From Scandi design to Paco Rabanne: farewell to Françoise Hardy (1944-2024)

The French singer and actress, face of the yè-yè youth and style icon, passed away at the age of 80.

With her songs, Françoise Hardy narrated a pure and emotional form of love, framing in words and music an adolescence in Technicolor. Wes Anderson understood it well, when including her ‘Les temps de l'amour’ in the soundtrack of Moonrise Kingdom, contributing to the (re)discovery of Hardy and her sweet, evanescent yè-yè world to the eyes of a new generation.

The composed innocence portrayed by the blue eyes, the petite features, the blond fringe and the countless striped tops, managed to find their balance in the cheekiness of a France that was shedding its skin.

Like the protagonists of the film, dancing on a beach to her vinyl, Françoise too was just a teenager when she made her singing debut in 1961 with the French label Disques Vogue, to which she would forever associate her name and hits to come. The following year came her first singles, the international chart-busters ‘Tous les garçons et les filles’ and ‘Les temps de l'amour’.

At the age of 22, in 1966, Hardy already was at the peak of her career, as recounted by a reportage broadcast on Italian television. Hardy is followed around the boutiques in the centre of Paris, the city where she was born and raised, precisely in the 9th arrondissement. Among these is Yves Saint Laurent, one of the many maisons Françoise became a face and endorser. Influencer we would now say. 

But in her life there’s also room Pierre Cardin (whom she wore in 1963 on the Croisette, when presenting her first acting role in Château en Suede) and André Courrèges, with a total look for her cameo on the set of Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin, Féminin. 

The camera, then, lingers on the curtain of a shop: Bohème. Yet when Hardy opens the doors of her home to the troupe, the flat is already a far cry from the bohemian Rive Gauche, all Sartre and acoustic guitars, with which the singer had associated herself, at least in her iconography, in the early days. 

The interiors are Scandinavian, mid-century, suggesting a success that is also financial. Hardy, seated composed in a Chanel-style dress, confesses her greatest fear, physical pain, but above all moral pain. She is surrounded by friends, musicians (including Michel Polnareff), and vinyl: hers, those of her lifelong companion Jacques Dutronc, but also of histrionic Italian singer-songwriter Adriano Celentano, who she covered on ‘La maison où j’ai grandi’.

Yet the composed innocence portrayed by the blue eyes, the petite features, the blond fringe and the countless striped tops, managed to find their balance in the cheekiness of a France that was shedding its skin, and of which Hardy became a prominent face. A transition from the high-necked existentialism of the early 1960s to the libertine playfulness of the yè-yè generation, before the barricades, the cars set on fire and the rain of porphyry cubes – once again recounted by Wes Anderson, this time in The French Dispatch.

It was all about Hardy posing for Brian Duffy on the set of Grand Prix (1966) and for Jean-Marie Périer next to Mick Jagger. Hardy in a jumper covered in badges like a Beatnik, wearing oversized plastic sunglasses. Hardy on the cover of the music weekly Salut Les Copains in a biker look or languidly sitting on an orange Eero Aarnio Ball Chair. Or about the time Paco Rabanne chose her to endorse one of his most famous creations: a 9 kilogram gold dress with a collar boasting 300 carat diamonds.

Femme fatale or innocent vestal virgin of French chanson? Both, and neither: more simply Hardy embodied a grace, in both manners and poses, that today seems so distant, especially when compared to the aggressiveness of today’s divas whose femininity is now forcedly annulled, now flaunted with vulgar impetuosity. A style that made her the It Girl ante litteram, before Jane Birkin landed under the Eiffel Tower at Gainsbourg's court, before Alexa Chung, who much learnt from her.

Yet Françoise fought battles, first and foremost civil and for human dignity. Such as the one on end of life therapy, which accompanied the last decades of her life, while fighting cancer.

All that remains are the records, the magazine covers, the astrology books to which she dedicated herself from the 1970s onwards and those as an author, but also the photographic editorials. Among these is one, touching, alongside Jacques Dutronc, shot at a distance of at least three decades from their yè-yè beginnings. She is elegant and seraphic as always, he looks like an old rocker in his cowboy boots and cigar. Aged yes, but never less distinguished, yesterday enfants terribles, today national heroes.

Opening image: Francoise Hardy in Amsterdam. Photo Joos Evers from Openverse

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