In the late ’50s, a handful of film-obsessed French dudes decided that movies in their country were seriously lacking in authenticity and vision, so they took matters into their own hands. They began to write and direct films they felt were more genuine and personal, making sure they were always profoundly engaging and beautifully shot. This was la Nouvelle Vague—or the New Wave.
Of course, these films were engaging because it was groundbreaking cinema in an age when movies were just starting to come into their own as a legitimate art form, rather than being just entertainment. But it also had to do with the casting. Maybe these films were meant to tell the stories of real people, but the women cast in them were often otherworldly beauties, totally deserving of the term muse.
Not only were these women stunning, they were also talented actresses, delivering complex, subtle performances in movies that are now required viewing in any Film 101 class. They also had mad style—the kind people are still mimicking today.
Jeanne Moreau is probably best known as the object of affection at the center of François Truffaut’s Jules & Jim, the story of a romantic triangle set in turn-of-the-century Paris. Although women’s clothing of the era was traditionally very feminine and buttoned up, Moreau’s character, Catherine, looks most breathtaking when wearing slouchy boyfriend sweaters and cuffed pants, much like the menswear-inspired looks of today.
First noticed by Jean-Luc Godard in a soap commercial, Anna Karina must have made an impression, because he later cast her in films such as A Woman Is a Woman and Band of Outsiders—oh, yeah, and he also married her. If you’re curious about Karina’s lasting effect in terms of sartorial inspiration, just do a quick Google search (Anna+Karina+style), and you’ll see story after story gush at great length about her heavy bangs, pillowy lips and sexy cat eyes.
Okay, full disclosure: Jean Seberg was actually born in Iowa, but she made a major splash in Godard’s first film Breathless, playing Patricia, an American girl in Paris who falls for bad boy Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo). With her cropped blonde pixie, chiseled cheekbones and ubiquitous striped shirts, she cemented herself as a style icon whose look is still being copied over 50 years later.
To learn more about the ladies—and men—of the Nouvelle Vague, check out the Criterion Collection’s lovingly restored, special-edition versions of key films from the movement. And to get your French on, shop our Pop-In @Nordstrom: French Fling shop.
[All images courtesy of The Criterion Collection.]