21 Iconic French Women Who Inspire The Way We Dress

As certified Francophiles, we seek any excuse to discuss the merits of the French, particularly their inimitably chic women. This time around, we’re honoring Bastille Day—which is tomorrow, should you care to stock up on brie and rose—with a roundup of the country’s most inspiring madames and mademoiselles.

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    From the old guard (Coco Chanel, Catherine Deneuve) to the new (Marion Cotillard, Melanie Laurent), these women definitely have that je ne sais quoi, including style and confidence in spades. Click through our slideshow to read about our favorite Gallic girls, and tell us if you agree!

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    PHOTO: FilmMagic

    Marion Cotillard

    Beloved by fashion insiders, Cotillard’s easily one of France’s most famous Hollywood exports. The actress--and face of Dior--often adopts risk-taking, avant-garde runway looks for the red carpet, imbuing everything with stylish elan.

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    PHOTO: Rex USA

    Charlotte Gainsbourg

    Gainsbourg was born with a sartorial pedigree (she’s Lou Doillon’s half-sister and the daughter of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg). But the actress/singer’s laid-back style--natural and effortless--belongs completely to her. She held her own as Nicolas Ghesquiere’s muse for Balenciaga, and as the face of the label’s first fragrance.

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    PHOTO: WENN

    Astrid Berges-Frisbey

    Though she was born in Barcelona, Spanish-French actress Berges-Frisbey nails Parisian chic in ladylike jackets and ethereal dresses, often accompanied by a slightly tousled ‘do. Of course, she’s already a front-row fixture at fashion shows like Chanel.

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    PHOTO: Getty Images

    Melanie Laurent

    Though the Inglourious Basterds actress possesses a fashion-forward look, it’s her affinity for laid-back silhouettes and her ability to exercise restrain in the accessories department that lends her enviable insouciance.

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    PHOTO: Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

    Catherine Deneuve

    Thanks to her bouffant hair and ‘60s mod dresses, the iconic actress is the ultimate arbiter of Gallic glamour. After all, she starred in the 1967 film Belle de Jour, arguably one of the most iconic and most referenced fashion films of all time!

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    PHOTO: WireImage

    Jeanne Damas

    This French model/blogger--and our past stalkee--doesn’t follow trends. But then again, all she needs is her messy bedhead hair, bold red lip, and penchant for easy, sophisticated pieces to give us serious style envy.

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    PHOTO: Getty Images

    Lou Doillon

    The daughter of Jane Birkin and director Jacques Doillon shares at least one thing in common with her mother: an enviable fringe. But over the years, she’s defined her own individual sense of style, one that favors intriguing silhouettes and borrowed-from-the-boys elements.

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    PHOTO: Getty Images

    Betty Catroux

    Catroux is arguably the original muse, inspiring Yves Saint Laurent and Tom Ford with her love of no-nonsense minimalism during her illustrious modeling career.

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    PHOTO: WireImage

    Emmanuelle Alt

    Even before she succeeded Carine Roitfeld as French Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief, Alt was a street style favorite. She long ago adopted a tough-girl uniform of skinny pants, a tailored jacket, and pointy-toe heels--and we’re not complaining.

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    PHOTO: Getty Images

    Vanessa Paradis

    The ethereal actress/singer, not to mention Chanel ambassador, always looks as if she’s assembled her favorite vintage pieces into one exceptionally stylish outfit.

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    PHOTO: Billy Farrell/BFAnyc.com

    Clemence Poesy

    This emerging style icon--you may recognize her as Harry Potter’s Fleur Delacour--epitomizes modern-day Parisian elegance: stylish and uncomplicated with a touch of schoolgirl charm.

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    PHOTO: WireImage

    Audrey Tautou

    Few could pull off the adorable pixie cut this gamine actress wears with such aplomb. Coupled with her feminine, refined sensibilities, Tautou’s got it all.

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    PHOTO: WireImage

    Laetitia Casta

    It’s not just the supermodel’s bee-stung lips that make us think she’s a modern-day Brigitte Bardot. She exudes the same brand of sultry allure, whether she’s wearing romantic lace confections or sharply tailored pieces. No wonder she’s the model for Marianne, a figure that serves as France’s national emblem.

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    PHOTO: Andrew Maclear/Redferns/Getty Images

    Françoise Hardy

    Gaining insight into retro French style is as simple as studying photos of Françoise Hardy. Everything from her eye-grazing bangs to her girl-next-door smile contributed to the musician’s explosive fame in the ‘60s.

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    PHOTO: FilmMagic

    Stephanie Sokolinski

    Sokolinski, the musician/actress better known by her nom de plume Soko, doesn’t adhere to the understated sensibilities of many of her peers. But that doesn’t make her look--a mix of bohemian prints and quirky accessories--any less French or cool!

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    PHOTO: WireImage

    Caroline De Maigret

    De Maigret’s the rock star of French fashion. After launching a successful modeling career, she started a music label and produced for artists, all while perfecting her cool, slightly androgynous aesthetic.

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    PHOTO: Getty Images for HBO

    Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele

    Before Rachel Zoe and Kate Young, there was Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, the stylist extraordinaire-turned-Vogue fashion editor who styled Anna Wintour’s first Vogue cover in 1988. Her turn in the HBO documentary In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye is not to be missed.

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    PHOTO: Getty Images

    Lea Seydoux

    This ingenue who first captured our attention in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol appreciates the classics, but isn’t afraid to experiment with bold prints and textures either--a true Parisienne!

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    PHOTO: Roger Viollet/Getty Images

    Coco Chanel

    No list of iconic French women would be complete without the legendary designer who encouraged women to embrace a strong, ladylike aesthetic in her tweed suits and little black dresses.

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    PHOTO: Billy Farrell/BFAnyc.com

    Garance Doré

    Dore is one of the most influential street style photographers today (she even dates a fellow photog, The Sartorialist’s Scott Schuman), who posts inspiring photos and illustrations on her self-titled blog. On or off-duty, you’ll spot her in charming, boyish pieces, like crisp button-downs, chinos, and oxford shoes.

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    Alix Bancourt of The Cherry Blossom Girl

    Bancourt is one of France’s most beloved fashion bloggers, espousing a whimsical, ultra-feminine style that’s earned her thousands of devotees.

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    Betty Autier of Le Blog de Betty

    Autier’s no stranger to sartorial statements (oversized bows, floral crowns, and animal prints are on regular rotation in her repertoire). It’s part of the reason this blogger perfectly exemplifies playful French charm.

EXPLORE: Celebrity, France, French Women, Bastille Day, Paris, celebrity style, Garance Dore, Francoise Hardy, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, Stephanie Sokolinski, Betty Catroux, Coco Chanel, Alix Bancourt, Betty Autier, Catherine Deneuve, Soko, Laetitia Casta, Astrid Berges-frisbey, Audrey Tautou, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Clemence Poesy, Emmanuelle Alt, Jeanne Damas, Lea Seydoux, Lou Doillon, Marion Cotillard, Melanie Laurent, Vanessa Paradis, Caroline de Maigret, Celebrity Style
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