Nouvelle Vague Chic: Jean Seberg’s Style in Godard’s Breathless

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“To make a film all you need is a girl and a gun”, said Jean Luc Godard whose heroine Jean Seberg became a world famous actress and style icon after playing the role of journalist Patricia Franchini in his first feature film Breathless (À bout de souffle, 1960).

Her minimalistic look in Breathless is the epitome of La Nouvelle Vague style which is still as inspiring as it was more than 50 years ago when the film was made. Many agree that there is barely anyone who can illustrate distinctive French style better this American star dressed in simple and elegant Parisian chic.

Patricia’s effortless ‘bon chic, bon genre’ style in Breathless is somewhat rebellious and masculine, just like her personality. She is wearing a cute pixie haircut, funny oversized glasses which she is brave enough to match even with couture gown. She is also sporting short trousers, white men’s shirt with stripes and a trilby hat she borrows from Michel played by Jean-Paul Belmondo.

In her first appearance in the film, Seberg looks very androgynous and yet incredibly seductive, dressed up in slim black trousers, flat pumps and Herald Tribune T-shirt, while selling newspapers on the streets of Paris. It doesn’t sound like a much of a styling, but it looks very appealing nevertheless.

Her natural feminine beauty is slightly toned down not only by her boyish styling, but also by the way she outrageously talks about sex and carelessly dresses up in front of the mirror before going out. She looks a bit masculine even in Dior striped dress combined with a tiny white purse.

Her character celebrates the cult of a modern educated female who contemplates on existentialism and the meaning of life and questions clichéd romantic relationships: “I can’t tell if I’m unhappy because I’m not free or that I’m not free because I’m unhappy”, says Patricia. Her romance with Michel was doomed from the start and proves her inability to love, which makes her even more attractive.

Breathless is the hallmark of the French New Wave and was revolutionary in many ways, but it is also considered to be one of the most stylish films of all times, along with Federico Fellini’s 8½, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup and Blake Edwards’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Jean Seberg’s style was later copied by many Hollywood stars including Audrey Hepburn who is also well-known for wearing stripes, cigarette trousers and ballet pumps.

write by Jon Brecht

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