French Icon: Brigitte Bardot

French Icon: Brigitte Bardot

Discover the bohemian life of BB, from her sheltered life as a budding ballerina to international sex symbol and ardent supporter of animal rights

Synonymous with bare-foot sensuality in the south of France, sex kitten Brigitte Anne-Marie Bardot – whose BB initials are renowned around the world as Chanel’s legendary double C – is one of France’s best-known screen icons.

Born into a wealthy family of industrialists in 1934, the sheltered girl who grew up in the swanky Rue de la Pompe in the 16th arrondissement and spent her holidays in Saint-Tropez or La Baule, was originally destined to be a ballerina – she even won a prize at the prestigious Conservatoire – but at the tender age of 15 she was spotted by writer and director Roger Vadim. “I’m a girl from a good family who was very well brought up. One day I turned my back on it all and became a bohemian,” she later said.

Attempted suicide to sex kitten

Bardot’s Svengali spotted the curvaceous beauty after she appeared in a shoot for a fashion magazine and suggested she audition for a role in a movie he’d just written for filmmaker Marc Allégret. She didn’t get the role, but she got Vadim, the son of a Russian émigré, instead. “He looked at me, scared me, attracted me, I didn’t know where I was anymore,” she said of the encounter.

Scandalised at their daughter’s budding relationship with the older experienced Vadim, Bardot’s parents threatened to send her out of the country, but they relented when she attempted suicide by putting her head in a gas oven. Reluctantly they agreed she could marry Vadim when she was 18. “I wanted a woman with spirit, with joie de vivre… a woman with a sense of adventure and sexual curiosity,” the 25-year-old Vadim said when he married his young protégée in 1952 at the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce de Passy catholic church in Paris, not far from the Bardot’s family home.

If Vadim was Bardot’s first real lover, the young girl’s mythical sex appeal was revealed to the world a year later when she played her first starring role opposite Kirk Douglas in Un Acte D’Amour a romantic comedy about a Parisian who falls in love with an American soldier towards the end of World War II.

Bardot’s sex symbol status was confirmed in 1956 when Vadim cast her as Juliete Hardy in his risqué film And God Created Woman, which was later hailed as the precursor to the French New Wave. “Vadim was both my teacher and my husband. I placed myself entirely in his hands,” Bardot said at the time.

Feminism and motherhood

Although cast as a sex symbol, because of her role as a sexually emancipated women, Bardot was also seen as one of the first truly liberated women of post- war France – eminent author Simone de Beauvoir even wrote an essay describing her as someone who had been instrumental in bringing about a change in women’s roles. For the Vadim’s, however, Bardot’s increasingly iconic status was not to bring them happiness. During filming Bardot had an affair with her co star Jean-Louis Trintignant and the couple divorced in 1957, a year after Et Dieu… Créa La Femme, hit French cinema screens.

Bardot married for a second time in 1959, to actor Jacques Charrier. Despite always saying that she didn’t want children, she had a son, Nicolas-Jacques who later sued her for damages for stating in her autobiography “I would have preferred to give birth to a little dog”.

If motherhood for Bardot proved to be a disaster, her fame mushroomed when she starred in 1960s Jean-Luc Godard film Le Mépris and soon after won a BAFTA award for Best Foreign Actreess for her role as an IRA operative playing opposite France’s other iconic actress, Jeanne Moreau in Louis Malle´s comedy-adventure film film Viva Maria!

However, Bardot’s personal life was in ruins and she divorced Jacques Charrier in 1962. Her third marriage to German millionaire playboy Gunter Sachs in 1966 also ended just three years later in 1969. “I have been very happy, very rich, very beautiful, much adulated, very famous and very unhappy,” she later said.

From the septième art to animals

Embittered by the way she felt that she’d been used by men and by the film industry, Brigitte Bardot gave up her career in 1973 to become an animal rights activist. “I gave my beauty and my youth to men. I am going to give my wisdom and experience to animals,” she declared.

In 1986 Bardot established a foundation to care for ‘suffering animals’ and in 1992 she married for the fourth time with Bernard d’Ormale, a former adviser of Jean-Marie Le Pen and has since been at the centre of controversy because of her open support of The National Front. Today, Bardot lives with her husband and a large menagerie of stray animals at her secluded property La Madrague in Saint-Tropez. “It is only with animals, with nature, that I found peace,” she said in her memoirs. “Animals have never betrayed me. They are an easy prey, as I have been throughout my career. So we feel the same. I love them.”

Did you know?

– Bardot was responsible for popularising kohl eyeliner, ballet pumps, bikinis and an off the shoulder style of wearing tops that became known as the ‘Bardot style.’

– She was chosen by Empire magazine as one of the 100 sexiest stars in film history.

– Bardot became a great-grandmother in 2014 when her grand-daughter Anna gave birth to a baby girl.

– In a bid to fund the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals she auctioned off some of her personal possessions.

– She says her husband, Bernard d’Ormale ‘accepts three or four animals sleeping on our bed. If he refused he would not be my companion’.

– Her younger sister Marie-Jeanne born in 1938, better known as Mijanou, had a brief film career in the 1950s and 1960s.

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