29 Famous French People That You Should Know

French people are known for their fashion and sophistication but there are many famous French people who also shared their talents and skills in different fields.

There are many great French people who made a difference in the world. So here’s our list of famous artists, historical figures, science, sports, music and fashion experts from France.

29 Famous French People That You Should Know

famous french people

Famous French people in Fashion Industry

1. Chanel

coco chanel
Coco Chanel

Coco became interested in fashion when she was about 18 years old. It all began in 1909. She was the mistress of a businessman named Étienne Balsan at the time, who helped her launch a hat-making firm in Paris in 1910.

She went on to open more boutiques in Deauville and Biarritz, as well as start making and selling garments.

Coco Chanel, a true style hero of the 1920s, was recognized for her modest but sophisticated clothes, accented with wonderful accessories.

In 1921, she introduced the Chanel no. 5 perfume, followed by the Chanel suit in 1925 and the little black dress in 1926.

Coco Chanel decided to revive the couture firm in 1954 after being away from the industry owing to the international economic slump and World War II.

Coco Chanel also designed the Chanel bag 2.55, which became a worldwide sensation in 1955. She wanted a purse with a long strap that was practical for women on the go. This bag has now become one of the most recognizable fashion purses of all time which also puts Chanel as one of the best handbag brands in the world.

She died in 1971, aged 88, after a long day’s work, alone on her bed in the Hotel Ritz. Her final words to her maid Celine were “You see, this is how you die,”.

Up to this day, Coco Chanel is still one of the most influential French designers.

2. Dior

Christian Dior was born in Granville, a small town on France’s Normandy coast, in  1905.

As a child, he was always interested in art and aspired to be an architect. Christian founded a small art gallery with the aid of his father after graduation in 1928.

Christian’s art gallery, however, was forced to close due to the Great Depression.

To supplement his income, he began working for fashion designer Robert Piquet. Following his military duty in 1940, he was offered a job working for fashion designer Pierre Balmain.

Christian Dior established his couture firm in October 1946, at the age of 41. Dior had only one goal in the postwar era of deprivation and rationing: to help women find joy, elegance, and beauty.

On December 16, 1946, at 30 Avenue Montaigne in Paris, the House of Dior was founded. Christian Dior’s debut collection, “La Ligne Corolie” (“New Look”), was launched in 1947.

It was a huge hit and completely transformed the post-war fashion world. In the 1940s, elements such as rounded shoulders, a tightened waist, and a long A-line skirt were groundbreaking.

Christian Dior transformed elegance and femininity in barely ten years, from 1947 to 1957.

His name became synonymous with French luxury all over the world after he set out to be an architect and provided ladies his idea of beauty through graceful lines.

In 1957, at the age of 52, Christian Dior died of a heart attack in Montecatini, Italy.

3. Rene Lacoste

 Rene Lacoste
Right: Rene Lacoste in a tennis match in Berlin

When a well-known tennis player becomes a designer, the public expects something genuinely exceptional, which is exactly what we got with Lacoste. Rene Lacoste did not follow typical on-court fashion, and his sportswear reflected this.

He rejected the formal shirts in favor of short-sleeved knit shirts, which he later manufactured.

Lacoste shirts, with their trademark crocodile insignia on the left breast, were introduced to the American market in 1950. Since then, the brand has never looked back.

Rene Lacoste passed away on Oct. 12, 1996 at the age of 92 at a hospital in his hometown of St. Jean de Luz following surgery for a broken leg. He also had prostate cancer.

4. Yves Saint Laurent

This French designer dubbed the “King of Fashion” for a reason, has revolutionized the fashion world. He has done it all, from setting ground-breaking trends like the introduction of the tuxedo suit for women to using non-white models.

Yves Saint Laurent redefined fashion by establishing the credibility of ready-to-wear clothing.

Many trendsetting designs were introduced by his label, Yves Saint Laurent YSL, such as the iconic Le Smoking tailored tuxedo suit, the beatnik appearance, safari jackets for men and women, tight trousers, tall, thigh-high boots, and so on.

Saint Laurent died of brain cancer on June 1, 2008, at his home in Paris.

5. Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton, then 16 years old, arrived in Paris in 1837 and began working as a trunk-master for Monsieur Maréchal, where he spent the next 17 years.

