Bardot's Contentious Second Act

Article excerpt

Byline: Eric Pape

Large photos of the youthful Brigitte Bardot compete with each other on the facade of a prominent store on the Champs-Elysees. They convey just how ahead of her time the film star was. Bardot's young face, body, fashion, and many styles look utterly contemporary. As Burbank, California-based film historian Ken Kramer notes of the old images of her: "That is what women look like now."

The times have caught up to Brigitte Bardot--and in more ways than one. Tastemakers are still capitalizing on her influence; Dior, Gaultier, and Lagerfeld have all organized catwalk tributes to her iconography; and lingerie and fashion models like Lara Stone and Bar Refaeli have risen on the nubile back of early Bardot. In cinema, Laetitia Casta's turn as Bardot in the stylized French film Gainsbourg (2010) may just be the start; Kramer is currently trying to make a Hollywood biopic about her, so far without her cooperation. Not least, a pair of stylish bars (in Los Angeles and Miami) and a lusty Australian "girl band" all go by the same singular name: Bardot. Rarely given to understatement, Bardot wrote in a letter to NEWSWEEK that she is "surprised and proud" of her iconic status these days.

Bardot, who turned 76 in late September, is more than willing to use that nostalgic vision as what she calls a "steppingstone" for her key cause: animal rights. But her zealous stand against the inhumane butchering of animals without anesthetizing them has prompted polemical--some say racist--rants that have threatened to undermine both her cause and her connection to longtime fans. In an August interview on France 1 radio, she harshly criticized halal meat, which, she says, involves slitting animals' throats without sedation. (She previously made similar criticisms of kosher meat. …