In a tucked-away room off the lobby of the Sofitel hotel, guests at an opening party are greeted by a pouty-mouthed blond, the French actress Brigitte Bardot. It’s not the actress herself but a collection of images from her heyday, which make up the new traveling exhibition “BB Forever—Brigitte Bardot, the Legend.”
The famed singer, actress, and model is one of the most beloved icons to hail from France in the second half of the 20th century. Bardot—or “BB” as she’s affectionately known—has a certain je ne sais quoi that has kept fans spellbound throughout a film career that began in the 1950s, captivating audiences in both Europe and the United States. Many actresses and models, including Claudia Schiffer, made their names trying to follow in Bardot’s image.
Photos from various moments of Bardot’s life—her posing in a bathing suit, looking in a mirror as she applies lip pencil, eyeing her next lover—adorn the eggshell-colored walls of the exhibition space.
“She’s done more for feminism than the intellectuals” said Henry-Jean Servat, the French photojournalist and curator of the photo exhibit, at the opening-night party. He said he had known Bardot for 25 years, and that at nearly 77 years old, she lives almost like a recluse. “She was fed up with fame, with movies. I think I’m the only one she sees at her place.”
At the height of her popularity in the 1960s, according to Servat, Bardot was a controversial figure. He said one priest denounced her, forbade his congregation from seeing her films, and vilified her for what he called her obvious comfort with her own sexuality.
Bardot’s modern oeuvre, captured in the more than 40 films she made and the numerous magazine covers she appeared on, earned her international celebrity and made her a sought-after muse for many 20th century artists, including Picasso and Andy Warhol.
The opening of the exhibition was a big night for local aficionados of French culture. As the crowd trickled into the reception area, scenes from her films flashed across a flat-screen television. DJ Donald Syriani played songs she recorded while servers passed appetizers from Bardot’s favorite recipes.
Since leaving the glamorous life of filmmaking, Bardot has devoted her life to championing animal rights.
“She wants the fame to be more powerful to talk about animals rights” Servat said.