A Conversation on Cool - The French New Wave.

A conversation on cool with Wayne Kirven.

We speak to one of the original London Modernists on how he discovered the French New Wave films in the early 1960’s and of course French style.


Thought maybe I could do a quick Q and A with you about French films?

Go on.

So how and when did you discover French films?

I went to Paris in 1961 on a school trip and sneaked off in the afternoon to see Elevator to the Gallows. Miles Davis did the soundtrack. The other kids thought I was mad.

Then back in London, I was going regularly to the original Marquee Club in Oxford Street and discovered The Academy Cinema. The people that went there were different and the films were French mainly, so I went to see Breathless. This was in 1962, it was re-released. It sent me on my way. I went once a week.

I also went to the Everyman in Hampstead. French films were not on general release, you had to go to independent cinemas. I fell in love with the French New Wave directors and their movies.

The Academy I presume was located near The Marquee?

Downstairs. The entrance was at the side.

You said “the people there were different.” Was it the way they dressed?Yes. I realised Independent cinemas attracted a more intelligent, intellectual type of person. I felt it broadened my mind.

Did going to see these films have an effect on the way you acted?
Yes it did, I got deeper into French fashion, I got my haircut the French way, Belmondo became a hero, I started to smoke Gitanes, I wanted to go to back to Paris and I did. I worked there too. I lived in a Godard world. I’m not joking.

Before this (1962) Modernists were already adopting “French” style, berets, Breton tops etc. is that correct?
Yes to a degree, but really it was much more Italian with a bit of American. The French look was not working class. I was already into Cardin so I got Adam, the French magazine for men. The older modernists were into Playboy and American music. Miles Davis had gone to Paris, that got me into jazz. A lot of French Movies included jazz, but the people that went to the Independent Cinemas to see continental movies weren’t generally modernists or mods, they were more bohemian.
Going back to what you said about modernists, you never saw them at this time wearing Berets, that came later. Bretons were rare, you used to see them on girls, usually Rockers and at Traditional Jazz clubs but 61/62 I knew that I wanted to be as French as I could. I loved Shoot the Piano Player, Jules and Jim, Cleo 5 till 7, Band of Outsiders.

Was life in 60's Paris like the films?
Yes, I went straight to the Drug Store in the Champs Elysees and it was just like the movies. This was before I worked at Cardin. I used to visit the the Renoma shop, it was even more like the films. The New Wave stars were always around. It was at the time of Citroen DS’s and Renault Dauphin cars and of course the Left Bank.

What would the well dressed, French influenced, Modernist have been wearing at this time?
A navy suit, a long pointed collar shirt always white, trousers slightly flared, a pointed toe shoe with a ‘Shorty’’ rain coat, off white, pulled back so you showed a newspaper in the jacket pocket, or a black leather Blazer, Black Roll neck, white Levi’s and Chelsea Boots.
The other look was a McGregor suede blouson, a taxi driver style A cap with a pom-pom. Don’t laugh. They were very hard to get. Lacoste polo and Cord trousers with cutaway pockets and Chukka boots.

What do you think of French style today, the current Men's style scene in Paris?
It's returning to a style I like, Husbands leading the way. Husbands love Renoma and it shows. I think Husbands Is more 60’s. I can see Jean Claude Brialy wearing it.
The French New Wave was from a time. The actors were special, the girls looked great, shot with a hand held camera, the soundtracks were incredible, a mixture of classical and modern themes. I wanted to be French. I had my hair cut like Sami Fey who had the best haircut.

Is there a particular film that sums up the appeal of the French New Wave films for you?
It has to be the chemistry between Seberg and Belmondo in Breathless. It's up there with all the classic movie love affairs.

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Photographs @asimilarman