Authors: Kirstie Clements
Sales remained steady on the magazine, so clearly my decision to ban girls under the age of sixteen had no negative repercussions.
internationally has since launched a project in June 2012 called the Health Initiative, instigated by US
editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, which bans the use of models under sixteen and pledges that they will not use models they know to be suffering from eating disorders. The first part you can police. The second is disingenuous nonsense, because unless you are monitoring their diet 24/7, you just can’t be sure.
In 2011, I was sent an email from a US agency informing me that “plus-size” model Robyn Lawley was returning to Australia and that
might be interested in seeing her. When I opened the attachment I discovered Robyn was drop-dead gorgeous, with a beautiful face and great legs. “Plus-size” meant she was about a size 10 around the bosom and hips. I was sure the readers would appreciate seeing this glamorous girl who was slightly more representative of your average woman. The fashion department, however, were a little harder to persuade.
I got the usual protestations about how there would be no samples in a size 10 and what kind of fashion would they put on a plus-size model anyway? I left them to work it out, determined to push the story through. Fashion editor Meg Gray took it on, and created a lovely narrative that celebrated Robyn’s curves, using pencil skirts and blouses and snug black evening dresses. When I went to the studio to watch the shoot most of the men in the room couldn’t concentrate, she looked so sexy. Robyn’s manager, Chelsea Bonner from Bella Models, arrived, as it was a proud day for her agency. Her first “plus-size” girl in
“You know,” I said to Chelsea, as we watched Robyn expertly go through her poses, “I don’t actually see her as plus-size at all. She’s just beautiful.” The issue was a resounding success with readers, and garnered more press than I expected.
Robyn and I were both booked to appear on the
morning show to talk about the shoot. Robyn was in New York and linked via video. After she very graciously commented about how exciting it was to appear in
, host David Koch turned to me—rather crankily I thought—and said: “But she’s not really plus-size, is she? She’s normal size.” And I agreed. The high fashion world has a deep vein of callousness. For every woman who related to the lovely photographs of a curvaceous Robyn, there is a stylist in Paris eating iceberg lettuce hearts sprayed with Evian for lunch and telling the hopeful young models they are too fat to get into the jacket.
aris had put a spell on me, as it does to so many people. From the time I met my future husband Mourad in 1992, I had so many trips back and forth for work we managed to keep a long-distance relationship going for two years. It was probably helped enormously by the fact that neither of us spoke much of each other’s language, so while it was easy to sometimes get exasperated, it was difficult to argue.
I was approaching my ten-year long service at
. In a grand romantic gesture, I resigned from my job as beauty editor. I was going to move to Paris, live a bohemian and glamorous life, and write. Surely I was the first journalist in the world who had ever thought of this,
? I had no savings. I had no French. I had no papers. I had no clue.
Fortunately, I was surrounded by more practical people who did. While still in Sydney I moved in with my friend Deborah Thomas, saving on rent to try to build up my bank balance. Deborah was the editor of
at the time. We would share a bottle of wine at night, while she worked on her magazine grid and I read all the trashy magazines she brought home from the office.
’s publisher Lesley Wild was on good terms with the French Consul General and managed to help me secure both an appointment and the requisite visa. Editor Nancy Pilcher, who never stopped helping me throughout my career, agreed that I could contribute stories from Paris. It is gratifying to remember how supportive my colleagues were in those days. Everyone had your back, as opposed to stabbing you in it.
I was determined to find my own apartment in Paris, and not immediately move in with Mourad, who seemed reasonably nonchalant about me relocating there anyway. I didn’t want the relationship to be the sole basis of my decision—if things didn’t work out with him then no problem, I would still have my independence.
team threw a farewell party in the boardroom and I was handed a card and present. We had a “little blue box” tradition, which meant that any gift for a staff member always came from Tiffany. My package, however, revealed two sets of Yves Saint Laurent lingerie and a cookbook, which were the perfect send-off for a Gallic romance.
In reality, I should have asked for a fax machine.
It was 1994 and I was living in my first Paris home, a tiny one-bedroom apartment on the Rue Rameau, in the busy 2nd arrondissement. It was seven flights up a steep circular stairway, with no elevator. The mere act of collecting the mail every day was arduous, but in three months I dropped a dress size. I was probably about a size 8, if that, when I arrived in Paris, but I immediately felt hefty compared to the sparrow-thin French girls. The tables and chairs were always so close in the cafés; I felt conspicuous and ungainly.
Shopping one day, I walked into the Miu Miu boutique in the Rue de Grenelle and timidly asked the sales assistant if she had a particular
coat that was in the window in my size. She stared at me stony-faced, took a deep drag on her cigarette (they smoked in the shops then), blew it out through her nose and said: “No, there is nothing in this store that would fit you.” I left, mortified.
I had promised myself when I settled in Paris that I would avoid the patisseries, except for bread and croissants. I do not have a sweet tooth at any rate so it was not difficult. That was my only dietary restriction, and by the end of the year I was the slimmest I have ever been. I chalk it all up to walking. Perhaps that’s why French women don’t get fat, because they all walk everywhere. For me, every single square inch of Paris was enthralling. I covered tons of ground on foot every day.
That first year in Paris was one of the best years of my life. Because I could not yet speak the language, I spent an enormous amount of time in my own thoughts, just observing. I read a book each day and explored the city, with no specific destinations planned. I was mostly alone, but never lonely. At night I lived a crazy nightclub existence with Mourad. I called him Le Vampire because he never saw full daylight, going to bed at 8 a.m. and getting up at 4 p.m.