Horse-drawn carriages, boats, and railroads were the primary modes of transportation at the time, and travelers relied on skilled craftsmen to pack and secure their valuables.

Louis quickly established himself as one of the industry’s top. When Napoleon III was crowned Emperor of France in 1852, his wife, Eugenie de Montijo, hired Louis Vuitton as her packer and box maker.

Louis founded his box-making and packing business at 4 Rue Neuve-des-Capucines, near the Place Vendome, in 1854.

With the introduction of rectangular trunks in 1858, his company grew in popularity. Louis was also able to grow his business by opening a second workshop in Asnieres in 1859. (a village outside Paris).

Because the company was plagued by counterfeit, the “Damier Canvas” design was established in 1888, complete with the trademarked emblem “marque L. Vuitton déposée.”

During the 1900s, Louis Vuitton’s son Georges developed the company by creating new bags, such as the Keepall in 1930 and the Speedy in 1932. Louis Vuitton’s Noé, Alma, and Papillon bags are still popular today.

Louis Vuitton died in Asnières-sur-Seine, France, in February 1802 at the age of 70 but remained one of the most popular French people through his fashion house.

Popular French people in Hollywood

6. Vincent Cassel

Vincent Cassel

Cassel is the son of journalist Sabine Litique and actor Jean-Pierre Cassel and was born in Paris, France. One of Cassel’s earliest on-screen performances was in a 1994 Renault Clio commercial that was broadcast in the United Kingdom.

Cassel had his debut in Mathieu Kassovitz’s critically praised film “La Haine” (1995), in which he played a troubled adolescent living in the slums of Paris.

His roles in “Ocean’s Twelve”  and “Ocean’s Thirteen”, as well as “Eastern Promises”, “Black Swan” and “Jason Bourne” earned him widespread acclaim from English-speaking audiences. 

In the films “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” and “Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One,” Cassel portrayed the infamous French bank-robber Jacques Mesrine (both in 2008).

In the HBO television series “Westworld,” he starred as Engerraund Serac in 2020.

7. Marion Cotillard

Marion Cotillard
Marion Cotillard

Marion was born into a family of actors, so acting came naturally to her. Her early films featured her in minor roles, but she gradually gained the attention of filmmakers and progressed to starring roles.

She attracted audiences in both Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” and the French film “A Very Long Engagement” in the United States.

Her outstanding performance as legendary French singer Edith Piaf in the biopic “La Vie en Rose” earned her an Academy Award nomination, while her performance in “Rust and Bone” was praised by critics.

She’s become a sought-after French actress in Hollywood, having appeared in films like Michael Mann’s ‘Public Enemies,’ Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris,’ and two Christopher Nolan pictures, ‘Inception’ and ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ among others.

8. Eva Green

Eva Green
Eva Green

Paris-born Eva began her career as an actor in theater productions. As a theater actress, she earned a nomination for the Nuit des Molières, France’s annual national theatre awards ceremony.

Bernardo Bertolucci, an Italian filmmaker, and screenwriter, took notice of her and cast her in his film ‘The Dreamers,’ giving her a prominent role. 

Eva Green went on to star in blockbuster films including James Bond’s ‘Casino Royale’, ‘300: Rise of an Empire’, and ‘Spectre’, directed by Tim Burton.

She also starred in the Penny Dreadful series from 2014 to 2016, which earned a lot of praise from critics and fans. Aside from being a famous actress, Eva Green is also considered one of the top French models.

9. Jean Reno

Jean Reno
Jean Reno

Jean Reno is a French actor who was born Juan Moreno y Herrera-Jiménez in Casablanca, Morocco, to Spanish parents who had fled Francoist Spain and settled in North Africa. They eventually made their home in France.

Reno went on to study acting at the Cours Simon School of Drama at the age of 17 and subsequently served in the French Army for four years. He resolved to pursue acting, which had been a childhood dream, as soon as his duty was completed.

To date, Jean Reno has worked on productions in French, Spanish, Japanese, English, and Italian. He rose to prominence after appearing in the popular film “Leon: The Professional” as a solitary assassin.

His other big-screen ventures were also well-received around the world. “The Visitors,” “Crimson Rivers,” “Wasabi,” “The Da Vinci Code,” “The Pink Panther,” “Godzilla,” and “Ronin” are among the films that have made Reno one of the most popular French actors in Hollywood.

