In the groundbreaking 1967 film Belle de Jour, 24-year-old Catherine Deneuve wanders the streets (and brothels) of Paris in, among other outfits, a tightly-cinched black vinyl trenchcoat with knit sleeves and an austere black dress with satin cuffs and an elaborate collar.
The clothes were all made by Yves Saint Laurent, who was only 31 at the time and a relative newcomer to the French fashion industry. But the film catapulted the young designer to the top echelons of the Parisian style set, ensuring the Yves Saint Laurent 1967 Rive Gauche collection sold out in days. Roger Vivier, who designed the shoes for the collection, named his court shoes Belle de Jour in honour of Deneuve, a style which is still available to buy today.
They were beautiful pieces and they deserved the cult status they quickly attained. But the extraordinary features of a melancholic young Deneuve certainly helped fan the flames of Saint Laurent’s success, so it is entirely fitting that 54 years later the actress is once again starring in a campaign for the brand.
This week, black-and-white shots were released showing Deneuve in another belted black trench coat designed by Saint Laurent, but this time by the current creative director Anthony Vaccarello. With her trademark blonde shoulder-length bob still in place, the actress looks remarkably similar to how she did in the Sixties and even holds what looks like a metallic vape – a nod no doubt to the chain-smoking roles she took on half a century ago.
Séverine Serizy was far from the only Deneuve character Saint Laurent dressed. Over the years the designer oversaw her costumes in several films, including La Sirène du Mississipi (the sultry plunging black YSL dress is a thing of beauty), La Chamade, Liza and The Hunger (her funeral outfit in particular is unforgettable).
Thanks to these collaborations, the actress and the designer developed an intimate relationship, and over the years Deneuve amassed so many YSL outfits that she made nearly £1 million when she decided to sell them at auction at Christie’s in Paris in 2019. Some of the pieces were important enough to be bought by the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Morocco and displayed in the main collection.
But while her friendship with Saint Laurent himself was unique, the grande dame of French cinema was regularly courted by other fashion brands, often attending Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton shows, and appearing regularly on the arm of the most feted designers in Paris, including Karl Lagerfeld. And when she turned 70 in 2013, the invitations continued to flood in: last year Deneuve helped design a collection in collaboration with the French contemporary label A.P.C.
Yes, she is one of the most feted beauties of the last hundred years, but Deneuve’s exalted position in Parisian society is also testament to the fact that France has traditionally had a far less ageist approach to beauty than the US and UK. Our culture has thankfully started to evolve in the last few years but when I moved to Paris over a decade ago, I remember noticing just how revered older women like Deneuve were. In English-speaking countries, by contrast, actresses over 45 were often considered talented, but no longer sexy in the conventional sense.
But in true French style, Deneuve has continued to model for brands well into her 60s and 70s and the only moment when her position as a fashion darling appeared to wobble was when she took what was seen as an unfashionable stance against #MeToo. In 2018, she drew the ire of feminists when she signed an open letter published in Le Monde offering an alternative perspective of the #MeToo campaign by claiming it was leading to rampant censorship and a wave of puritanical behaviour.
Although a hundred women signed it, it quickly became known as the Deneuve letter and six months later the actress publicly apologised, saying that while she stood by the sentiment, she wanted to acknowledge the female victims of sexual assault who were shocked and hurt by it, and by some of the remarks subsequently made by fellow signees.
The fashion industry has been quick to show its support for both #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, but throughout this controversy it remained largely loyal to Deneuve: in 2018, Roger Vivier even invited her to appear in their campaign video, and later that year she sat on the front row of a number of fashion week shows.
Correctly, as while I am loathe to type the overused word 'iconic' that is exactly what Catherine Deneuve is and my only wish is that we could see more of her. To date, Saint Laurent has only released two images and a sultry black and white video, but I hope this is a sign of many more collaborations to come between the brand and the actress still known as the most beautiful woman in France.