Dethroning Icons

I really admire Brigitte Bardot's style in the 1950s and 60s. Although often seen as a sex symbol there's so much sweetness in even her vampiest looks--those nipped in waists, tiny sweaters, and thick slash of eyeliner is the sort of sex appeal I feel comfortable emulating myself. There's a bit of innocence in her gingham wedding dress or her innocent expressions/demeanor towards the cameras that counteracts her racy-for-the-time bikini and enviable figure. It's sexy without being too obvious (at least from this slightly more modern viewpoint, contextually it might have been much more scandalous in the 1950s). I am turning to vintage photographs of her for inspiration dressing this summer.

All of her fashion taste aside, I have many questions about her political views. She included a section in her 1999 book that led the French court to fine her; she had also been fined in 1997 for similar racist comments. I'm sure more digging into her public statements would lead to more inflammatory information that would further disillusion any fans. I'm also reminded of the oft-quoted Coco Chanel who aside from having a very exacting opinion on what made a proper woman (ironic from someone who was reshaping the feminine silhouette and fashion mode) was a Nazi sympathizer. My point in bringing up the "darker" side of these so-called icons? When can we look past these faults and still consider someone an icon and when do we write them off?

One of the most problematic points for me is merely the availability of certain knowledge. What if Brigitte Bardot had been less public in her statements or the military intelligence documents pertaining to Chanel had not been declassified? Then without this knowledge I might be able to call these women icons--full stop. Other female figures I admire might have similar skeletons in their closet that I will forever remain oblivious to. How can we name anyone an icon truly? Do we accept that everyone is flawed and learn to admire those that fall short of perfection, or do we hold people accountable for truly unacceptable shortcomings and seek idols elsewhere?

In the end, I'm leery of naming anyone an icon without certain qualifications. Such as, I like Brigitte Bardot's style but I wouldn't desire to emulate anything beyond that. I think Coco Chanel transformed fashion, but I'm not very interested in the woman behind the brand. Sometimes we have to stop at the image...



  1. I love her style, she always looked so classy. I completely agree with what you're saying about calling these people icons - great post!

  2. I think the nastier side of some of these style icons certainly leave me with an uneasy feeling. Particularly fact that Coco Chanel was a known Nazi sympathizer, so much so that she was questioned by authorities after the war about potential spy activities. It's a name I wouldn't want to associate myself with, no matter the genius of Karl Lagerfeld.

  3. This post reminds me of a similar post you did a while back, talking about where the point of rewarding genius becomes acceptable in view of the persons character. (Roman Polanski and others) I was really delighted to have read that post since I think persona character is sometimes shoved aside. I personally really, really dislike Coco Channel for many of her views, but her behavior during the war was completely reprehensible and it always surprises me to see her quoted and idolized so much. Sure, she made some pretty clothes and Bridget B was gorgeous, but it's hard to reward the good qualities in light of their personal character. (Oh dear, I'm sure that made no sense at all! I'm writing on very little sleep.) Anyways, I always enjoy your posts, you do a lovely job of not going just "oooh, pretty, popular!" and there's a lot of thought.

  4. wonderfully thoughtful post!
    The older I get, I have a harder and harder time really, truly "idolizing" anyone. Be it a living or dead musician, actress, artist, historical figure or what have you, I feel like the illusions I used to have about "good people" are gone, and we have to get used to people just being...people. People make mistakes, have severe character flaws, and are sometimes just downright evil sometimes.
    Of course, some people don't feel that way or associate the products people make with the people themselves. But honestly, for me, I just don't like listening to Frank Sinatra, he wasn't a good man, or looking up to Bettie Paige, since the portion of her life that is so documented and reproduced is the portion she actually hated most.

    Anywayzzzz, I'll stop the rant now, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject!

    Kill your idols!

  5. Love that wolf sweater! And your sunglasses are so cute :)

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  7. I think it's important to make a distinction between the way someone dresses or acts or sings and who they are. I think it's so ridiculous how people seem to think celebrities know something more than the rest of us. I've read so many terrible things said by famous people.

  8. That is interesting because I'm French, and for me BB has always been that crazy old lady who's supporting animals rights (nothing wrong with animals, of course, but with her political views). I'm too young to have seen her in her wedding dress. When I see her on TV she's not someone I would want to emulate.
    So, I was astonished to discover that online, and abroad, so many people were calling her an icon, because of what she did/looked like in her youth. And no one seems to look beyond that.
    Also interesting, in my opinion, is the way Audrey Hepburn is depicted online. We only ever see images of her in her youth - although it might be more interesting to look into what she did in her later years.

    The idea of idolizing someone and wanting to be exactly like them is ridiculous, anyway. "Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are." ― Kurt Cobain
    There's a line between admiring and idolizing. I admire many people (for their work, their ethics, their beauty, their style, whatever), but I have no idols.

  9. Leviticus 26:1

    "Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the LORD your God."

  10. I think this an interesting question even beyond fashion really. Do you throw the baby with the bath water even if you like their image? I'm a person of color and it's hard to justify emulating someone even f there are clothes I like. Really and truly, I can"t divorce the two in the sense because her views are offensive to minorities that I'm a part of and she is not the "exclusive owner" to the 50's silhouette so I don't need to admire the woman to like a look. The look of the time and the famous person as the arbiter of that look are mutually exclusive.

  11. @Pomellyop, That is a really interesting point I hadn't considered for this issue before. I definitely see what you're saying.


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