He used the French version of his birth name for his screen persona, changing his initial name from Juan to Jean and shortening his surname to Reno.

10. Léa Seydoux

Léa Seydoux
Léa Seydoux

Léa was born and grew up in Paris, France, and as a child, she longed to be an opera singer.

However, at the age of 18, she had decided to pursue acting as a career. She studied acting at the ‘Actors Studio’ in New York and the French theatrical school ‘Les Enfants Terribles.’

She began her acting career with the 2006 film “Girlfriends,” which she followed up with a music video. She starred as a farmer girl in Quentin Tarantino’s film ‘Inglourious Basterds’ in 2009.

In 2013, she starred in the cult classic French film “Blue Is the Warmest Color.” Her performance in the film earned her the prestigious ‘Palme d’Or’ at the Cannes Film Festival.

She has appeared in many films since then. She has since starred in several critically acclaimed Hollywood films, including “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Spectre.”

11. Audrey Tautou

Audrey Tautou
Audrey Tautou

Audrey Tautou is the perfect blend of excellent looks and talents. Acting did not appear to be a viable career choice for the lovely dark-haired girl from a family of intellectuals. She acquired the acting bug in high school and chose to pursue a career as an actress.

She enrolled in acting classes at the Cours Florent and was immediately cast in the television film “Coeur de cible.” She made her feature film debut with the film “Venus Beauty Institute,” for which she received critical acclaim.

The fearless actress enjoys taking on a wide range of characters and has appeared in films ranging from the romantic comedy “Amelie” to the thriller “Dirty Pretty Things.” She  also starred alongside Tom Hanks in the film “The Da Vinci Code.” 

Besides being an actress, Audrey is known for her fashion sense and is regarded as a fashionista.

12. Omar Sy

Omar Sy
Omar Sy

Omar Sy was born in the village of Trappes in 1978. He began making regular appearances on Jamel Debbouze’s Radio Nova show while studying heating and air conditioning at a suburban vocational college.

He met Fred Testot there, and the two of them established the comedic team Omar and Fred. “Service après vente des émissions” premiered  n 2005 and ran for seven years.

Sy had his first major movie role in the film “Those Happy Days” in 2006, directed by Nakache and Toledano. 

In 2011, Omar got his big break with the smash film “The Untouchables” where he was cast as Driss. The film was a big success, and Omar Sy made history when he won the César Award for Best Actor.

Omar and his family flew to Los Angeles, where he built a name for himself in films like “X-Men,” “Jurassic World,” and “Inferno.”

Sy continues to portray leading roles in French films such as “Samba,” “Chocolat,” and “The Wolf’s Call,” remaining true to his roots. Omar Sy made waves on the small screen once more in early 2021, this time as the titular protagonist in Netflix’s “Lupin.”

Famous French people in History and Politics

13. Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc)

Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc

Long before Joan of Arc was canonized in the Vatican, she had already been a folk saint among French Catholics and soldiers. But who was Joan of Arc?

Nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans,” Joan of Arc was born in Domremy, France, in 1412 to poor but pious tenant farmers.

As a child, she had mystical visions encouraging her to piety. These visions became more vivid over time with St. Michael and St. Catherine designating her as the savior of France.

At age 18, Joan of Arc led the French army to victory over the English at the Battle of Orléans, getting captured a year later. The English and their French collaborators accused her of heresy and burned her at the stake. 

Joan of Arc was canonized as a Roman Catholic Saint 500 years after her death. Her name is perhaps the most recognizable of all French women in history.

14. Marie-Antoinette

Marie-Antoinette
Marie-Antoinette

Marie Antoinette was the queen consort of Louis XVI, the last king of France. 

Born Maria Antonia Josepha Joanna von Österreich-Lothringen in 1755 in Vienna, Austria, she was only 14 years old when she married Louis XVI.

She was not very popular as a queen, with her dismissal of reform and resistance to the French Revolution leading to the monarchy’s overthrow in 1792.

Marie-Antoinette was accused and declared guilty of plunder, conspiracy against the State, and high treason. She was sentenced to die by the guillotine, which she did on 16 October 1793.

15. Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir

Born in Paris, France, in 1908, Simone de Beauvoir wrote novels, essays, biographies, and autobiographies as well as monographs on philosophy, social issues, and politics.

She had a significant influence on the feminist movement. She was also most known for having been the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s partner until his death.

Simone de Beauvoir died in 1986 and is buried next to Sartre at the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

16. Louis XIV (1638- 1715)

Louis XIV
Louis XIV

Louis XIV, commonly known as “Louis the Great,” “Sun King,” or “Absolute King,” is easily the most well-known king of France.

His name will always be associated with the city of Versailles, which he built from the ground up (or rather, from wetlands) to construct the masterpiece that is the Château de Versailles.

Historians and researchers estimate the cost of the castle he erected to be between two and three hundred billion dollars in today’s money, taking inflation into account.

Nonetheless, with 700 rooms, 1200 fireplaces, and 67 stairs, his château is a marvel of French classical architecture.

17. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1820)

Napoleon Bonaparte

In the last years of the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte emerged as a figure who would shape the country’s future. He is probably one of the most popular historical figures in France.

He had a great impact and is regarded as one of the most illustrious military and political figures of all time. He was not only the First Consul but also the first ruler of France to be given the title of Emperor.

What set him apart were his tactics, which allowed him to win battles against opponents who were numerically superior to him.

The core concepts of old Roman law were merged with new French regulations in his Napoleonic Code. The code was used as a model for the codification of criminal and commercial laws in France and other countries.

Up to this day, he is considered one of the most influential French men.

Famous French people in Literature

18. Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885)

Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo is regarded as one of France’s greatest poets and the most important of the French Romantic writers. He is better known abroad, however, thanks to his novels – The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and Les Misérables. These two books are some of the best French novels that have been adapted to movies and plays.

With his literary career spanning more than 60 years, Hugo also became a politician who was internationally renowned for his advocacy to abolish the death penalty. 

Victor Hugo died in 1885. His funeral was attended by over 2 million people in Paris, more than the city’s total population at the time.

19. Alexandre Dumas (1802 – 1870)

Alexandre Dumas
Alexandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas penned some 100,000 pages over his lifetime, which include novels, plays, magazine articles, and even travel books.

However, he is most celebrated for his two historical adventure novels, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers

Another thing that sets Dumas apart from his contemporaries is his partial African ancestry, which he was proud of. His paternal grandmother was an African slave. 

20. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900 – 1944)

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is best remembered for his posthumously published novella, Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), which has been translated into 300 languages and considered one of the best French books to read.

He was a laureate of various of France’s highest literary awards and was also a recipient of the United States National Book Award.

Saint-Exupéry had achieved fame in France as an aviator prior to his literary works. He disappeared and is believed to have died during a reconnaissance mission from Corsica over the Mediterranean in July of 1944.

 Saint-Exupéry’s birthplace of Lyon named its main airport after him.

Well-known French people in Science

21. Marie Curie

Marie Curie
Marie Curie

Born Marie Salomea Skłodowska in Warsaw, Poland, in 1867, Marie Curie moved to Paris, France, to earn her higher degrees at the age of 24. There she married the French physicist Pierre Curie, becoming a French citizen. 

She shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband and the physicist Henri Becquerel in 1903 for their theory of radioactivity and became the first woman to win Nobel Prize. She won another Nobel Prize eight years later, this time in Chemistry for her discovery of the elements polonium and radium.

Marie Curie acquired an illness due to her exposure to radiation, dying in Passy, France, at the age of 66.

Apart from her two Nobel Prizes, she was awarded numerous other honors and tributes during her lifetime and even after her passing.

22. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi

One of France’s Nobel Awardees, virologist Françoise Barré-Sinoussi was born in 1947 in Paris. Her interest in science started at a very young age.

Miss Barré-Sinoussi and her mentor, Luc Montagnier, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2008 for their discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as the cause of AIDS. 

In addition to her Nobel Prize, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi has also received numerous awards, including honorary Doctor of Science and Doctor of Medicine degrees. 

She is widely recognized for her tireless engagement in the fight against AIDS and HIV.

Famous French people in Arts

23. Claude Monet (1840-1926)

claude monet
Claude Monet

Claude Monet is the most well-known French painter of all time. His water lilies are famous all over the world and are taught in elementary schools all around the world.

