A Comprehensive Guide to the Best French Style Icons of All Time

Kristen Bateman
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A Comprehensive Guide to the Best French Style Icons of All Time
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To truly live and breathe fashion, you have to be connected with French style icons and everything that comes out of Paris.

In movies, in books, on TV, even on Instagram, Paris Fashion Week is always portrayed as an integral cultural identifier in the fashion world—if you attend the shows in Paris, you’ve really made it. And there’s truth to that statement. It’s the last stop of Fashion Month and by far the most serious and most exclusive. After New York’s too-packed calendar, London’s quirk, and Milan’s feisty glamour, the big guns of the style world—think Chanel, Lanvin, CélineDiorAlaia, Givenchy, and Balenciaga—finally showcase their collections, arguably setting the trends for the year ahead.

MORE: The Best Street Style from Paris Fashion Week Fall 2017

Likewise, French women have an indefinable, covetable style. Something that only they can do better than everyone else: looking like they don’t care while looking extremely chic at the same time. The no-makeup makeup look? Practically invented by French influencers like Caroline de Maigret and Lou Doillon—and before them, there was Brigitte Bardot and model Capucine, both who favored a more minimal look makeup-wise.

Exclusively wearing basics like the perfect fitted blazer, jeans, and a skinny scarf, without looking boring? Ines de la Fressange and Vogue Paris editor Emmanuelle Alt do it best. It may be a bit of a stereotype, but somehow, the biggest French style influencers seem to always stray away from trends and stick with their own style signatures. Whether that signature be a black suit for Carine Roitfeld or Loulou de Falaise’s turban, these women’s looks are enviable because—not only do they seem to know what looks best for their body type—but they display an air of confidence while wearing them, too.

MORE: These are the Best French Drugstore Skin Care Buys Ever

Click through to see our favorite French style icons.

Originally published March 2016. Updated March 2017.

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Bettina: As a French model and muse to couturier Jacques Fath during the 1940s and 1950s, Bettina showed that Paris was the capital of fashion. Through her dramatic custom-made looks on set and gorgeous, showstopping hats she wore to events and parties, Bettina was an ultimate French fashion icon. She was also known as the first supermodel in France, gaining popularity through shooting with top photographers like Irving Penn.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Betty Catroux: She's a legend among fashion designers who look to real women displaying the indefinable French insouciance. Even today, Tom Ford has taken inspiration from her. During the ’60s and ’70s, she was a house model for both Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. However, she may be been best known for her time spent with Saint Laurent. With her leggy, waiflike appearance and strong personality, many considered her style androgynous.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Brigitte Bardot: She's one of the most well-known French sex bombs of all time—for her scandalous roles in films such as "And God Created Women" and "Le Mepris." As an actress, Brigitte Bardot played with contrasts with coquettish bows and black leather on-screen. Off-screen, she had a penchant for incredibly chic summery dresses, classic ballet flats, and off-the-shoulder tops.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Capucine: She may be less well known than some of the other French models and actresses throughout the ages, but Capucine had a signature style all her own. Elbow-length gloves, elegant suits, turbans, and chunky pearl earrings proved to be both ladylike and edgy. Her role in "The Pink Panther" made her instantly recognizable as the chic, funny girl, and her modeling work for Christian Dior and Givenchy solidified her as a timeless French beauty.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Carine Roitfeld: As the former editor of Vogue Paris, Carine Roitfeld has a style that is perfectly French. She is drawn to a neutral color palette of blacks, grays, navy blues, creams, and browns, and also loves a smoky eye. You won't spot her in anything too crazy—she much prefers to keep it classic with a slight, unexpected twist (a sheer skirt here, a peek of skin there). She also favors French labels like Balmain and Givenchy.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Caroline de Maigret: This French model literally wrote the book on the essence of chic French style. It's no surprise that she embodies the kind of easy, effortless Parisian style that women worldwide lust over. She's known for her high-low approach to fashion—think, a Balmain jacket worn over a simple, inexpensive white tee with a no-fail pair of jeans.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Catherine Deneuve: The French actress often played the part of the mysterious bombshell and ultimate ice queen in more than 120 films. Yves Saint Laurent designed some of the bow-topped blouses, slim coats, and kitten-heeled loafers she sported in movies, but her style in real life is just as great. She has always stuck with classics, ranging from polka-dot tops to streamlined shift dresses.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Charlotte Gainsbourg: It was almost written in the stars that Charlotte Gainsbourg, the daughter of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, would become a major French style influencer. At events, she's frequently seen sporting looks from the top French fashion houses such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Her hair, often seeming like it needs as little maintenance as possible, along with her approach to no-makeup is the stuff of French style icon legends.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Coco Chanel: There aren't very many designers that actually double as style icons—but Coco Chanel is one of them. It has a lot to do with the fact that Chanel designed the kind of clothes she wanted to wear—and created trends that women felt comfortable and chic in. Take, for example, her layered costume jewelry, affinity for knits and jersey, and the ubiquitous little black dress.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Emmanuelle Alt: As the current editor of Vogue Paris, Emmanuelle Alt has shown that great style can also be consistently simple if your wardrobe is built up with great classics like black leather pants, the perfect blazer, and a leopard-print coat. Her aesthetic also helped to usher in a new, less risque, more chic, era of Vogue Paris when she took the reigns in 2011.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Francoise Hardy: Hardy epitomizes the classic French bohemian sentiments as seen in the late ’60s—but her look is still as modern today as it was more than 50 years ago. Known as a major fan of sleek pantsuits by Courrèges and chainmail dresses by Paco Rabanne, she also had an affinity for little white dresses, chunky furs, white boots, colorfully knitted dresses, and a chic eye-skimming fringe.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Ines de la Fressange: Quintessentially French model, fashion designer, and businesswoman Ines de la Fressange sticks to classics like fitted blazers, skinny scarves, denim jackets, and layers upon layers of pearl necklaces. Typically, she's seen much more often in a pair of comfortable pants and a well-fitting top than fussy dresses or skirts—even on the red carpet or at fashion shows.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Jacqueline de Ribes: As a French aristocrat, businesswoman, and couture collector, Jacqueline de Ribes's influence in the style world has been so prolific that a recent exhibition was fully dedicated to her personal wardrobe at the Met. Born in Paris, she has always been a part of the global party circuit. She has also always favored living by the rule of excess: Why wear just one coat when you can layer a few? And why not wear custom-made everything if you can?

