While attempting to piece my childhood library back together, I stumbled upon mystery novel Tina Mannequin, Tina Model at a flea market in France. I bought it to compare the depiction of modelling in the early 1960s and nowadays.
Five decades before the Nordic Noir craze, Danish author A.B.Carroll brought suspense to French houses with the story of Tina, a goody two-shoes Danish teenager who only goes cycling with her friends after she’s done her homework, admires her dad and is concerned about her mum. One day, on her way back from a Copenhagen department store, she’s followed home by Ray, a star photographer who suggests she’s just the kind of beauty he’s been looking for and offers her a stint at modelling for an insurance catalog.
This isn’t the glamourous, high glitz life girls dream of nowadays when promised a modelling career but the key elements are there: she takes him up on the offer as a way of self-recognition, to quietly get back at a girl she’s jealous of and to provide an additional income for her financially struggling family. Tina is aware that her desirability as a model is contingent upon her look being in demand and that she might only have work for a limited period of time. The difficulties of finding the right pose, of being able to call upon emotions at a photographer’s whim is something many newbie models still talk about. Even Ray’s character, a cosmopolitan, worldly man prone to outbursts of anger isn’t far off the legend surrounding many a contemporary photographer.
The rest of the book is more old fashion. At its heart is a debate on the morality of youth, and the scandal of attending parties at friends’ houses without parents present or of being photographed in embrace with a young man. Doctored pictures are something no one believes in. Teachers are convinced students wearing bright colours is a sign of unrest whereas “they used to wear pastels in quieter times”. Tina has to bring her own clothes to the shoot, there’s merely an assistant helping with make-up and no stylist.
Tina Mannequin, A.B. Carroll, French translation Jacques Sorbets, Illustrations Françoise Bertier (Paris, 1962)
Remember, back in 2007, when Gisele Bündchen demanded to be paid in Euros? At the time, Bloomberg reported that she “insisted that she be paid in almost any currency but the U.S. dollar”, likening her decision to that of many hedge funds. Her sister justified the move, explaining “contracts starting now are more attractive in euros because we don’t know what will happen to the dollar”. Her Pantene/Procter & Gamble Co. and Dolce & Gabbana contracts, two of her biggest at the time, were reportedly paid in Euros. I bet she’s changed her tune to pose on the cover of the July/August 2012 issue of Paris Vogue.
A decade-ish before La Parisienne, model and businesswoman Inès de la Fressange committed another book. In Profession Mannequin, Inès writes about meeting Karl Lagerfeld, finding her own style, launching her own company, loosing the right to use her name… In a broken style of short sentences, she analyses her success as a model, which she attributes to her attitude and her success as a designer, which she attributes to her ability to understand what women want to wear.
Profession Mannequin isn’t a style autobiography. Even though Inès describes inspiring Largefeld to stage a show with white wigs and mixing designerwear with workwear, this book is more about her career and motivation. Her style tips have evolved quite a bit since the early 2000s. Back then, she self-diagnosed as a fashion victim, considered that she passively “underwent” fashion and proclaimed hating old clothes. The opposite of what she tends to preach nowadays.
Profession Mannequin doesn’t contain any groundbreaking revelation. No matter how bitter the split with Lagerfeld/Chanel might have been, Inès was clever enough not to flog her resentment. She sticks to the fact: I was asked to be Marianne, Karl disapproved, fin de l’aventure. Classy and savvy even when she lost the biggest contract of her career (before L’Oréal), which probably paid off since she walked the Chanel show again for the Spring/Summer 2011 collection. Like most of the supermodels, Inès reads like a smart business woman with and endless, chameleon ability to rebound.
And if, after reading La Parisienne and Profession Mannequin, you’re still hungry for Inès’ style tips, bonnes adresses and general guide to life, I would recommend her Carnet d’Inès, on the Roger Vivier website. A masterclass in a brand extending its reach beyond its target market, those videos showcase Inès walking around Paris, sharing her favourite shops. Umbrella-makers, idyllic libraries, practical homeware stores and dreamy flowershops, all visited by Inès in full Parisian regalia, Vivier shoes and bags included. Even if you can’t afford the accessories yet, you might be able to buy a shower gel in one of the shops she suggested. And then, once you’ve enjoyed your purchase and earned quite a bit of money, you might walk into Roger Vivier because the Inès stamp of approval has gained even more value in your eyes.
