Before the UK ELLE's talented arts department, before the tabloïdy US ELLE, there was French ELLE, a weekly magazine founded in 1945 by Russian immigrant Hélène Lazareff. In 1969, the pill was allowed in France and in 1975 abortion became legal. I firmly believe that if the first hadn’t happened, the other two would have been a lot harder to achieve.
In Profession Journaliste, Françoise Giroud, who eventually ran the magazine, describes Lazareff as “a brilliant young woman”. Jewish, married to Pierre Lazareff, she spent the Second World War in the USA where she worked for American magazines. According to Giroud, she then learnt how to publish and run a modern magazine. From the American press, Lazareff got the idea for agony aunts, later written in ELLE by Marcelle Segal. Other writers included Cendrars, Cocteau, Simenon, Colette, Nimier and Hemingway.
Back in France after the Libération, she created ELLE, a magazine of the France-Soir group run by her husband. The very first issue was published on November 21, on the bad quality paper available just six months after the end of the war. Even though French women were still wearing wooden soles and using tickets de rationnement, Giroud believes that very early on ELLE echoed what became the “société de consommation”.
ELLE discovered Dior and Saint Laurent and started publishing patterns so that women could reproduce the fashion shown in the mag.
The magazine wasn’t limited to fashion. When l’abbé Pierre launched his charity for homeless people, he used ELLE to increase public awareness on the issue. ELLE was the first to publish a survey on French women hygiene habits (the results were rather appalling).