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Happy Bastille Day! Six Fantastically Famous French People

Happy Bastille Day to our French amis! We salute you with a look at some of our favorite fantastically French icons!

Ah, France, you are filled with such delights − and we are not just talking about wine, cheese, bread, and chocolate. Bastille Day is a French national holiday that commemorates the anniversary of the storming of the prison that triggered the French Revolution. 

So as we cheer on our French amis and their independence day, let us also tip our chapeaux to six fantastically famous French icons who have left their own memorable marks in this world.

1. Coco Chanel

Merci to Coco Chanel, a trailblazer who transformed her lover’s knit jersey into wearable garments that revolutionized women’s fashion. During a time when women wore restrictive clothing including corsets that made it hard to eat and breathe, Chanel transformed the style of the day by creating livable luxury fashion. Her style legacy includes the little black dress, fragrances, striped sailor shirts, and of course, the Chanel suit. She refused to follow trends or be restricted by conventions and her fashions epitomize the classic modern woman.

2. Gustave Eiffel

Gustave Eiffel

Master engineer Gustave Eiffel. 

Who can imagine Paris sans the Eiffel Tower? Engineer and bridge builder Gustave Eiffel designed the giant metal skeleton, covering 80 percent of the cost himself. At first his French countrymen thought it vulgar and garish but now it’s the crown jewel of The City of Lights providing a magnificent birds-eye view of the romantic European capital. Architecturally, Eiffel’s masterpiece has been a major influence on subsequent skyscraper design.

3. Jacques Cousteau

Jacques Cousteau

Undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau. 

While Gene Roddenberry took us on a fictional joyride to space in 1966 in his TV series Star Trek, this French undersea explorer took us to another frontier — below the surface of the ocean. His first documentary The World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau premiered in March 1966 and grew into a series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau that ran for nine seasons. Millions watched Cousteau and his crew traversing the globe’s oceans while he presented intimate exposés of marine life and habitat. In addition to his documentary work, Jacques Cousteau was a talented photographer, a focused researcher, and inventor of the Aqua-Lung, a breathing device for scuba diving.

4. Brigitte Bardot

Brigitte Bardot

Sex symbol and animal activist Brigitte Bardot.

Sultry model and actress Brigitte Bardot skyrocketed to fame in the 1960s and personified the sex kitten. As a teenager, Bardot studied ballet and appeared on the cover of France’s Elle magazine. As an actress, she became an international sex symbol after the premiere of the 1956 film And God Created Woman in which she played a sexually liberated young woman in St. Tropez. After years of starring in movies and dabbling with a music career, she turned her attention to animal conservation. In the 1970s, she established the Foundation for the Protection of Distressed Animals, followed in the 1980s by the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals. Her efforts led the Council of Europe to ban the importation of seal fur and France’s ban on ivory imports.

5. Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane

French soccer great Zinedine Zidane.

He’s one of soccer’s all-time greats and led France to victory at the 1998 World Cup. “Zizou” became a national hero with their 3-0 win over Brazil. In addition to his many wins, Zinedine Zidane is also known for a controversial footnote in soccer history. At the 2006 World Cup, as France was advancing toward the trophy win, Zidane’s career came to a screeching halt when his “head-butt seen around the world” got him kicked out of the game. Nonetheless, he’s since gone on to coach Real Madrid Castilla and is recognized for his mad skills on the pitch and his numerous charity matches post-retirement. Nous vous aimons, Zizou!

6. Philippe Petit

Philippe Petit Photo

Philippe Petit’s walk between the World Trade Center towers in 1974. 

Philippe Petit is the French daredevil who committed the “artistic crime of the century” when he rigged and walked across a high-wire between the two towers of New York City’s World Trade Center in 1974. Petit has amazed and inspired the world with other fantastical feats in the United States and Europe. He’s also authored six books and was as an artist-in-residence at New York City’s Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.

À la vôtre