The Grande Dames' Red-Carpet Rebellion

Learn from the older actresses at Cannes: they're making comfort chic

Susan Sarandon wearing Chanel on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. Picture / Getty.

If a red carpet is an invitation to go all out, then the annual Cannes Film Festival is a 12-day challenge - an ultramarathon of style, if you will. But in among the diamonds and wedding dresses worn as ball gowns this week (yes, truly), there’s also been a surprising trend on the ascendant: the rebels who have been rewriting the dress code.

While Jessica Chastain in Alexander McQueen and Elle Fanning wearing Vivienne Westwood Couture might have stuck to the traditional route, the Grande Dames of Cannes proved that with age comes the confidence to wear things your own way. A bold, head-to-toe print could be overwhelming, but Salma Hayek dressed hers down with flatform brogues, while Juliette Binoche eschewed ballgowns for a jewel-toned trouser suit.

GALLERY: The Coolest Red Carpet Looks from Cannes

So why not ditch the “age-appropriate frock” and agonising heels you had earmarked for the summer wedding season, in favour of your own Cannes-approved style rebellion. The premise seems simple. Ask yourself two questions: do you love it? And are you comfortable? If not, here’s how to break the rules.

First on any rebel’s shopping list? Leather. Leading the charge was Susan Sarandon; the 70-year-old actress and activist chose to forgo safer (read boring) options in favour of a floor-length black leather skirt. It’s a bit ooo-err, a bit risqué, and really rather good. Add to that a pair of black, slingback kitten heels and Sarandon’s signature black sunglasses and you’re on to a winner.

If a leather skirt sounds like too much chafing for you, then why not swap your regular cover-up for a leather jacket? Uma Thurman used her black leather biker to balance out her uber-feminine, floor-length satin skirt, but if black feels too heavy, try coloured leather instead. Emma Thompson’s highlighter-yellow leather jacket is a great summer party staple.

The second step towards style subversion? Denim - or more specifically, jeans, so long as the rest of your outfit is smart enough to balance out the casual wear connotations. Case in point: Isabelle Huppert in high-waisted Chloe jeans, offset by a slinky silk shirt and high-heeled sandals. Maybe you won’t follow suit and wear jeans to your cousin’s church wedding, but for a summer cocktail party? These are just the thing.

One final act of red carpet rebellion we can all take happy note of is a simple one: flats. Aymeline Valade’s patent black leather brogues looked refreshingly modern with her teal trouser suit, but 80-year-old actress Vanessa Redgrave went one better in box-fresh white Converse that tied in perfectly with her monochrome tailoring.

Well, in a sea of women in pinching stilettos, don’t you want to be the one still dancing when they turn the lights up?

Our pick of those who did the Cannes red carpet well...

Robin Wright in Stella McCartney "Robin Wright dressed in a sharp black trouser suit was a wonderfully refreshing antithesis to all the over-the-top, attention-grabbing frills, flounces and knicker flashing seen in Cannes. With the jacket sleeves nonchalantly pulled back and a simple pair of Saint Laurent shades, she was all business with a confident air of having nothing to prove." – Amanda Linnell, managing editor

Tilda Swinton in Haider Ackermann "She’s directional - and this can be confronting on the red carpet, especially somewhere as chintzy and glamourous as Cannes. So Tilda’s minimalist green skirt suit by one of her favourite designers, Haider Ackermann, was refreshing. She looks like herself, and her wardrobe across the week - Loewe and Schiaparelli - was equally modern and well-played classic Tilda." – Dan Ahwa, fashion editor

Sofia Coppola in jeans "The gowns and glamour are a wonderful distraction, but my standouts were those who brought some low-key elegance to the festival and "dared" to wear jeans (remember the furore in 2015 when a woman was reportedly turned away for wearing flat shoes?). Isabelle Huppert in 70s-style Chloe, Marion Cotillard in edgier Y/Project, and, my personal style favourite Sofia Coppola, teaming hers with a crisp short-sleeved shirt.
Elle Fanning - and her stylist Samantha McMillen - also deserves a mention for sheer number of festival outfits, from her custom Vivienne Westwood and Rodarte gowns to the numerous looks from Prada and Miu Miu." – Zoe Walker, associate editor

Isabelle Huppert in Louis Vuitton “Isabelle Huppert is an angel of French style that I can’t get enough of. Her looks never scream, instead just softly whisper, 'I’ve arrived'.” – Danielle Clausen, editorial assistant

Uma Thurman in Giuseppe Zanotti "Uma has well and truly moved on from that Kill Bill yellow catsuit. The outfit this year’s president of the jury Un Certain Regard wore to the screening of Loveless (Nelyubov) was effortlessly chic and stood out from the crowd. While her lower half – a full-length ivory satin fishtail skirt and jewelled black sandals - was elegant, the top was pure rock and roll, Giuseppe Zanotti’s Fall 2017 leather jacket, with a fur collar and cuffs." – Shandelle Battersby, lifestyle and commercial editor

- The Daily Telegraph, Viva

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