Led by intrepid French auteurs in the mid 50s and 60s, the New Wave movement irrevocably changed the landscape of cinema. This legion of pioneering directors, namely Roger Vadim and Francois Truffaut, rejected established stars of the time, replacing them with ‘real’ bohemian women, often their friends, collaborators and lovers – new faces that challenged conventions and transformed the role of women in film. Fiercely independent, the radiant women of the New Wave inspired a revolution worldwide, inciting an all new and multifaceted – and eternally inspiring – vision of the modern woman.
VERUSCHKA - Blow Up
Before Madonna or Prince, there was Veruschka – the stunning blonde so charismatic she had no need of a surname. Born in East Prussia to a German count and countess, Veruschka’s early life was disrupted by the atrocities of war – her father executed following a failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler, and her family subsequently made homeless. In her late teens, Veruschka studied art in Hamburg before moving to Florence where she was scouted by photographer Ugo Mulas and fast became a globally renowned model, represented in Paris by Eileen Ford of Ford Modeling Agency. Her status as the world’s first supermodel was cemented after a brief, though completely unforgettable, scene in revolutionary filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni’s seminal 1966 film, Blow Up – a film that brilliantly captured the swinging London fashion and art scene, as well as a mind-blowing five minutes worth of Veruschka striking wild fashion poses.
JEANE MOREAU – Jules et Jim
In an unforgettable turn as the object of two suitor’s enduring desire in Francois Truffaut’s melancholy Jules et Jim, French actress, singer, screenwriter and director, Jeane Moreau, so perfectly embodied the spirit of the New Wave. Most prolific throughout the 60s, the enigmatic Moreau, beloved for her naive charm and flawless good looks, started out acting in a theatre troupe before tackling cinema in the 50s – her breakout moment being Jean Cocteau’s La Machine Infernale. After appearing in the controversial film of ‘59, Les Amants (The Lovers), Moreau became known as, ‘The New Bardot’, by the French Media – and was supported as such by the emerging generation of progressive filmmakers in France and beyond including Michelangelo Antonioni, Orson Welles, Luis Bunuel and Elia Kazan.
BRIGITTE BARDOT – And God Created Woman
60s sex-symbol extraordinaire Brigitte Bardot came about as close to physical perfection as possible – in fact, she universally popularised the bikini in her breakout film, 'And God Created Woman'. The actress, model, singer and animal rights activist started out as a ballet dancer, and soon went on to appear in films through the late 50s and 60s, winning hearts – and later critical praise – for her starring role in Jean Luc Godards 63 film, Contempt. Seemingly none were immune to her charms – she recorded a risqué version of ‘Je t'aime’ with a besotted Serge Gainsbourg (but would not let him release it – it was evidence of her affair with Gainsbourg while she was married to another man). Even literary figures were enamored of her: Simone de Beauvoir wrote in ‘59 that Bardot was a "locomotive of women's history", noting that she saw Bardot as being the most liberatedwoman of post-war France.
ELIZABETH TAYLOR - Cleopatra
Elizabeth Taylor, the violet-eyed beauty that lit up the screen for the better part of the 20th Century, became one of the world’s most famous film-stars after starring in National Velvet in 1944 at age 12. Within a matter of years, Taylor transformed into a petite hour-glass vixen, known as much for her wild off-stage antics and love affairs as for her daring, emotionally charged acting style. In the words of her one true (though intermittent) love, Richard Burton, upon first setting eyes on Taylor in 1952, “She was unquestionably gorgeous. I can think of no other word to describe a combination of plentitude, frugality, abundance, tightness. She was lavish. She was a dark, unyielding largesse. She was, in short, too bloody much.” Indeed. And what would 20th Century cinema have done without her.
MARILYN MONROE – Gentleman Prefer Blondes
A bombshell to eclipse all others, the divine Marilyn Monroe was an outrageous beauty that owned the 50s with her compelling blend of innocence and raw sexuality. Her brilliant sweet-meets-sultry platinum blonde shtick proved a killer combination – within a year of working the peroxide to better her modeling career in the late 40s, Monroe had seamlessly shifted industries to become one of the world’s most sought-after actresses. Monroe perfected the ditsy-savvy ingénue role in a manner not seen before – allowing humour and acuity to characters that otherwise would have been conveyed as brainless and two-dimensional sex-bombs. Equipping her character Lorelei Lee in the beloved classic, Gentleman Prefer Blondes, with non-intimidating smarts along with breathtaking beauty, Monroe paved the way for future pin-ups to be more than just a pretty face.