Sarah Bernhardt, Actress, Cocotte and Fashion Icon

The Belle Epoque actresses are wrongly confined to the status of courtesans . After all, they are the ones who, through their extravagance, have made it possible for luxury and fashion to take off. Of which Sarah Bernhardt is an absolute icon!

At the age of 15, the Duke of Morny introduced her to the world of theatre. The man behind the founding of Deauville sets his eyes on Sarah Bernhardt – the first great international actress. Her count? More than 120 roles. It is said that she invented the “star” status; that she initiated countless extravagances in clothing, which today have become commonplace in women’s fashion. She was a woman that inspired women of the time but also those of the times that followed.

It must be said that during the Belle Epoque, the actress, at times cocotte, at times large and horizontal, represented everything that was impossible for a woman of high society. So much so that theatre and opera performances often distributed leaflets describing with fervent precision the outfits worn by the star artists. Among them, Sarah Bernhardt was an absolute icon!

Cocteau would say “un monster sacré!” It was for her that the most mundane of academics thought up the term… What can be found in the papers? The exact description of the pioneers of sewing who, for love of art and for the beautiful, also made theatre costumes. Before Chanel and Nijinsky, Dior and Grace Kelly, Deneuve and Yves Saint Laurent… It is Sarah Bernhardt and Charles Worth and Jacques Doucet. Dresses, hats, perfumes, make-up – everything is described in such a way that the bourgeoisie copied and bought pieces of Sarah Bernhardt’s free and bohemian life.

It contributed to the launch of the S line in 1898. Soon, Fortuny’s Delphos dress became an icon. Better yet it became celebrated all over the world for the way she died on stage, in a negligee, a death so splendid that she made this outfit a basic part of domestic life. And this is true for women all over the world!

Having travelled ten times around the world; having travelled to the Amerindian tribes; performing throughout America… Sarah Bernhardt has greatly contributed to the reputation of these couturiers, and jewellers working in Paris. The fue de la Paix and the Place Vendôme owe their fame to her. Boucheron, in particular – with her, and for her, he created breathtaking jewellery… Of which, in 1882, the most iconic piece of Sarah Bernhardt’s outfits: a breastplate like a garland of flowers, set with 317 diamonds.

René Lalique was also a great collaborator. With the taste and audacity of Sarah Bernhardt, he refined a style that soon placed him in the pantheon of Art Deco artists. At the 1905 World Fair, he attracted praise and excitement. Sarah Bernhardt had the eye, and particularly the right eye, to notice the talents that still to this day provoke an unparalleled emotion. Take Alphonse Mucha, for example. It is Sarah Bernhardt who took notice of him and offered him to make the advertisements for his shows. Displayed on the Morris columns, the posters inaugurate the advertising, and the Art Nouveau style!

From rice powder to aperitifs, Sarah Bernhardt embodied the aspiration of the women of her time. And it is Marcel Proust who captured the character perfectly in his masterpiece A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu. She is “La Berma”… The one who launched the fashion for cinema in 1905. She ended her career shooting in one of the first films in history. But that, precisely, is another story!