The world has been obsessed with French style for as long as the French has been stylish, aka forever. But a lot of what we associate as “French-style” comes from France’s major contribution to the film world, French New Wave. The groundbreaking film movement was born out of young, inexperienced French filmmakers obsessed with American films and bored with the status quo of staid period pieces being produced in the late 50s and 60s.
In addition to the editing techniques, filming style, and radical subject matter, French New Wave also introduced us to a roster of young ingénues who continue to epitomize French style, regardless of their actual French-ness. Women like Brigitte Bardot, Anna Karina, Catherine Deneuve, and Jean Seberg introduced us to Breton stripes, cat-eye sunglasses, and ballet flats, and we still haven’t fully recovered.
The number of words written in ode to these harbingers of style would fill the streets of Paris ten times over, but French New Wave style didn’t end at the closet door. In fact, a hallmark of the genre is that each frame is dripping with style and cool, including their ingénue’s homes.
A French New Wave film set
And while I’ll rock a striped tee and headband any day of the week to channel my favorite French muses, one New Wave ingénue has always stood out; Florence ‘Cleo’ Victorie in Cleo From 5 to 7. Cleo (Corrine Marchand) differs from the rest of the characters in these lists mostly because she is an ingénue through a woman’s eyes, the film’s writer and director, Agnès Varda.
The film is told almost entirely in real-time as Cleo wiles away her afternoon, growing increasingly panicked as she waits to hear the results of a medical test. The film grapples with ideas of mortality and the role of women in modern society as well as the ahead-of-its-time idea that the illnesses of women are not taken seriously.
But enough about that; let’s talk about Cleo’s apartment.
Cleo’s Parisian studio apartment is a glorious ode to chic minimalism and whimsy. Its sparse decor brings to mind an Anthropologie showroom if they forgot to stock the clothes. In one corner is her massive four-poster bed, complete with vine-like spindles. In the other corner is her vanity with the same swirled decoration.
The floor is littered with mismatched rugs and while there is a couch and also a rocking chair, none are grouped together to encourage the company to stay longer than a moment. The focal point of the room is a swing suspended from the ceiling and cleverly placed so that when Cleo sits on it, the angel wings on the wall opposite seem to grow from her own shoulders. One more symbol of imminent death in a film that’s full of them.
Withering pink roses
Cleo’s flowers are displayed in the same haphazard fashion. From a large vase of withering roses on the floor (hello again, death motif) to an assortment of small bud vases on the windowsill, the flowers feel like an extravagance she just didn’t have the time to think through. She felt compelled to fill her home with living beauty but didn’t feel the need to over-analyze where to place them in the space. She also didn’t take any time to arrange them. Each vase consists of one type of flower, giving them a “fresh from the garden” feel.
Interesting to note too, there is very little greenery or filler in her bouquets. She is obsessed with beauty and therefore allows the flowers to shine on their own, even if it leaves the vases looking sparse.
To me, Cleo’s apartment represents the essence of what we value in French style. It’s simple, chic, and effortless. And while we can’t all install a swing in our bedrooms (not that I won’t try) we can get a little of that Francophile fix through our flowers.
For related articles, see How Frida Kahlo Used Flowers to Express Her Identity and How Hawaii Uses Flowers to Celebrate Its Heritage.