La Piscine: Alain Delon’s Iconic Swimwear
Alain Delon as Jean-Paul Leroy, moody ad agency writer on vacation
French Riviera, Summer 1968
Film: The Swimming Pool
(French title: La Piscine)
Release Date: January 3, 1969
Director: Jacques Deray
Costume Designer: André Courrèges
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
More than a half-century after its release, La Piscine remains hailed as one of the most stylish movies, not just for French designer André Courrèges’s costumes but also its sun-drenched Côte d’Azur setting, Michel Legrand’s jazzy score, and the smoldering expressions of its quartet of stars. “The less you put in words, the more you will oblige me to have imagination,” director Jacques Deray reportedly screenwriter instructed Jean-Claude Carrière.
Deray’s “imagination” draws the most from the dangerously intense sexual tension among its leads, beginning with Alain Delon and Romy Schneider as the vacationing couple spending their summer in an opulent villa secluded in the French Riviera. For his first of nine collaborations with Deray, Delon had personally insisted on Schneider to play his leading co-star, and the two ex-lovers were reunited on the screen for the first time in a decade as Schneider returned to acting for the successful second phase of her prolific career.
“Glamour is really essential to understanding the appeal of this film,” explained Nick Rees-Roberts in the recent Criterion Collection documentary, Undressing a Legacy. “Use of design in the film is purposeful, it’s intentional,” explaining the contributions of the setting, score, costumes, and more all worked together to develop the famous evocative mise-en-scène. Recalling David Hockney’s stylized paintings of the ’60s, the swimming pool indeed hosts much of the tension and action driving our characters, almost a secondary character whose reputation shifts from “the best thing about this place” according to Delon’s character to something that must be drained by the end.
Indeed, La Piscine begins in the villa’s eponymous pool, where Jean-Paul (Delon) drowsily lounges in idle and idyllic bliss. He’s only momentarily disrupted by the splash his playful paramour Marianne (Schneider) makes as she leaps into the pool before emerging in a dripping black bikini, allowing both Delon and the audience time to take in her elegant form before she stands over Jean-Paul and tempts him into a poolside tryst. This opening sequence sets the tone for the gaze-driven, slow-burning eroticism that propels La Piscine‘s quiet chaos.
Their rapture is interrupted—in more ways than one—by Harry Lannier (Maurice Ronet), another of Marianne’s former lovers whom she invites to the villa, much to Jean-Paul’s chagrin. Both Jean-Paul and Marianne are surprised by the appearance of Harry’s 18-year-old daughter Pénélope (Jane Birkin), a quiet beauty whom Marianne watches with some amusement as Jean-Paul can’t help but to turn his hungry gaze to her.
To read more about La Piscine, I recommend Robert Abele’s May 2021 review for the Los Angeles Times, which describes the continued action as:
What transpires over the next few charged days of al fresco mornings, frisky afternoons and alcohol-laced nights—including an impromptu party Harry throws for his daughter’s birthday with a caravan’s worth of young guests—is a vibrating psychodrama about possessiveness and insecurity. You can practically hear the ticking toward whatever violent reckoning has been set in motion by this quartet’s baggage and maneuverings. The pool at this picturesque Riviera getaway is where these passions come to mix and clash. Certain longings emerge, and others find a watery demise.
What’d He Wear?
Of course, Alain Delon looks great in his clothing (how couldn’t he?), though La Piscine almost intentionally deconstructs the fashionable figure he cut a decade earlier as Tom Ripley in Plein soleil, dressing him in staples that could be found in any man’s wardrobe: a few button-up shirts, some dirty jeans, and jackets and sweaters to layer on for the evening chill.
“What’s particularly apparent about La Piscine is the display of Delon’s body: the bathing suits, the casual jeans,” said Rees-Roberts. “This isn’t really seen as a fashion films for the costumes they used for Delon, it’s more seen as a fashion film for the fashion industry’s reworking of the film in the context of contemporary fashion advertising.” (For proof, look no further than the 2009 ads Dior ran for its Eau Sauvage cologne, which re-cut the opening sequence of a bronzed Delon by the pool.)
Brown Patterned Trunks
The opening shot may be one of the most famous vignettes from La Piscine as Jean-Paul lounges by the pool clad only in sunglasses and his brown paisley swim trunks. He raises a green glass to his lips, draining the last of his orange juice, and leans back against the stone, only for Marianne’s splash to arouse him from his bliss. (It wouldn’t be his first arousal in the scene.)
Apropos trending European fashions of the era, these tight nylon trunks have a short inseam with no visible straps, drawstrings, belt loops, or anything else that would adjust the fit; the only added detail is a patch pocket over the back right. The all-over pattern consists of brown jagged leaf-like shapes of varying sizes, each containing a darker brown paisley shape and printed against an ivory ground.
Within a decade of the Vuarnet eyewear brand launching as a collaboration between French opticians Roger Pouilloux and Joseph Hatchiguian and Olympic gold medal skier Jean Vuarnet, Delon elevated the brand’s reputation to new heights when he wore his personal pair of black nylon-framed Vuarnet 06 sunglasses in La Piscine. Now designated the Legend 06 by Vuarnet, the frames will be associated with an another screen icon with Daniel Craig wearing them in his final James Bond movie, No Time to Die.
