15 Fashion Triumphs From Cannes Over the Decades

Follow our live updates from the opening night of the Cannes Film Festival.

If the Met Gala is the all-star showcase of red carpet entrances, the Oscars the skills championship, and the MTV Video Music Awards the X Games, then the Cannes Film Festival is effectively the playoffs: an extended period in which celebrities show up multiple times in clothes high and low, demonstrating all their moves.

And though outfits seem to be getting increasingly extreme with the proliferation of social media, a look back through the history of the festival’s runway (oops, red carpet) — which this year runs May 16-27 — reveals that it was, in fact, ever thus.

The Croisette boulevard has always been a catwalk and we, the rapt audience looking on.


When she attended Cannes on the arm of her third husband, the producer Mike Todd (who was there to promote “Around the World in 80 Days”), Ms. Taylor was Hollywood royalty, and she dressed the part — from the tip of her diamond Cartier tiara to the hem of her white Balmain gown and the fingertips of her opera gloves. The princess dress would forever after be a festival staple (not least on Princesses Grace and Diana when they would take their own Cannes bows).


Ms. Deneuve attended Cannes with her then-husband, the photographer David Bailey, in a long seaside-striped sequin Yves Saint Laurent T-shirt dress. She was a de facto YSL ambassador before that term had even entered the fashion playbook (back then, the usual appellation was “muse”). She would remain one for decades, loyally wearing YSL onscreen and off. When it comes to casual glamour, however, this dress set the tone, proving the concept was not an oxymoron, but a whole potential genre unto itself.


Ms. Birkin popped up at Cannes with her beau, Serge Gainsbourg, and a picnic basket as a handbag, toting it not just during the day, but on the red carpet with a glimmering frock. Reportedly discovered in a fishing village in Portugal, it was the Birkin bag before the Birkin bag. It became a symbol of the British star and of a certain je ne sais quoi in boho style and the freewheeling nature of Cannes.


Minimalism came to the Croisette courtesy of Ms. Moss, attending the premiere of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” with her then-boyfriend, Johnny Depp. Ms. Moss wore a black cocktail dress with ostrich feathers at the top and almost no makeup with merely a touch of diamonds and barely-there sandals. She made everyone else look overdone and overdressed, washing the Augean stables of Cannes clean.


Ms. Swinton strode the carpet in a metallic pantsuit, proving that a woman does not need a big dress to make a big statement.


Ms. Evangelista posed like a gold Greek statuette in Lanvin at the premiere of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Models had become key parts of the festival’s opening evening mix, upping the fashion ante even further.


Ms. Clooney made her Cannes debut in a classic butter yellow Atelier Versace dress with a high slit on one leg, entirely overshadowing her husband, George, at the premiere of his film, “Money Monster,” and, once again, proving style and substance are not antithetical concepts.


The French actress made the ultimate elegant refusal of Cannes convention in a high-necked, long-sleeved all-black Balenciaga gown, matching boot leggings and matching shades. It cut through the carpet froth and excess like a knife.


The sole man in this trendsetting list, Mr. Lee put ye olde penguin suits to shame as jury president, eschewing the usual tuxedo or white dinner jacket for a bouquet of sunset-toned suiting, by Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton. He did the right thing.


Sometimes, it seems like the wide open skies of the Côte d’Azur encourage even wider skirts on the Cannes carpet, but Ms. Bachchan topped them all in a fantastical creation from Gaurav Gupta that made her look like some sort of alien smoke goddess materializing on Earth. Sometimes, it really does seem like the looks at Cannes are out of this world.

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