What makes a Cannes Film Festival look iconic? The annual event, which celebrates its 74th anniversary this year, is known for its couture-clad guests, but you don’t make a splash there without going the extra mile. Just as the festival’s top prizes celebrate cinema’s most innovative and audacious talents, its red carpet rewards boldness and irreverence. At Cannes, celebrities are expected to create a moment.
The execution is almost as important as the outfit itself. Sure, the Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra that Madonna wore to the Truth or Dare premiere in 1991 would have been fabulous on its own. Still, the excitement came when the Material Girl tore off her voluminous pink satin wrap coat to reveal the lingerie beneath. The cheeky move made headlines around the globe and whet her fan’s appetite for the revealing documentary.
You don’t have to be a pop provocateur to turn heads; a well-timed reference works just as well. In 1987 all eyes were on Princess Diana when she arrived at a gala in honor of veteran actor Sir Alec Guinness wearing a pale blue Catherine Walker chiffon gown. The demure piece was a nod to another beloved royal: Grace Kelly, whose Edith Head-designed costumes in To Catch a Thief inspired the look.
Equally compelling was the tea-length floral number that Kelly wore during her visit to the festival in 1955. In town to do promo for her film The Country Girl—for which she would later win the Academy Award—Kelly wore a fur stole and a satin gown on the carpet with actor Jean-Pierre Aumont. Still, it was the comparatively casual silk taffeta look she chose for an off-duty moment at the festival that went down in history. Invited to a dinner meeting with Monaco’s Prince Rainier by Olivia de Havilland and her then-husband Pierre Galante, Kelly wore a dress created from McCall’s “Easy to Sew” pattern #3100. Kelly’s DIY dress was a good luck charm that night, one that her fans could easily emulate if they had 65 cents and access to a sewing machine.
Modern-day stars have succeeded at Cannes by selecting statement pieces powerful enough to elicit an emotional response. Whether they doubled down on cuteness (like Björk in bubblegum pink Marjan Pejoski in 2000), broke out the estate jewelry (Monica Belluci in a custom Cartier crocodile necklace that once belonged to Maria Félix in 2007) or embraced art history (Cate Blanchett in Mary Katrantzou’s modernist prints in 2018), their choices were conversation starters. Blanchett’s look proved so extraordinary, Katranzou was moved to tears.
It’s hard to say which 2021 looks will stand the test of time, but this year’s ceremony has already yielded one internet-breaking standout. The surreal sexiness of Bella Hadid’s low-cut Schiaparelli haute couture gown would have been difficult to ignore, but add on a rhinestone-studded, trompe l’oeil lungs necklace, and you have an instantly iconic Cannes moment ready for its closeup.