Claude Monet is primarily known for being the father of impressionism. In addition, Claude Monet was the main force behind this artistic revolution.

He was also the movement’s most steadfast practitioner. The term comes from a painting he painted called “Impressionism, Sunrise,” which is widely regarded as one of the most famous French paintings ever created.

He is widely regarded as the greatest impressionist artist, and his work serves as the benchmark against which all others are measured. He also published series about smoke, steam, rain, and mist in addition to water lilies. Around 250 works are included in his enormous collection.

24. Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a prolific artist and one of Impressionist era’s most prominent painters. Later, he drifted away from the movement and turned to classical art.

Renoir’s paintings of ladies, changing Parisian society, and home scenes, as well as nudes and dance paintings, are among his most famous works.

His paintings are known for their vivid light and saturated color, and they frequently feature people in intimate and honest settings.

Renoir’s Impressionist compositions are renowned for their stunning brilliance. “Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette” is one of Impressionism’s most famous works, and has been dubbed “the most beautiful painting of the nineteenth century.”

25. Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse’s work includes printmaking, sculpture, and collage, in addition to painting.

Henri Matisse is considered one of the most significant figures in modern art, alongside Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso.

He used a wide range of media in his work. Sculptures, paper cutouts, and other forms of art are among them. He is well renowned for his paintings, which are considered masterpieces.

Matisse was a leader of the Fauvism movement, a powerful art movement that lasted only a few years during his lifetime.

Today, however, he is regarded as a color master when it comes to visual arts. His most recognizable works include “The Joy of Life” and “The Red Room”. 

Famous French People in Music

26. Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy was born in the suburb of Seine-et-Oise, France, in 1862.

He began learning the piano at the age of seven and was studying at the Conservatoire de Paris by the age of ten.

Debussy’s compositional approach is generally referred to as impressionist after the 19th-century art movement, despite his dislike for the word.

Debussy composed many well-known works, but “Clair de Lune” for solo piano is perhaps his most recognized contribution to classical music.

“Suite Bergamasque,” “Deux Arabesques,” “La Mer,” “Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune,” and “La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin” are among the other prominent works.

27. Charles Aznavour

Charles Aznavour
Charles Aznavour

Known as the French Frank Sinatra, Charles Aznavour was also a prolific songwriter who penned more than a thousand songs in several languages. 

His most popular songs are Après l’Amour, Yesterday, When I Was Young (Hier Encore), She (Tous Les Visages De L’amour), You’ve Let Yourself Go (Tu T’Laisses Aller).

He also received several awards which include Legion of Honour (1997, 2001, and 2004), Grand Medal from the French Academy (1995), and  Edison Awards (three-time award winner).

The themes and melodies in these songs were also quite diverse. As a singer, Mr. Aznavour was known for his distinctive tenor voice. 

With all his work that involved multilingual work, it was no surprise that he became a diplomat later in his life. 

28. Edith Piaf

edith piaf
Edith Piaf

A true embodiment of her stage name Piaf, which translates to “sparrow,”, the power and emotion in Edith’s voice made her one of France’s most famous singers

To this day, she is still well-known in France and around the world for her love songs and probably, her most popular song up to this day – the La Vie en Rose. La Vie en Rose also won her the Grammy Hall of Fame Award.

Her distinct voice is just half of what made her such an icon and of the most popular French women up to this day. 

Miss Piaf may not have written her songs, but she chose songs penned by some of the greatest lyricists of her time to express her complex feelings. She was also known as the kind of singer who often entrusted her ideas to songwriters she trusted.

Popular French people in Sports

29. Thierry Henry (1977- )

Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry

Famous as: a footballer and professional football coach.; one of the greatest strikers in the history of football.

Henry, France’s all-time leading scorer, is considered one of the game’s best attackers. Under Arsène Wenger, he began his football career with Monaco’s junior team.

Following the year 2000, Henry shifted to striker and quickly established himself as one of Europe’s most feared players.

After that, he went to Arsenal and then to Barcelona, where he helped his team win the Champions League Trophy in 2008-2009. He subsequently went on to play in the ‘Major League Soccer’ (MLS), where he excelled.

He is the first player in European football history to have won the FWA’s “Footballer of the Year” award three times. On four occasions, he has been named “French Player of the Year.”

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