In 2022, the Cannes Film Festival celebrated its 75th anniversary. While Cannes is ostensibly an event to debut new and exciting movies, as the name implies, it's also one of the most important fashion events of the year. Cannes can be a source of gorgeous couture fashion (like other red carpet events, of course), but what sets the festival apart is that it's the place to debut the most exciting, risqué, outlandish, over-the-top, ridiculous, and deeply fun fashion. Style was built into the festival's DNA, and early style icons like Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren became known entities because of the outfits they wore to the festival. Later style icons, including none other than Madonna, would later use the red carpet as their own personal style playground—and Cannes remains one of the most interesting and notable red carpets.
It's hard to pick the best, but we're trying to strike a balance: We've got some outfits that were daring and inspirational for their time, and we've got gowns that took thousands of hours to make and are sculptural in their beauty. Below, 32 of the best Cannes dresses of all time.
Julie Delpy, 1998
The French-American actress turned heads this year for wearing a Cinderella blue princess gown with contrasting black corset top, but (with the benefit of hindsight) I love this simple light frock more. It's got everything a Cannes dress should have: It's simple but ornate and gorgeous despite its simplicity.
Natalie Wood, 1962
The late actress, here with boyfriend at the time Warren Beatty, is wearing a satin wrap that's billowy with a ton of shine. But underneath, she was wearing a fitted, low-cut, sequin dress that was daring in the '60s—exactly the sort of avant-garde look that's made for this particular film festival.
Pamela Anderson, 1995
At her peak, Pamela Anderson was one of the most recognizable faces in the world—and she really leaned in on her bombshell persona, even at the more formal Cannes. It's hard to see in this shot, but she's actually wearing pants and knee-high boots, and she's totally nailing it.
Claudia Schiffer and Kate Moss, 1998
Kate Moss has graced the Cannes red carpet several times, most notably with fellow model Claudia Schiffer. They're both in simple, '90s-heavy outfits (see also: the simple spaghetti-strap column dress and prom-like strap heels), but the construction of both dresses is pretty timeless.
Charlize Theron, 2004
Charlize Theron was making use of the Cannes red carpet as a chic style statement before a lot of other modern starlets were. This wasn't her first appearance, but this piece-y, ruffle-heavy, seafoam green Dior dress helped establish her as a real fashion force.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, 2022
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has worn some famously over-the-top and gorgeous Cannes gowns in her time (seriously, Google it), but this billowy sculptural piece is one of the most adventurous. It's custom Gaurav Gupta Couture and, according to Vogue India, took 3500 hours to make.
Sharon Stone, 2021
This tulle Dolce & Gabbana dress (worn here on fashion icon Sharon Stone) was deemed by some critics to be the winning Cannes gown in 2021. The pretty cornflower blue color would be gorgeous all on its own, but the hundred-plus flowers sewn into the fabric made her look like a glorious rose bush.
Julia Roberts, 2016
Sometimes, black really does make the biggest statement! This Giorgio Armani Privé gown is just so chic; If you remember this look, it might be because Julia Roberts took off her very high heels to walk up the tall stairs—and photographers captured the moment as the fashion innovator, yet again, surprised everyone in bare feet.
Elizabeth Taylor, 1957
I can really appreciate that Elizabeth Taylor a) owned a tiara, naturally, b) broke it out a lot, c) wore it to Cannes because if there's ever a time to break out a literal tiara, this is it. It was a gift from her third husband Mike Todd (to the left in this photo), and later sold for more than $4 million at Christie's.
Amal Clooney, 2016
Amal Clooney obviously had a great accessory—her handsome husband—but her creamy yellow Atelier Versace gown would have stood all on its own as a perfect pick for the festival. It was her debut at the event, and the human rights lawyer had literally everyone talking about the polished look.
Sheila Atim, 2022
Sheila Atim called this her “liquid gold” Prada gown—and you can see why. At at event where so many of the gown are big and a-line, this simpler column dress that focused more on materiality (seriously, it catches the light perfectly) shows that you don't have to go big to be the most eye-catching.
Diane Kruger, 2012
Diane Kruger (sometimes referred to as the Queen of Cannes—she's attended a lot, and very fashionabily) loves a metallic dress, and this is one of the most effective deployments of it. It's a form-fitting Vivienne Westwood dress, and a more ornate version of a similar dress she'd worn the year before.
Princess Diana, 1987
Princess Diana attended Cannes only once, in 1987, in a robin's egg blue dress by Catherine Walker. Inspired by a glamorous blue dress worn by Grace Kelly's character in To Catch A Thief, she added a touch of personality by wearing the scarf behind her as a train.
Brigitte Bardot, 1953
It was at Cannes that bombshell Brigitte Bardot (then only 18) made a splash and began her ascendency to fame. She had a few risque (for the time) photoshoots while in Cannes, including one in a bikini, but this gorgeous a-line dress with matching stole is the perfect elevated look for the red carpet.
