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Some people were born for the biopic treatment. In particular, we’re thinking of Serge Gainsbourg, the dirty old man of French pop. He spent most of the 60s and 70s creating the French pop star cliché: a sentimental crooner with impeccable suits, a heart-breakingly beautiful woman on his arm (Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin among others) and a protective cloud of cigarette smoke surrounding him at all times.

Unsurprisingly, he’s getting the lavish biopic treatment with the European flick Gainsbourg, but on the off chance you can’t make it to a Parisian movie theater any time soon, we thought we’d fill you in on some of the juicier details.

Perfectly Embodied:
France in the 60s was still very much suit country, but Gainsbourg made the uniform his own with loosened ties, sunglasses, and his style signature, a pair of patent leather Repetto lace-ups. Add in darted shirts and skin-tight fits, and you’ve got one of the cooler twists on tradwear the world has ever seen.

Words of Wisdom:
With a face like this one
Good god
The only thing missing from my ears
Is pom poms.

-lyrics from “Laissez me Tranquille” (Leave Me Alone)

The Backstory:
Between the nose, the ears and the ever-present stubble…let’s just call him “unconventionally handsome.” Of course, he didn’t let it slow him down. If anything, it was part of his charm. It’s a testament—either to the power of swagger or the strange charisma of ugliness.

The Gutsy Move:
As with anyone who proudly wears the “dirty old man” label, he was subject to the occasional lapse in grooming. But much like your pop star uncle, it was more endearing than off-putting. We’d also count burning a 500-franc bill on live television as pretty gutsy, but that’s a whole other story.

The Takeaway:
It’s hard being a dedicated provocateur, but no one does it without a reason. For 25 years, he threw everything he could at the mainstream—from sexpot lyrics to a reggae version of “La Marseillaise”—out of a simple but heartfelt conviction that they had it coming. Even now, we’re hard-pressed to disagree.

—R.B.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • Russell Brandom