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Lou Doillon: The model, actress, and musician has the kind of laid-back style that women worldwide aspire to re-create. If she was a New Yorker, one could say that her style is very downtown. With minimal makeup, a perfectly undone shaggy haircut and a rock-’n-roll edge, she wears oversize clothes with an attitude that just works, and when she's on the red carpet, she also knows how to take a little black dress from boring to over-the-top.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Loulou de Falaise: The English-born muse to Yves Saint Laurent made Paris her home. Legend has it that her carefree attitude and bohemian spirit inspired Saint Laurent to create the Tuxedo "Le Smoking" look. When it came to her own wardrobe, she had a serious penchant for head scarves, wide-legged pants, velvet, and lots of eccentric jewelry. She also designed jewelry and accessories for Saint Laurent before launching her own (now defunct) label.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Simone de Beauvoir: The French writer and hard-core feminist had a knack for pairing the unexpected, both in her literary work and in personal style. Under her guise, frumpy jackets became chic with excessive costume jewelry, and two-piece skirt suits made a statement with pinstripes and sky-high hair.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Sonia Rykiel: From head to toe, Sonia Rykiel has a look all her own. Her trademark red hair with blunt bangs is the stuff of legends. She can also frequently be seen wearing knits—which have become her most statement-making pieces as a designer. It all started in the ’60s, when the intrinsically French icon began exposing seams and printing words and soft sweaters, under her husband's fashion line.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Victoire de Castellane: As a French jewelry designer and creative director of Christian Dior's fine jewelry, Victoire de Castellane brings her bold sense of color, shape, and imagination to her personal wardrobe just as she does with her designs. Think: wild accessories such as teddy-bear-shaped handbags and clutches that resemble books, all worn with patterned and textured silhouettes ranging from shimmery red dresses to boxy army-green jackets.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Clemence Poesy: We can only describe French actress and fashion model Clemence Poesy's style as a mix of chic Parisian insouciance and Brooklyn hipster. Known for her roles in American movies as the French girl ("Gossip Girl" included) Poesy favors comfortable wardrobe staples such as jeans, oxford shoes, and embroidered sweaters.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Anna Karina: The quintessential cool girl made famous by her starring roles in French New Wave movies directed by Jean-Luc Godard, Danish-born Anna Karina has a retro style characterized by primary-hued sweaters, a bold fringe, major cat eye and plenty of little dresses with Peter Pan collars. Her two best accessories on film? A cigarette and a fully sardonic, witty, and very French attitude.

Photo: Instagram
Photo: Instagram
Photo: Instagram

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