|Beauty hides the beastly moments
Caring for her grandchildren and ageing gracefully have
allowed Catherine Deneuve to come to terms with her demons.
Catherine Deneuve is famous for
keeping her personal life personal, but there is one little secret she
"It's not an obsession -- that's exaggerated -- but, oh, I love shoes.
I could wear a black skirt every day, but shoes ? I like to change them
three times a day".
It is a beautiful morning in Paris
and we are sitting in a palatial suite at the Ritz, overlooking the Place
de la Concorde, the pair of us admiring her purple crocodile slingbacks
by Dolce & Gabbana. Not the sort of shoes one expects a 62-year-old
grandmother to wear, and rather at odds with her immaculate coiffure and
demure, fur-trimmed tweed suit. But then, hasn't a certain streak of unconventionality
always been part of this screen legend's immortal allure ? Fire and ice,
madonna and whore, and all that ?
"Oh, I hope so", shrugs Deneuve as she inhales
on her cigarette, then absent-mindedly rubs the ash into the carpet with
one of those vampy soles. "People see me as a very sophisticated
lady, which I am in a way, but I'm not at all conventional. Non, non.
The choices I've made in my life -- they are not conventional".
Should she be going out looking like this ?
"Of course, although only for evening. For day, I wanted something
simple but precise. Because a woman who has to work doesn't have time
to fuss around. Then, for night, all she has to do is put on a new dress,
brush her hair and add a bit of light sparkle", she
says with the confidence of one who knows a thing or two about make-up
I could talk for hours about Deneuve's unconventional,
ultra-cool life ; how she was swept off her feet by the that Svengali,
Roger Vadim ; how she and Jane Fonda, his next paramour, had their babies
by him in the same clinic, same room even ; how she recoiled in horror
at being shot for Playboy by David Bailey, then subsequently married him
; how Mick Jagger was their best man ; how Marcello Mastroianni was married
to his wife Flora when Deneuve gave birth to their daughter, Chiara.
But one senses it's best to tread carefully here.
When Vadim put out a book about his past loves -- Fonda, Deneuve and Deneuve's
predecessor, Brigitte Bardot (detailing, among other things, how he and
Deneuve never married because he was put off by her insistence that if
they divorced, she wanted to keep the saucepans) -- she successfully sued.
It has been nearly 40 years since Deneuve appeared
in Luis Buñuel's cult 1960s classic "Belle de Jour" as
the bored, Yves Saint Laurent-clad housewife who turns to prostitution
to satisfy her masochistic fantasies. What a bygone era that seems, and
yet it is still quite possible to see what Buñuel meant when he
described his leading lady thus: "As beautiful as death, as seductive
as sin and as cold as virtue".
Up close, the texture of her skin is phenomenal, prompting one to wonder
whether she has had any surgical help. But no, this is apparently the
work of a "magician" on the Rue Premier called Francoise Meurice,
who has been practising lymphatic massage on her face for the past 20
years. And if she hadn't been so rash about tanning in her 20s, and if
she could quit smoking, it would probably be even better.
"I gave up for 12 years", she says in her
low, sometimes indecipherably fast voice. "Then, because of
certain problems, certain difficulties, I started letting myself have
three a day. Then it was six. I tried organic cigarettes once, but it's
like organic wine -- I'd rather not. And besides, I don't want to put
Born in 1943, Deneuve wanted to be an archeologist
rather than an actor. It was her beloved elder sister Francoise, herself
a successful actor, who persuaded her into the business. Then, in 1967,
not too long after the sisters had appeared together in "Les demoiselles
de Rochefort", Francoise was burned alive in a freak car accident
at the age of 25. It is a loss from which Deneuve has never recovered.
At the time she was married to Bailey and looking after Christian, her
young son by Vadim. As she revealed in her memoirs, Close Up and Personal
: "I'm pretty manic-depressive. I have moments of unconcern,
followed by moments of sadness, and on it goes".
There was, too, the perpetual frustration, in her 20s and early 30s (at
the height of her beauty), of being judged solely on her appearance, "having
people look at you rather than listen to you".
She felt this most acutely when she first went to Hollywood. The idea
of being a Hollywood movie star still makes her shudder; it is a place
where, she believes, "everybody is obsessed by youth".
Yet, at the time it seems it was hard not to behave
as people expected, such as throwing a tantrum when her hairdresser threatened
to leave. "Well, yes, in my 20s I had such different preferences",
she says. "I wanted to have my hair straight back, I wanted to wear
a tailleur [suit], I wanted to be the perfect mother with a big home".
"After I turned 40 and the children grew up and I realised time was
passing, it became a different story. No, not different story -- same
story, just a different chapter".
Does that mean she is happier now ?
"Well, my 20s were more difficult and there is certainly more equilibrium
now, but I still have highs and lows. Oh yes, I have to watch that",
she says, the ruby knuckle-duster on her finger glinting
in the sunlight as she adjusts her prescription sunglasses.
"You know, a doctor said something nice to me the other day : that
the reason French people are the biggest consumers of sleeping pills and
antidepressants is not because they give out more, but because the sensibility
is different here".
"Maybe we don't try to fool ourselves. The problem with Prozac is
that it has become a caricature, but when things become so much of a problem
that you can't work any more, it's..." Her voice
trails off, leaving the subject of whether she has been treated, like
so many other subjects, elegantly opaque.
Although my time is supposed to be up, Deneuve seems
in no hurry to curtail our surprisingly girly conversation. We talk of
how she simply adores Stefano Pilati's interpretation of Yves Saint Laurent
(to whom she was famously a muse in the 1970s), how Jean-Paul Gaultier
is so kind and how his couture is "to die for", how Alber Elbaz
at Lanvin makes the most wonderful things, but how, although she goes
to all of the shows, she is a shy, insular person at heart.
We talk, too, of how exercise, gardening and cooking at her "island"
(as she calls her farmhouse in Normandy) keep her from psychologically
dipping; how Chiara, her son Christian and her two grandchildren are the
most important things in the world; how she always sprays her pillows
with nice scent.
There is this wonderful shop on the Rue de Grenelle called Frederic Malle.
Have I been there ? I haven't ? "Oh, but I will write it down
for you and you must go immediately. Especially when it's such beautiful
weather today. It is hard when it is like this not to be in a good mood,