The sixties were one of the most tumultuous yet iconic decades in world history. From fashion to writing, music, arts, and film, the period saw huge, remarkable changes that helped shape society and everyday living. France had its own significant fads and events, which made the country’s decade colorful. In this post, let’s look back at the 1960s pop culture trends in France, from revolutionary to audacious, and eye-opening, that will live in people’s memories forever.
The 1960s was the era when the fashion world was turned upside down. France continued to be regarded as the fashion capital, as interest in haute couture from the 1950s continued to last into the early parts of the decade. However, more contemporary approaches were integrated into the high design. Later on, mass-manufactured off-the-rack clothes became more popular, which supplied the needs of the growing society, allowing the public to gain groundbreaking to fashionable items and styles.
In 1965, French designer Andre Courreges yearned to introduce a new look, characterized by an easy-to-wear, modern, streamlined design to keep up with the trends and cater to the youth. A product of this is his own version of the mini skirt and accompanied it with the go-go boots. Made in white or colored leather, the calf-high boots provided an electrifying and confident vibe. It became an instant hit, not only in France but also in other parts of the world, from London to New York.
Another iconic trend in the sixties was Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking, a men-inspired tuxedo designed for women. which debuted in 1966. Though it received mixed reactions, it radically revolutionized the way women dressed. Breaking free from the natural silhouettes, Le Smoking became a form of rebellion and sexual empowerment for women, helping create unprecedented shifts in the following years on how women’s fashion was treated.
Starting from the late 1950s, the avant-garde Parisian theater, “Theater of the Absurd,” or the “New Theater,” continued to rise in the sixties. Writers like Jean Genet, Eugene Ionesco, Arthur Adamov, and Samuel Beckett veered away from traditional explanations, plots, characters, and staging. Instead, they applied experimental techniques to entice the working masses to the theater.
Writer-philosophers such as George Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Helene Cixous, and Francis Ponge used their works to convey various ideas, from surrealism, feminism, poststructuralism, mysticism, and transgression. Other notable writers of the decade include Yves Bonnefoy, Raymond Queneau, and Francis Ponge.
In the decade, Philippe Sollers and Jean-Edern Hallier also founded the avant-garde literary magazine and review, Tel Quel. With the help of other writers and contributors, they published works that reevaluated and provided criticisms of the many radical events in France that began in the 60s.
France had their own distinct pop music style that bloomed in the sixties – the ye-ye. It was derived from the term “yeah-yeah,” which was made famous by bands, such as the Beatles. The style soon reached other parts of the world, giving birth to stars, such as Francoise Hardy, Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Dutronc, Brigitte Bardot, and Sylvie Vartan.
The “French Elvis” Johnny Hallyday also catapulted into popularity. His single “Souvenirs, Souvenirs” in 1960, a nostalgic ballad tacking first love, adolescence, and nonchalant summers, became a massive hit and one of the most iconic songs from the decade. Over his career, he sold over 110 million albums and served as music royalty and national icon in many Francophone countries.
Often regarded as the transposition of the Pop Art Movement in France, “New Realism” or “Nouveau Realisme” was founded by Yves Klein and Pierre Restany in 1960. Like other avant-garde works, the art form was characterized by going over the status quo or the norms, especially in a cultural sense. It advocated art to be present in its true form rather than being conjured or adhering to what was appropriated. Thus, it bridged the gap between arts and the public, enabling everyone to relate to works vividly reflecting what was actually happening around them.
Another movement that prevailed in France during the sixties was the Fluxus movement, aiming to bring art to the masses again. It incorporated life into arts by using objects, sounds, performance, and events and involved the public in the actual making of the art, highlighting the process rather than its product. Meanwhile, the culmination of the decade produced a significant deal of poster art. Majority of which were created during the May 1968 movement, revolving around the oppressive policies of then-president Charles de Gaulle.
French cinema saw the continuous explosion of innovative, self-aware, and vibrant flicks in the 1960s. Beginning in the 1950s, these “New Wave” films changed the landscape of entertainment. Like other popular trends, it rejected the norms or standard techniques this time in filmmaking.
Some of the unforgettable “New Wave” films of the sixties include Breathless (1960), Les Bonnes Femmes (1960), Lola (1961), and Pierrot the Madman (Pierrot Le Fou) (1965).
With these films, directors abandoned traditional ways of creating movies. They leaned towards new approaches to visual style, narrative, and editing and tackled various political and social upheavals that were dominant during that time. It allowed them to fully control the creative process, inserting overwrought accounts, extemporaneous storytelling, and bringing back the magic to stir genuine human emotion. Thus, paving the way for one of the most iconic and influential movements in cinema’s history.
Like other parts of the world, popular trends in France anchored on shattering the chains of what was accepted and creating new conventions. Indeed, it was a time of great change, many of which remain significant and seminal to how people live in the country today.