The bills are eye-popping: €606 ($1109) for hyacinths and lilies from a Paris florist; quick trips to New York on Concorde for €6153 ($11,260); a Christmas present of bed linen, just €1912 ($3499) from a Paris store; tens of thousands of euros for Tiffany lamps, art deco lacquer panels and matching furniture for her Latin Quarter flat; an exotic tree flown in from Lebanon to adorn the garden of her country house in Normandy.

Eyebrows are being raised across France as salacious details about the icon of French cinema, Catherine Deneuve, are dragged into the open as investigators probe a disgraced Algerian tycoon.

But for many people, the press revelations are more painful than shocking. The disclosures have ravaged the image of an actress revered as much for her classic elegance, sophistication and intelligence as for her blonde beauty.

In a career spanning four decades and hundreds of films, Deneuve, 61, is feted for the bittersweet romance The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; for Belle de Jour the sado-masochistic tale of a callgirl; for The Last Metro, which depicted of relationships in occupied Paris in World War II; and for the Oscar-nominated Indochine. Her roles were acclaimed for depth, daring and sensitivity.

Her cool beauty not only enslaved innumerable men, it also became a symbol of French womanhood. In the 1980s, her face was modelled for a bust of Marianne, the national emblem, which can be seen in town halls up and down the country.

The past week, though, has seen the Deneuve touchstone tragically lose its power.

The great lady of French cinema, so stylish, understated and otherworldly, is suddenly viewed as shallow and grasping.

The cause of the distress is Deneuve's spendthrift lifestyle - something that she has always admitted.

"I don't give a darn about money," she told the magazine Egoiste. "It comes in through one door, goes out through another. Who cares?

"If I see a very beautiful object, even it is ruinously expensive and I really can't afford it, well, I completely set aside the notion of value of money, I go in and buy it.

"My apartment is filled with objects which I've bought like that but which I shouldn't have."

Gerard Depardieu, France's most popular actor, has said: "Her image is of being serene, organised. But I've never seen anyone so untidy, so fickle when it comes to money, business."

In one case, Deneuve was on an Air France flight from Bangkok to Paris which stopped for refuelling in Copenhagen. Deneuve, driven by an urge for salmon, insisted on buying fresh fish in town, even though she had to miss the flight and take the next plane.

Such whims are, of course, all part-and-parcel of movie-star lifestyles. In Deneuve's case, though, the cost became crippling after her career went into decline. Her last big hit was three years ago, in the campy musical 8 Women, for which she received €457,000 ($836,383), plus 9 per cent of the box-office take.

Since then, Deneuve has fallen on the hard ground of TV movies, for which she has been lavishly rewarded - she was paid €610,000 ($1.123 million) for Les Liaisons Dangereuses, a costume drama about seduction and infidelity - but which have flopped.

Her other big income source has been advertising. In the 1980s, Deneuve pitched for Chanel perfume on American television.

The following decade, Deneuve signed deals worth a US$1 million a year as the face of Chanel's rival, Saint Laurent.

In this halcyon time, the couturier was contract-bound to pay "all expenses including, but not limited to, the costs of travel, accommodation, meals" as well as the costs of a friend or escort accompanied by the actress and a chauffeured limousine.

Saint-Laurent also had to pay around 20,000 French francs ($4950 in today's money) a day to meet the star's "personal requirements".

That was followed, from 2001-2003, as the "ambassador of charm" for the French cosmetics firm L'Oreal, at some €1.2 million a year. Since then, though, Deneuve's value in the ad market has plummeted along with her box-office rating. According to the daily Le Parisien, Deneuve's only ad contract now is with American sunglass maker Viva, worth €200,000 ($366,032) a year.

Deneuve found herself caught between massive bills and a sharply falling income. She became tempted into making paid appearances at parties, in which stars are hired to add a touch of glamour. This demeaning path has led to her undoing.

It began, the press says, in June 1997, with an appearance with Gina Lollobrigida at a gala for Gilberto Scarpa, a Brazilian Coca-Cola bottler.

In 2000, Deneuve attended the opening of a Las Vegas casino, hardly a location in line with her suave image. The following year, things were even worse: a horsejumping competition in Lisbon, sponsored by Samsung, and the opening of a cinema complex in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, for €60,000 ($109809) a pop.

In 2002, she scraped the bottom of the barrel, making appearances for a glamour-crazed Algerian millionaire, Rafik Khalifa.

In March that year, she received €45,700 ($83,638) for being flown to Algiers in a private jet to attend a match between Khalifa's football team, Olympic Marseille, and the Algerian national team. The pictures show the pair with gritted smiles, with Deneuve plainly hating the moment.

Even so, six months later, Deneuve attended the launch of Khalifa's TV channel in Cannes, alongside her friend Depardieu, as well as Sting and Naomi Campbell.

Depardieu received a €30,000 ($54,904) payoff from the Khalifa for attending the bash, according to the daily Le Monde, while Deneuve picked up €40,000 ($73206), which was reportedly handed over in cash in a toilet.

These figures come from testimony that Deneuve has been forced to give to a Paris examining magistrate, probing the collapse of Khalifa's nebulous business empire in France.

Khalifa, 38, is the son of an Algerian minister and is reputedly closely connected with the ruling military, who control the country's oil and gas wealth.

According to legal sources, Deneuve will be forced to pay what she owes to the tax authorities, but will not be prosecuted for tax avoidance.

But, for her public - for whom fiscal evasion is in many cases a favoured pastime - this is negligible. What is far more damaging, in their view, is the way Deneuve surrendered her integrity. She traded her regal status for a brown envelope from a businessman desperate to get his picture in the celebrity press.

"The perfume of mystery turned stale, the image cracked before our eyes," Le Monde said. "Before, she was distant and adorable. We suddenly discovered someone who is self-seeking, grasping."