My favourite French blonde will always be Brigitte Bardot, but I will never not have time for Catherine Deneuve — for her films as much as her flawlessly elegant style. She is the very personification of Parisienne chic. While both stars were born in Paris, Brigitte eventually gravitated to her spirit abode by the Southern French seaside, more at home barefoot on the sands of Saint Tropez than in heels on the storied streets of Saint Germain … which is Catherine’s happy place and stomping ground, and where you’ll sometimes see her strolling around, wrapped in a trench-coat, scarf twirled on, large sunglasses on, hair immaculately set.
Catherine, who just celebrated her 74th birthday. is the ultimate French woman we all admired long before the ‘French Women’ genre of how-to books hit the shelves. She has that whole ice-queen-blonde thing going on, her sang-froid and composure as smooth and cool as Hermès silk. But here’s the real allure: you know that her demure demeanour belies a fierce strength of self and passionate personality. In the movie that made her famous, Belle de Jour of 1967, she plays Séverine, a bored bourgeois housewife who begins working afternoon shift as a prostitute in order to live out secret fantasies. Off-screen Catherine is probably not quite the icy vixen that Séverine is, as she seems that much more in control of herself. As director François Truffaut, who worked with Catherine in The Last Metro, noted, there was ‘something that was ready to give but also refused to unbutton.’ Which is the paradox of the Parisienne (as we know understand her from all those books), that fabled femme who is subtly seductive, her trench-coat firmly belted even if there’s probably some pretty stunning silk lingerie underneath.
To me, Catherine is a girl’s girl. Sure, she’s had a succession of glamorous, famous boyfriends and husbands but, as she has said, she’s not the kind of ‘dangerous woman’ to take a man away from someone. This, after all, is the femme who also said ‘Men are good, but women are magic.’ She’s the best friend you wish you had, the one you want to hang around bars with, listening to her tell jokes and juicy stories in that gorgeous gravelly voice of hers. Read or watch her interviews, and you soon sense that the most interesting character Catherine has played is herself. Especially as she ages. I think women love Catherine so much, and moreso with time, because she has aged so self-assuredly, and so become an icon for growing old gracefully. She holds her soigné blonde head up with pride, she revels in her glamour and elegance, she apologises for nothing and to nobody. And she proves that you can continue to be sexy (albeit that subtle, Parisian kind of seductiveness) well into your seventies. Her secret strategy? It could possibly be the oft-cited quote that is usually attributed to her: at a certain age, a woman must choose between the skin on her face and the size of her butt. Basically, the price of a plumped-up complexion is a well-fed, well-rounded derrière. Catherine was a slinky slip of a thing back in her Belle de Jour days but over over the years, as her roles have become meatier, she has happily added some extra kilos to her frame, padding that has helped keep her complexion beautifully cushioned and silky-smooth. Up on the high-definition big screen, she is as luminous as ever, her green eyes as sparkling as ever. She is the very definition of the French expression, ‘La beauté n’a pas d’âge’ (Beauty doesn’t have an age).