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.