“Belle de Jour” is a 1967 film directed by Luis Buñuel starring Catherine Deneuve (it’s probably her most famous film), Jean Sorel and Pierre Clémenti. The cast also includes Michel Piccoli, Geneviève Page, Macha Méril.
The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name written by Joseph Kessel and it’s about a young, wealthy woman named Séverine, who is unable to share intimacy with her husband Pierre (played by Jean Sorel) and that begins working as a high class prostitute in a brothel, without Pierre knowing. Belle de Jour is the pseudonym she uses, referred to the fact that she only works during daytime (belle de nuit is a nice way to call prostitutes, in France).
Prostituting herself, Séverine fulfills her sexual fantasies, which involve domination and masochism, probably caused by some bad childhood experiences. All this allows her to have sex with her husband. Problems begin when one of his clients, a delinquent named Marcel (played by Pierre Clémenti) becomes possessive and threatens her to tell her husband the truth.
While the plot of the film is controversial (I find it misogynist, for the record), its wardrobe department isn’t at all.
Deneuve’s clothes and accessories are fantastic, absolutely iconic and “Belle de Jour” is a film to watch if you like fashion. Roger Vivier “Pilgrim” shoes (named this way because they resemble the shoes worn by the pilgrims who arrived in America in the XVII century) were rebaptised “Belle de Jour” to pay homage to the film that make them so recognizable. They’re still the most famous item from the French house.
Deneuve’s wardrobe was designed by Yves Saint Laurent. The actress and the designer established a good relationship that last until Saint Laurent’s death, in 2008. I guess the success of “Belle de Jour” created a special bond between them. When the film was released they were both young and promising.
The peculiarity of Deneuve’s style in this film is that is absolutely timeless. All her clothes could be easily worn today. She wears a lot of neutral colors. No patterns, only plain colors. She wears her hair loose or gathered in a chic updo.
The cut of her clothes is clean, her coats and jackets look like military garments, reflecting her rigorous life and, I think, the fact that she’s kind of mentally imprisoned. Her last outfit is kind of different from all the others of the film. Deneuve/Séverine wears a super chic black dress with contrasting white collar and cuffs that looks like the uniform of a college uniform, which is particularly interesting, due to the final of the story.
Just a thought about the plot of “Belle de Jour”. It’s considered an exploration of female desire but I think it’s rather an exploration of many men’s idea of female desire. What if a woman wrote a novel and a woman directed a film about men’s sexual desires, and “accidentally” resembled most of all women’s fantasies? Séverine is a disturbed woman who surely has been harassed as a child so I wouldn’t describe her desires as female fantasies. The way the film ends is also upsetting, for me.
“Belle de Jour” is for sure a film to watch for its refined aesthetics. I mean, if a fashion designer (and we’re talking about one of the most important designers of the XX century) curates the wardrobe of the protagonist of a film and you love fashion, you must watch that film. It’s interesting that a film about a prostitute is so famous for the main character’s impeccable wardrobe.
In 2007 Garbage released the song “Tell Me Where It Hurts” and in the video of the song, directed by Sophie Muller, Shirley Manson channeled her inner Séverine and looked fabulous. You can see it in one of my posts dedicated to stylish music videos.
This post is part of the series Fashion is a Film.