The Most Influential French New Wave Films in Fashion

In an industry like fashion which is always looking for the next new look, we've noticed there's at least one source of inspiration that gets revisited by designers time and time again--the French New Wave. Echoes of the film movement from the late 1950s and 60s are felt far beyond the reach of filmmaking, and fashion draws from its catalog of films endlessly. Most recently, Jason Wu cited the New Wave (or Nouvelle Vague) as inspiration for his spring collection for Target. He told the Today Show that he was inspired by the "mischievious" and "nonchalant" attitude of the films, and we think his descriptors hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, the reference was lost on Ann Curry, who said she had never heard of New Wave until now. Well, consider this your tutorial, Curry! The French New Wave is well-known for its bold style and experimental filming techniques, both visual and narrative. The movement was influenced by the Hollywood auteurs of the time (John Ford, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock) and Italian Neorealism, a film movement concerned with the plight of the working class. This realist approach to storytelling didn't have much concern with fashion proper, and as a result many films from the French New Wave were the basic styles of the time. So what is the difference between being inspired by the films compared to being inspired by 60s fashion, and why are designers so crazy about it in the first place? As one can gather from Wu's descriptions, it has a lot to do with intangibles. The influence from the New Wave on fashion arguably has as much to do with an overall attitude--the je ne sais quoi of the icons of the era--as it does with any of the actual clothes worn in the films. Jean Seberg's New York Herald Tribune shirt and cropped slim black pants in Breathless (1960) weren't groudbreaking, yet the look is still one of the most recognizable in film history. It's not about what was worn in the films, but who wore it and how.
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In an industry like fashion which is always looking for the next new look, we've noticed there's at least one source of inspiration that gets revisited by designers time and time again--the French New Wave. Echoes of the film movement from the late 1950s and 60s are felt far beyond the reach of filmmaking, and fashion draws from its catalog of films endlessly. Most recently, Jason Wu cited the New Wave (or Nouvelle Vague) as inspiration for his spring collection for Target. He told the Today Show that he was inspired by the "mischievious" and "nonchalant" attitude of the films, and we think his descriptors hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, the reference was lost on Ann Curry, who said she had never heard of New Wave until now. Well, consider this your tutorial, Curry! The French New Wave is well-known for its bold style and experimental filming techniques, both visual and narrative. The movement was influenced by the Hollywood auteurs of the time (John Ford, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock) and Italian Neorealism, a film movement concerned with the plight of the working class. This realist approach to storytelling didn't have much concern with fashion proper, and as a result many films from the French New Wave were the basic styles of the time. So what is the difference between being inspired by the films compared to being inspired by 60s fashion, and why are designers so crazy about it in the first place? As one can gather from Wu's descriptions, it has a lot to do with intangibles. The influence from the New Wave on fashion arguably has as much to do with an overall attitude--the je ne sais quoi of the icons of the era--as it does with any of the actual clothes worn in the films. Jean Seberg's New York Herald Tribune shirt and cropped slim black pants in Breathless (1960) weren't groudbreaking, yet the look is still one of the most recognizable in film history. It's not about what was worn in the films, but who wore it and how.

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In an industry like fashion which is always looking for the next new look, we've noticed there's at least one source of inspiration that gets revisited by designers time and time again--the French New Wave. Echoes of the film movement from the late 1950s and 60s are felt far beyond the reach of filmmaking, and fashion draws from its catalog of films endlessly. Most recently, Jason Wu cited the New Wave (or Nouvelle Vague) as inspiration for his spring collection for Target. He told the Today Show that he was inspired by the "mischievious" and "nonchalant" attitude of the films, and we think his descriptors hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, the reference was lost on Ann Curry, who said she had never heard of New Wave until now. Well, consider this your tutorial, Curry!

The French New Wave is well-known for its bold style and experimental filming techniques, both visual and narrative. The movement was influenced by the Hollywood auteurs of the time (John Ford, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock) and Italian Neorealism, a film movement concerned with the plight of the working class. This realist approach to storytelling didn't have much concern with fashion proper, and as a result many films from the French New Wave were the basic styles of the time. So what is the difference between being inspired by the films compared to being inspired by 60s fashion, and why are designers so crazy about it in the first place? As one can gather from Wu's descriptions, it has a lot to do with intangibles. The influence from the New Wave on fashion arguably has as much to do with an overall attitude--the je ne sais quoi of the icons of the era--as it does with any of the actual clothes worn in the films. Jean Seberg's New York Herald Tribune shirt and cropped slim black pants in Breathless (1960) weren't groudbreaking, yet the look is still one of the most recognizable in film history. It's not about what was worn in the films, but who wore it and how.

Political, sexually charged and sometimes violent, the influence of the controversial French New Wave has endured for over 50 years, and we know fashion will continue looking to it for guidance. And in light of Jason Wu's recent inspiration, we're taking a look at some of fashion's most referenced French New Wave films and their leading ladies.

We hope you're paying attention, Ann Curry.

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Anna Karina was the postergirl of the French New Wave (and married to Jean Luc Godard, natch), and as much as her films are used for reference, what really endures is the quality of her presence onscreen. Marco Zanini, creative director of Rochas, uses her frequently as a reference in his collections, and cites Vivre sa vie (1962) as one of his favorite films. In the film, Karina (Nana) leaves her family to become an actress only to fall into a life of prostitution, and (spoiler ahead) in typical New Wave fatalism, she is faced with a sad and abrupt end. We think designers might dig the dark, tragic romance of it all.

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François Truffaut's Jules et Jim (1962) is a tale of the classic ménage à trois. Jules, Jim, and Catherine are followed through 20 years of friendship and romance, and while the film is not in a contemporary setting like other New Wave films (taking place in the early 20th century), it is still considered by many the quintessential film of the movement. We imagine Catherine's whimsical and unpredictable character, played by Jeanne Moreau, would be the perfect muse. The Rodarte sisters, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, list Jules et Jim as one of their all time favorites.

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The blond hair, those cat eyes, the relentless seduction and of course, how do we put this... dat ass (the posterior was a huge part of the film, believe us). On the other end of the French New Wave gamine spectrum, we have Brigitte Bardot in Godard's Contempt (1963). Oozing with sexuality, style, and, well, contempt, Bardot's look from the film is almost the perfect fashion reference point. Case in point, Lara Stone's icy blond looks have been played up to resemble Bardot ad nauseum, though it is an inspired comparison. And good luck sporting teased blond hair and a headband without getting a few comparisons to Brigitte.

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Finally, Jean Seberg--matriarch of breton stripes (they just never go out of style)--is the seminal lead in Breathless (1960), a crime romance and another film by Jean-Luc Godard. In June 2010, when the film was restored and re-released for the 50th anniversary, the film-savvy sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy (they're big New Wave fans, can you tell?) of Rodarte designed a small collection of t-shirts inspired by the film. And let's not forget that Seberg's closely-cropped hair has a place in the pixie-cut pantheon with Mia Farrow from Rosemary's Baby.