the dvd is part of the Luis Buñuel Collection.