Isabelle Huppert, 2022
Fashion risk taker and on-screen icon Isabelle Huppert gave us...the most amazing Balenciaga outfit at the 2022 festival. (Everything below the neck is green!!) But of course, the accessories take it over the top: Sunglasses are a touch surprising on the red carpet, but absolutely appropriate here.
Julianne Moore, 2015
Julianne Moore always has really good formal event style, but this wine colored frock feels exceptional even for her. The red velvet Givenchy couture is styled perfectly, with minimal jewelry and a matching red lip (not to mention the red color of her hair) to tie everything together.
Catherine Deneuve, 1966
French actor Catherine Deneuve became a Cannes style darling, in part because of this gorgeous Yves Saint Laurent striped sequin dress. It's just so modern (you can see this being worn today), and she adds to the elegance with the white formal gloves. It's the Cannes dress other dresses would be measured against.
Angelina Jolie, 2008
Angelina Jolie's pregnancy style was always exceptional, no more so than with this green Max Azria Atelier gown. The Grecian design and olive hue were a perfect pairing for style and comfort (Jolie was pregnant with Vivienne and Knox), and the exact kind of gown to make a red carpet statement.
Sofia Carson, 2023
This selection from the Elie Saab Fall/Winter 2021 collection was...an inspired choice. Red is always a smart way to stand out at the festival, but Sofia Carson is wearing the heck out of it (instead of the other way around) and the statement Damiani jewelry is the perfect cherry on top.
Madonna, who wasn't going to let a formal event stop her from being her, walked the Cannes red carpet in a bright pink robe...that she subsequently removed to show off a revolutionary Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra and garters. It was a sensation at the time, and a famous moment in style history.
Jane Birkin, 1974
Jane Birkin, style icon, was of course going to show up stylishly to Cannes. This short sequined dress is a little unusual for the usually floor-length gowns we often see at the festival (but of course, she would buck tradition). The incredibly casual basket bag is such a cool touch.
Lupita Nyong'o, 2018
Lupita Nyong'o, whose fashion is the stuff of legend, has made particularly impressive work of the Cannes Film Festival. This 2018 pink organza Prada drew comparisons to a Disney princess, and Nyong’o was game to show off the multidimensional color by holding the dress up to shoulder height (her posing game is incredible).
Sophia Loren, 1955
Frankly, Cannes is made for a star like Sophia Loren, whose style (and expensive taste in jewelry) was pretty legendary. In fact, her appearance at this Cannes helped make her a style icon, and this ballgown and jewelry—look at that necklace!!—is one of the reasons why.
Gemma Chan, 2021
Rarely does Gemma Chan ever disappoint, but this custom Oscar de la Renta is particularly impressive for the star. This was not long after an intense quarantine period from COVID-19, and Chan admitted she felt "out of practice" wearing a ballgown and heels and going to an event. But you'd never know!
Naomi Campbell, 1996
Our queen Naomi Campbell graced Cannes with her presence in the '90s during her modeling heyday, and this neon green semi-sheer gown (which would become the kind of dress celebrities would wear to the festival in the following years) proves to us all that she was innovating before everyone else.
Deepika Padukone, 2022
If you're going to go big, really lean in on shape. This custom sculpted Ashi Studio dress gives it cape-like vibe with an ornate folded shoulder detail that wraps around to create—what else—a glorious train. And the orange color is a nice surprise that shows off the dress' architecture.
Fan Bingbing, 2023
Fan Bingbing never, ever disappoints at Cannes, and this Georges Hobeika couture gown was no exception. The ombre effect on the feathers is already stunning, but the fact that the gown angles upward at the waist makes it look like she's literally wearing wings.
Lupita Nyong'o, 2015
Nyong'o's legendary green Cannes dress, which she wore early in her career as a superstar, cemented her status as a fashion icon. It wasn't just the emerald color of the custom Gucci, or her fuchsia lipstick—it was the fact that she gave us a good twirl while on the carpet.
Viola Davis, 2023
This white gown and white feathery coat, both Valentino couture, plus the matching voluminous hair, make Viola Davis look like a winged phoenix. Look closely, and you'll see that the coat has flecks of silver in it, meaning it catches the light and the red color of the carpet.
Jennifer Lawrence, 2023
This red Dior ballgown (plus Dior lipstick and necklace, naturally) is such a gorgeous statement, but—in true Jennifer Lawrence fashion—what you don't see underneath the gown is that she has chunky black flip flops on. This might be the perfect iteration of high-low fashion!
Fan Bingbing, 2023
Bingbing has spotlighted many an Asian designer at Cannes, and this gorgeous golden butterfly gown, by Vietnamese designer Chung Thanh Phong, is truly one of the best ever. It looks like feminized armor and yet so light and ethereal that she could practically fly away.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, 2018
The infamous "butterfly dress" made Aishwarya Rai Bachchan a Cannes star (and helped cement the festival as an event for fashion just as much as film). As reported by Harper's Bazaar, it took 3000 hours to make, according to designer Michael Cinco. The train is 20 feet long!