Face of an icon

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 September, 2010, 12:00am

ICONIC BOMBSHELL Brigitte Bardot was one of the goddesses of her time. Her contribution to fashion and beauty - from sexy swimwear to heavily lined kohl-black eyes - are legendary, with many of today's wardrobe staples still based on her original, self-assured ability to create a trend simply by being true to herself.

The sensual, chic Parisian was the original 50s version of supermodel Kate Moss, whose new haircuts or designer finds are always the next must-haves.

Yet Bardot's look was vastly different from the rake-thin models of today. Her voluptuous figure was perfectly suited to a mane of heavy blonde hair (often casually styled in a choucroute or beehive), pouty lips and sex-kitten sultriness, an image that has never dated. This recently prompted luxury group Lancel to collaborate with Bardot to create a new handbag. Known as the BB Bag, it has soft curves and a Bohemian slouchiness topped off with a bold buckle. Long tassels on either side add a further touch of carefree gypsy appeal and a long shoulder strap reflects Bardot's free spirit.

This return to the world of luxury fashion comes despite Bardot having left her modelling and acting career behind in her late 30s to dedicate herself to animal rights' campaigning. She founded the Brigitte Bardot Foundation in 1976, and continues today to be a vociferous spokeswoman against cruelty to animals.

It may seem contradictory, then, that Bardot recently agreed to join forces with Lancel to be its muse for a new handbag. However, the BB Bag is a statement of eco-fashion, made with tweed or Alcantara (an artificial material that has the appearance and tactile feel of suede) other than leather - a first for Lancel.

Bardot is not shy of controversy, particularly when it comes to animal rights. She made the news for 'inciting racial hatred' several times in France, most recently due to her protest against a Muslim feast that involves the slaughtering of sheep.

This political and social activism is a far cry from her often shocking screen siren days, her three failed marriages (she is now with her fourth husband) and fashion statements that scandalised conservative society in the '50s and '60s.

Born in France in 1934, Bardot began her performing career studying ballet at the National Superior Conservatory of Paris for Music and Dance, at the age of 13.

Two years later, she appeared on the cover of Elle magazine, and at 18, made her film debut in the comedy, Le Trou Normand. In 1955, she appeared in the Warner Brothers' production of Helen of Troy. The studio giant offered her a seven-year contract, but Bardot turned it down, and returned to France to work on her first lead role in La Lumi?re d'en Face. Her French hits, Mio Figlio Nerone and Cette Sacree Gamine, contributed to Bardot becoming a sex symbol by the late '50s.

Perhaps her best known role globally was And God Created Woman - released in 1956 and directed by her first husband Roger Vadim (they divorced after five years but remained friends). It focused on an immoral teenager in a respectable small-town setting and became a huge international success, no more so than with men unaccustomed to a woman with such a smouldering screen presence.

In that buttoned-up era, the film was judged amoral in the US and authorities sought to ban it. This only heightened her notoriety and fame, and most notably, her ability to set fashion trends for women seeking to capture this magical appeal to the opposite sex.

Bardot appeared in 50 films in total and also recorded several music albums, often in collaboration with singer-songwriter, actor and director Serge Gainsbourg, who she had an affair with (he dedicated the song and album Initials BB to Bardot).

Her celluloid and musical career aside, it was Bardot's contribution to nonchalant yet flirtatious fashion and seductive blonde beauties that has remained embedded in popular culture.

Bardot's original style has contributed greatly to current fashion trends such as the striped, nautical, long-sleeved shirt, capri pants and ballet flats she was photographed wearing at the Cannes Film Festival in the '50s. All have become timeless statements. The nautical look gets reinvented year after year, present in the 2010 resort collections from Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Alexander Wang, to name a few, while ballet flats remain an evergreen must-have amongst fashionistas and celebrities such as Sienna Miller, Kate Moss, Paris Hilton and Katie Holmes. Model-of-the-moment Lara Stone opened Jean-Paul Gaultier's autumn/winter couture show last year dressed as Bardot with a beehive and black belted mac.

But perhaps it was Bardot's popularisation of the bikini for which she is most remembered. She cavorted in a strapless version - and was photographed with actor Kirk Douglas - at the Cannes festival in 1953, creating a stir and starting a trend that continues to this day.

Despite Bardot retiring from show business in 1973, her eternal style means women still want a little piece of that glamour today.