Saint Laurent the bad boy. The alcohol-loving, drug-taking, unfaithful, irregular Saint Laurent. In case of doubt on the content of Lelièvre’s biography, here is its very first sentence: “Il ne fut qu’un couturier”. He was a mere designer. For Lelièvre, the Saint Laurent myth is nothing more than marketing orchestrated by Pierre Bergé (who refused to collaborate to this biography and apparently forbid many former Saint Laurent collaborators from doing so). As mentioned in previous articles, many of Lelièvre’s assertions feel like little more than controversy for the sake of it. Contrary to many biographers of “la saintlaurentie”, she isn’t close to her subject, observing it in a cold and systematic manner. If anyone could accuse her of bias, it would be against Saint Laurent, of writing une biographie à charge. Is it better than being so blinded by your subject you’re incapable of criticism?
Death by fashion industry at 21. Death by too much fame, too much money, too much coke, too much uncertainty, too much self-doubt and too little love. In the middle of the 2000s, Ruslana Korshunova was the model of the moment, a recognisable face among the Slavic hurricane engulfing catwalks. Former model Géraldine Paillet wrote a scenario-like imagined biography. Initially multiplying view points to only focus on Ruslana’s once she has found success, her narrative is time-marked by restaurants and people and by an acerbic take on the ridiculous side of the fashion industry. We’ll never know why Ruslana killed herself but Paillet suggests it is the consequence of a gigantic misunderstanding: Ruslana wanted to make her already proud mother proud, wanted love from people who already loved her and wanted eternal success in an industry where everything has a best-before date.
We owe her modern beauty. The scientific jargon, the three steps evening routine, the sunscreen and hydrating obsession: all courtesy of one Mrs Rubinstein. Poland-born, Australia-bred, America-famous, Helena Rubinstein built an empire based on an acquaintance’s miracle cream, a huge amount of will and work and an infallible instinct for what women (and men) want. ELLE journalist Michèle Fitoussi wrote a novelised biography full of imagined dialogues where Picasso and Paul Poiret are nothing more than secondary characters.
It’s not easy going through life worried. Leslie Plée suffers from the kind of anxiety which stops you from doing something because you worry it will trigger worries. Rather than allowing this anxiety to spoil her life, she channels it into a cartoon blog. Her blog is so popular it has lead to two books, including L’Effet Kiss pas Cool, full of well-spotted and funny strips on the little moments in life that can become big if you suffer from heightened anxiety. Not bad for someone who used to worry about how her drawings would be received.
The fashion industry reliance on models from Eastern Europe isn’t new. As is often the case in fashion, Coco Chanel initiated the trend. After the Russian Revolution, in addition to employing Moscow-born perfumer Ernest Beaux to create Chanel N°5 and Cuir de Russie and having an affair with Grand Duke Dmitri,
Chanel employed exiled Russian aristocrats as sales assistants and models at Rue Cambon; not necessarily as an act of charity, but as the living embodiment of the fashion and scent she was selling to her customers, who had followed her lead in embracing Slavic charm.
Quote from Justine Picardie, Coco Chanel (HarperCollinsPublishers, 2010) p 137
When i-D first began […] fashion was a monolith […] the models staring out from the covers of established magazines didn’t seem like they had anything in common with anyone reading about them. One by one, the women chosen to embody both timelessness and ‘the moment’ represented a single female ideal placed on a pedestal, just out of reach of the majority of people gazing up at her.
Has it really changed? Can we really look at the covers of magazines and believe the models are within our reach? Do I feel any common point with Lara, Rosie, Freja or Daisy?
The film, put together by journalist Thomas Cazals, is a mish-mash of videos from Bruni-Sarkozy’s modelling days and from interviews she gave as France’s Première Dame. Cazals never comment on the topic, and lets the pictures do the talking.
Paco Rabanne describes her as “the model extraordinaire, the only supermodel who didn’t consider herself a supermodel. You can feel the Italian aristocrat in her”. Christian Lacroix confirms, saying that she looked like “she came from a different planet”.
Bruni-Sarkozy gives her own vision of the fashion world, comparing it with a Happy Families game, explaining that as a model, she doesn’t “feel responsible for anything.” Throughout the documentary, she seems clever, well-spoken and well-educated. However, I disagree with how she sees catwalk shows:
I like the shows because something can happen. It is not all about bluff. Shows are real moments.
As a spectator, I see catwalks as a suspension of reality, a moment during which, bar an anti-fur protest or a major technical difficulty, everything is well choreographed.