After emerging from the pool, Jean-Paul wraps his green terry towel around his waist and slips into his black espadrilles. These casual slip-on shoes are perfect for lazy days poolside, constructed of soft black leather uppers and the traditional jute outsoles. For more easily sliding in and out of his espadrilles, Jean-Paul frequently ignores the soft back heels, flattening them against the soles for a backless sandal-like effect.
Delon’s Jean-Paul wears the same clothing throughout the sequence, but it’s Marianne who significantly changes clothing not once but twice. At the start, she’s a vixen in her stylish black bikini, the top held on only by two thin straps that Jean-Paul easily unworks during their poolside assignation. She hastily wraps a towel around herself to answer the phone, and—upon learning of Harry’s imminent arrival—changes into a more modest (but still fashionable) white one-piece bathing suit.
As coded in Psycho nearly a decade earlier, women in black undergarments are represented to have more “sinful” thoughts on their mind while white signifies “purer” motives. By the time Harry and Pénélope actually arrive, Marianne has layered in even more pale colors, donning an over-shirt that hides even more of her body from her visiting ex-lover. She may play with Harry’s affections and Jean-Paul’s jealousy throughout La Piscine, but Marianne’s “purity”-coded clothing can’t hide her true intentions of remaining faithful to Jean-Paul.
Bright Floral Trunks
For all subsequent forays into the pool, Jean-Paul wears a pair of bright orange-and-yellow swim shorts, patterned in a groovy large-scaled floral print of white and hot pink flowers with sage-green leaves. Like the earlier trunks, these are tight with a fitted waistband, short inseam, and only a patch pocket over the back right.
The shorts are first seen as Jean-Paul approaches the pool one morning before breakfast, pulling off his semi-buttoned tight black short-sleeved shirt and sliding out of his black espadrilles before flopping in. Harry is strangely proud to catch Jean-Paul ogling Pénélope, and the two sit down for coffee… which Harry then excitedly takes to use to wake up a nude-sleeping Marianne.
Later, Jean-Paul walks in on Pénélope idling in the corner of the living room as Harry plays one of his new recording artists’ albums for Marianne. Lounging in her black bikini, she initially seems receptive to Harry’s flirtatious overtures but then even moreso to Jean-Paul’s return, asking him: “Is it hot out?”
“Scorching,” he responds.
Another day, Jean-Paul and Harry race across the pool, and Marianne determines Harry was the winner as “he touched it first.” Is she signifying that Harry remains the ultimate winner of her affection as he “touched” her before Jean-Paul? Seemingly not, as she then rejects Harry’s offer to accompany him to Saint-Tropez, instead remaining poolside in Jean-Paul’s massaging hands.
Similar to the Vuarnets being Delon’s personal eyewear, I believe these floral trunks—and possibly the black shirt—may have also been his own, as he was photographed by Jean-Pierre Bonnotte wearing something very similar while partying at sea with Brigitte Bardot in Saint-Tropez in August 1968, right around the time production would have started on La Piscine on August 19.
The details of the unique print on his trunks suggest that these are either the same pair or duplicates, and we also see more of the short-sleeved shirt with its narrow collar and a chest pocket on the left side with a button-down flap. Seeing the shirt in closer detail also reveals that the long placket extends down below his chest, though it doesn’t button all the way to the bottom and is thus a popover shirt (explaining why Jean-Paul takes it off by pulling it over his head.)
What to Imbibe
We learn that Jean-Paul doesn’t drink, but he still runs to assist Marianne as she brings out the drinks tray to serve a newly arrived Harry and Pénélope. In addition to the orange juice (which Jean-Paul prefers) and Perrier, the alcoholic options available on the tray include Johnnie Walker Red Label blended Scotch whisky, Martini vermouth, and Ricard pastis, an anise-and-licorice-flavored apertif named after its Marseilles-born distiller Paul Ricard.
Harry opts for the Scotch, while Marianne, Jean-Paul, and Pen all drink orange juice.
How to Get the Look
La Piscine immortalized the casual elegance of the late ’60s in the Riviera, celebrating bright and boldly patterned swimwear for men to make the most of idle holidays with little else to do but swim and sleep.
- Black short-sleeved popover shirt with breast pocket (with button-down flap)
- Bright, boldly patterned nylon short-inseam swim trunks with fitted waistband and back-right pocket
- Black leather jute-soled espadrilles
- Vuarnet 06 (VL000600017184) sunglasses with black nylon frames and brown Skilynx lenses
Of course, you’ll also want a set of sage-green terry towels to dry off between various romps and naps.
California-based leisure outfitter Dandy Del Mar—a particular favorite of mine—drew upon these styles when creating some of their signature swimwear, particularly the “Cassis Square Cut Swim Brief”.
Made from a blend of nylon and spandex to deliver the stylishly snug fits of the late ’60s, two pairs specifically reminded me of Delon’s trunks in La Piscine, the brown “Gardenia” print and the orange “Mango Lagoon” print.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, remastered for a new Criterion Collection release last month. (As of yesterday, the film is also streaming on the Criterion Channel!)
I also hope fans of Alain Delon are following the Instagram account @AlainDelonArchive, managed by my friend behind @thesilverclassics!