Le Casbah was the top club in Paris, and Mourad was the man you needed to know to get in. Everywhere we went, the doors opened, tables were miraculously found, champagne was sent out; he would toss his keys to someone and they would park his car. He ripped up his parking tickets. He didn’t have to settle restaurant bills. He knew every policeman. It was intoxicating. It was like I had been dropped into the film
, although it needed English subtitles. I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying, especially at 4 a.m. in Les Bain Douches, but everything sounded sexy and thrilling. No doubt it was just the regular alcohol- and drug-fueled rubbish people say in nightclubs in the early hours of the morning, but in my head, Jean Paul Sartre and Anaïs Nin would have struggled to keep up.
In general, our regime was to wake up in the late afternoon, have something resembling a brunch at a local bistro in the lesbian district in the 2nd, visit three or four nightclubs, and usually end up at a smoky, windowless, red-velvet bar called Babylone in Les Halles, at 7 a.m., eating
with the African musicians who had just finished their gigs at various venues around town. Every night we mingled with celebrities, aristocrats, artists, drag queens, designers and criminals; it was fabulous.
There were various talented Aussie expatriates living in Paris at that period: Christina Zimpel, the previous art director of
, and her husband Patric Shaw, who had turned to photography, and writer Lee Tulloch and her photographer husband Tony Amos. Lee, Tony and their daughter Lolita lived in the most beautiful apartment near the Sorbonne, and would often invite me over for a home-cooked dinner. Some of my most delightful recollections of that time in Paris were sitting with Lee in cafés for hours and hours, talking about the books we were reading, or in her case, writing. Lee was contributing to
, under the editorship of Deborah Thomas who had moved from
, while I had been hired to be the beauty editor and editor-at-large for
, which had launched in 1994. Lee, who had seen great success with her first novel
, was writing her second book
Needless to say Paris was an endless source of possibilities for a fashion and beauty journalist. For the first time in my career I was attending the ready-to-wear (RTW) shows. I would later work under many managers who never fully appreciated the importance of the RTW to a fashion journalist. The shows, to a purely financial person, appeared to be an indulgent waste of money. It is impossible to explain to someone who is fixated on reducing costs that the international shows deliver inspiration and expertise, giving an editor a sense of context,
history and insider knowledge. By experiencing the moments, you can make comparisons and draw conclusions. You meet the players; you are a legitimate part of the game. But the RTW show season was pretty much viewed by Australian management as editors and writers taking an overseas holiday. I have had to write a lengthy justification explaining why I thought it was necessary to attend each RTW season, twice a year for the last decade.
I need to clarify that I have never been completely obsessed with fashion. I am fascinated by popular culture, and fashion is of course one of its most important informants and signifiers. But the couture shows, which I was now excitingly attending in Paris, gave me a whole new appreciation. The shows were very intimate, and reserved for only top-shelf press and customers. Couture is by its very nature a luxury, and only very select journalists were in attendance. Working for
meant that I was automatically granted a front row seat, as opposed to either no seat or a standing seat for
. It was not exactly snobbery, but if you don’t have the couture customers, you don’t get the chair. My colleagues and I used to call it the “you’re only as good as your economy” rule.
There were often two shows: the first for the press, the second exclusively for clients. Back then no one dressed up; no one took photos of each other outside wearing the latest Givenchy sweater. There were no “It Girls.” We all had notebooks and wrote or sketched each “exit” (not my biggest strength, but Charla Carter’s sketches were a work of art). We watched the show, as opposed to trying to be the show.
Although I was usually seated with the international press, I felt more like part of the French brigade because I was living there. I recall rushing to a Chanel show at the Hôtel Ritz, late, because there had been a problem with the Metro. I dashed through torrential rain
and made it just in time to hurl myself into my tiny gilt chair. I looked down at my sodden ballet slippers, and was bunching my dripping everyday trench in my lap when I noticed I was seated right beside the impenetrable US
editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. Reality would not have touched her Manolo Blahniks, but I didn’t care about my wet feet. I was in heaven, living and working in Paris. And it was a very good seat.
If I was asked what the ultimate moment might be in the world of Paris high fashion, I would suggest that Christian Lacroix couture shows came very, very close. They were such an old-world, feminine experience, always held in grand ballrooms with the prerequisite spindly-gold chairs. His sense of fabrics, of clashing and combining color, of texture and pattern, was extraordinary; each exit a work of art with a flamboyant nod to history and costume. A pink carnation was always placed across each chair, and when Lacroix appeared on the runway at the finale, guests would shower him with flowers, all accompanied by a soaring classical soundtrack. I’m not one to cry at fashion shows, but for some reason I often found his particularly moving and could find myself getting teary. For me, only the perfection of couture can produce that sort of emotion.
The appearance of a frail Yves Saint Laurent on the runway was also especially thrilling, not just for the beauty of his clothes. I felt an appreciation of the artist himself, his sensibilities, his innate taste, his love for the female form. He was Paris personified. Saint Laurent, creator of the iconic evening tuxedo “Le Smoking.” What, to this day, could be more sexy? Actress Catherine Deneuve was almost always in the front row.
The great couturiers and their ateliers set a standard that is so remarkable, you feel transported when you see their vision come to
life on the runway. Witness a Valentino couture show and you can imagine you are a princess at a dinner party in Rome in 1969. His collections were always so glossy, so expensive, so drop-dead chic. I was chatting to a British fashion journalist after one Valentino showing at the Louvre and she said grumpily: “I thought all that was boring.” I can’t begin to describe how badly dressed and ill-groomed the woman was. My response was a little more blunt. “If you don’t appreciate a Valentino couture show, then I don’t think you should be working in fashion.”