Lampoon Magazine, Chanel & the Romy Schneider exhibition

Romy Schneider at the Cinémathèque française, 40 years after her disappearance

«The United States had had their Marilyn. We could dream of it just as much». The Parisian exhibition portraying an eternal mark of inspiring womanhood

Portraits of feminized European cinema. The woman, the exhibition.

Between March 16th and July 31st, 2022, the Cinémathèque française pays homage to Romy Schneider and the many facets of her life. Sliding between exhibited posters, spontaneously flashed photos, diary extracts, or movie scenes feels a lot like window shopping through the life of the European cinema emblem. Containing many pieces contaminated by the actress, the exhibition casts light on her persona and personal identity.

‘Romy Schneider, L’Exposition’ becomes an outlet for love, tragedy, success, and maturation memories. Clémentine Deroudille, the exhibition curator, purposely focuses on the line of emotions and reflections witnessing «the tragedy of a life that was too short, and which necessarily had to hide other dramas, other pains that her films made it possible to exorcise, to transcend. As if she had to pay the price for her beauty, her love with Alain Delon, her films, her youth, and her freedom forever».

Lampoon, Romy Schneider and Gabrielle Chanel during a fitting at CHANEL in 1963
Romy Schneider and Gabrielle Chanel during a fitting at CHANEL in 1963

Born in 1938’s Wien, Rosemarie Magdalena Albach

She conquered the screens when she was fifteen. Now, forty years after her passing away, the french-german muse still lives her mark over style and dress codes with her feminine spirit of contrasts transpiring in every pelicula. The exhibition offers a pick of Romy Schneider’s dialogues. She sometimes hurried misspelled letters addressing Claude Sautet as ‘Clo’, the language of her friendships or passions accompanied by a vinyl collection and movie posters. As part of the experience, the museum included screenings of some of Romy Schneider’s most appreciated roles, partnering with Netflix on the streaming of her movies.

From the dashing maiden era interpreted in ‘Sisi’ to the commissioned nudes portraying complete emancipation, «behind the image of the young ingenue of her debut lays her taste for risk and ruptures, how she built her career to break the porcelain image of this Austrian princess».

The exhibition revisitation is iridescent. Layers of Romy imprints on cinematographic canons unfold, showing her path to becoming an icon. Through collaborations with great directors, the mature capacity to adapt to any character while remaining original attests that she «invented a style of acting that we still admire and honor». Romy Schneider’s exhibition draws on the history of cinema, casting light on filmmakers from all over the world. After all, «the United States had had their Marilyn. We could dream of it just as much».

Romy’s dresses. The erotic compass of female emancipation

Through her films, Romy embodies the many female archetypes designed by the silhouettes, the fabrics, and the details of her costumes and clothing. In that sense, she becomes the reincarnation of cinema and fashion history. But there is something more intriguing at play. Romy’s fashion items mirror the male gaze of each epoch, desire, and eroticism, and how a woman can conquer a man. The movies fixate on the canons of romantic tension with each memorable dress. Sisi, the timeless German trilogy, brought a fairy-like iconography.

Covered in satin and organza, Romy Schnaider has her ‘makeover moment’ in a light blue ball gown adorned with shiny flower motifs. Her shoulders are uncovered, and her waist is tightened in an elegant bodice. This appearance marks a princess status, satisfying the fantasy of an angelic and feminine bride-to-be. At this moment, the prince acknowledged Sisi in her discreetly suggestive aspect. Polka dots, pastel colors such as baby blues and pinks, long white gloves, pearl necklaces, and wide-brimmed saucer hats. A somehow fragile but assertive hypostasis, the revery-woman becomes a 1950 standard thanks to Romy.

The New Look was born in the same years, shortly after the Second World War, drawing inspiration from the hyper-feminine silhouette epoch (Second Empire France, the same era as Elisabeth of Austria). Charles James and Christian Dior made a habit of dressing women in a ‘romantic fairy style with little freedom of movement but lots of eye candy allure. The specularity of the crinoline-like skirts unwrapping under the hour-glass-shaped bodices spread among women dreaming of their last socially accepted appearance as princesses.  

It was Coco Chanel to save Romy Schneider from this dusted image blending with her out-of-screen persona. «Chanel taught me everything without ever giving me advice. Chanel is not a designer like the others… Because it’s a coherent, logical, ‘ordered’ whole: like the Doric order or the Corinthian order, there is a ‘Chanel order’, with its reasons, rules, and rigors. It is an elegance that satisfies the mind even more than the eyes», the actress confided.

They meet under the direction of Luchino Visconti on the set of Il Lavoro

It’s a fragment from the collective movie Boccaccio 70′, where Romy plays Pupe, the wealthy wife of an unfaithful Italian. The short scene reveals an entirely new woman in a game of revenge, temptation, and disobedience. Chanel pearls on her neck even when naked. Romy undergoes the dressing and undressing stages, stopping at a Chanel night kimono. In this silky, see-through item, Pupe makes her husband pay for his infidelity. He finally sees her as the woman of his desire, asking if what she is wearing is new. «This? It is Chanel. It is old. I had it for a month. Maybe you have never seen it because you never look at me», she answers confidently. 

A patron of the Cinémathèque française, Chanel lent a mottled tweed suit from the Fall-Winter 1961/62 Haute Couture collection for the Romy Schneider Exhibition, redeeming the symbol of emancipation through clothing. 

In the ’60s, André Courrèges became the man who dressed women in trousers, and in 1969′, Romy Schneider was the woman to invent the sexy backless dress in La Piscine. Far away from the innocent imagination of the first movies, the German actress is uncovered, appearing on the screens in minimal swimming suits and soft glamorized dresses portraying the new era of Parisian fashion led by André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne, and Pierre Cardin. They introduced geometry and new materials as an escape from the adorned style. Romy wears navy blue or white trousers, a monogrammed blue shirt with the collar and sleeves, or polo shirts and espadrilles.  

Lampoon, Romy Schneider and Gabrielle Chanel, 1965
Romy Schneider and Gabrielle Chanel, 1965

Unexpected parallels. On Filmography, career, and private life

Romy Schneider leads two parallel trajectories between her vivid success as an actress and the tragedy of love and family. Starring in over fifteen film productions, she collaborated with directors and screenwriters from all over Europe and the United States, leaving a heavy mark on the occidental cinematography. Born into a family of actors, Romy reached notoriety when she was not yet eighteen, with the hugely popular ‘Princess Sissi’ in 1956 and the two subsequent films inspired by the young empress. 

During the shooting of the film Christine, the young actress falls in love with the movie’s co-star, Alain Delon, deciding to move with him to Paris and announcing their engagement in 1959.

However, in 1964 the idyll between Delon and Romy Schneider ends, and shortly after, the actress marries the German actor Harry Mayen. Despite the birth of a child, David, their marriage is not a happy one, capitalizing on a divorce. 

Romy became the first woman to receive a César award in 1976 for ‘The important thing is to love’ by Andrzej Zulawski and in 1979 for ‘A simple woman’ by Claude Sautet. Dissatisfied with her separation from Delon and the failures of the other two relationships, Romy indulges in a reckless lifestyle, using drugs and alcohol.
The death of her beloved son in a tragic accident is the climax of her story, and without recovering from the tragedy, she dies a short time later of a heart attack. Romy was composed of many women, all contrasting and harmoniously synced simultaneously. Still, eventually, she most desired freedom: «I wanted to live, to love, to develop artistically, to become a new being: but above all to be free».

Maria Hristina Agut

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.