Belle du Jour (1967), directed by surrealist Luis Buñuel, was one of the first mainstream films that explored the sexuality of women. The film stars Catherine Deneuve in her perhaps most iconic role, and designer Yves Saint Laurent was enlisted to create the subtly subversive costumes the actress wears.
Catherine Deneuve plays Séverine, a bourgeois housewife unable to commit sexually to her husband Pierre (Jean Sorel). Instead she fulfils her sadomasochistic fantasies by becoming prostitute ‘Belle de jour’ at an intimately run brothel. The film marked the beginning of a long-standing partnership between Catherine Deneuve and Yves Saint Laurent and made her image for many years to come as the epitome of chic bourgeois. Saint Laurent’s contribution to the film has been credited as having helped to make couture relevant for a younger generation in the face of the rise of ready-to-wear, and after Brigitte Bardot scathingly stated “haute couture is for grannies.”
The clothes that Deneuve wears – cropped jackets, to-the-knee skirts, low, respectable court shoes and even the pristine white lace lingerie she is seen in when taking appointments with clients – are prim and neat and offer a strong contrast to the themes explored within the 1967 movie, rendering the story all the more explicit owing to that. So the tailored and minimalist clothes, that includes an element of sexual display, is stille controlled and class-coded.
The classic modernity style in this movie has survived through generations, a quality of all Yves Saint Laurent’s designs. Catherine Deneuve has always evoked an eternal femininity through the timelessness of her classic looks and clothes and the designer played a great role in this from that moment on.