By CATHY HORYN
The French fashion editor Elisabeth Djian, who goes by the more wholesome-sounding Babeth, can often be found sitting, arms crossed, in the front row. She has the intimidating look of a French madam, heightened by stiletto booties, a wink of a black bra and a laugh as free as salt. There’s a knowing quality about her without an eagerness to reveal herself. I once asked Djian what her life was like in the 1980’s when, as the fashion director of the influential little magazine Jill, she captured, and created, the ultrafeminine look of that era. Her answer sailed as cleanly as an arrow over my bow. “Lovers,” she said.
Today Djian is the editor in chief of Numéro, a magazine she started in 1998 as a secular alternative to Paris Vogue. There is no feeling that high art is being practiced in her pages; on the other hand, the list of photographers to whom she has given a creative home, like the camp colorists Mert and Marcus, is long. “You have freedom with Babeth,” said Karl Lagerfeld, who shoots the couture for Numéro. Djian likes to say she is interested only in the fashion of today, and when we met over lunch, she cringed as I brought out several dog-eared copies of Jill. “Oh, I can’t look at them anymore,” she said.
Many other people can’t stop looking at Jill. Only 11 issues were produced between 1983 and October 1985, when it folded, but from its inception the magazine seemed to find people who spoke the same language. Marc Jacobs has made reference to Jill in at least one Louis Vuitton show, and Hedi Slimane is a fan as well. This reverence for a magazine that died just as the decade was warming up is not surprising. In their Alaïas and Montanas, the women in Jill look as painted and dolled up as the next, but they’re not the Valkyries you typically associate with the era. They’re still real-looking, their innocence years from truculent self-awareness.
And let’s face it: being in Paris, the girls in Jill had other concerns. They had lovers. They had piles of Gitanes to inhale at Les Bains Douches. The October/November 1985 issue practically reads like a Sorbonne humanities survey and features, along with gloomy fashion spreads dedicated to Poe and Hardy, a series of Peter Lindbergh photographs based on the Egyptian Book of the Dead. What is striking about all this Frenchness is that Jill actually had good reason to pay scant attention to the scene in Milan or London. With the rise of new stars like Azzedine Alaïa, Thierry Mugler and Jean Paul Gaultier, and the arrival of the Japanese avant-garde, Paris was again the creative center of fashion. Not only did Jill celebrate that idea, but it also openly preferred the new leadership. Hence, there is hardly any mention of Dior or Saint Laurent.
Lagerfeld, then in the process of reviving Chanel, said of Jill: “It had a spirit, more than a style, that was in fashion.” Romanticism had replaced punk; girls were again wearing hats and gloves, though now with an eye toward sex appeal. Club life set the trends, and the scarcity of boutiques — the explosion of designer shops was still a decade away — encouraged people to invent their own looks. As for the editors and photographers who worked on the magazines, they took it for granted that there was little money to pay for shoots, to say nothing of their fees. “I still wonder how we did all this stuff,” said the photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino, who contributed to Jill (and who is also a frequent contributor to T). “It’s not like today. There were no cellphones, no agents, and the modeling agencies were not developed the way they are now.” Models often collected in the cafes, and that’s where Mondino found the girls he needed. “We were almost picking them in the street,” he said.
Much of Jill’s spirit flowed from one source: Babeth Djian. It is probably a measure of her imaginative powers that Djian is nothing like the person she appears to be: “I might look like I’m a party girl, but I never went out,” said Djian, who lives with her husband and their teenage daughter in the Paris suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine and likes to escape on weekends to their country house in Normandy. “I’m the most classic person, in a way.” The daughter of a lawyer, Djian spent her childhood in Morocco, and this exotic connection may explain, as Mondino suggested, the magazine’s embrace of fantasy. It was Djian who proposed the Egyptian shoot, asking designers like Gaultier to make special garments that fulfilled her romantic vision. “It’s all about feelings with Babeth,” Mondino said. The stylist George Cortina, who works occasionally on Numéro shoots, said: “If you call her with an idea, she’s very immediate. She’ll say: ‘J’adore. Do it.”’
To please her father, Djian studied law in Paris, but at 24 she decided she wanted to do something in fashion and went to school at Studio Berçot. After that she started work at French Elle, then the cutting-edge magazine among editors and stylists. A year later she became the fashion director at Jill, whose backer ran a local modeling agency. “His idea, of course, was to use all his models,” Djian said with a shrug. “But I didn’t do that, and he didn’t mind.” She doesn’t know how the name came about, and since the magazine had a minuscule budget, it helped that she was living in her grandmother’s apartment. “I don’t think Jill even had any advertisers,” Lagerfeld told me.
That’s not far from the truth, confirmed Djian in a tone that suggests nobody thought this was a big deal. “When people called me to put ads in the magazine, I didn’t even answer — that’s the way we did it,” she said, adding: “We were all young. We were doing pictures in the apartment of my grandmother. Very innocent. It was all done in a very innocent way.”
Jill published some of Ellen von Unwerth’s first fashion pictures (a display of legs, polka dots and sexual tension), and there were other photographers and illustrators whose names have slipped into obscurity. A year after Jill closed, The Face, in a special Paris issue, acknowledged Djian’s farsighted influence. Two years later, Carla Sozzani, eager to break the grip of big-name designers in Milan, offered a revamped Italian Elle that conspicuously favored new talent and softer, more romantic layouts. (Too conspicuously, powerful advertisers thought; Sozzani was fired after three issues.)
For better or worse, the fashion industry was emerging in its current guise. Djian, for her part, insisted that nothing has changed. She still feels at liberty to follow her instincts. Perhaps, but nothing beats creative freedom when it is the sole consolation for being young and idealistic. That is a little magazine’s scrappy legacy.
It's amazing that she didn't have a thread before .. I love Numéro!
From the English Sunday Times;
Elisabeth Djian interview
She has launched a thousand looks — and can kill a career with a sneer. Matthew Campbell meets Elisabeth Djian, the femme fatale of French fashion
Waiting for Elisabeth Djian, the French fashion editor, to arrive at her office, I’m feeling nervous. I’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada, which features a hugely influential American fashion guru, and I can’t help imagining “Babeth”, as Djian is better known, as a more ferocious Parisian version – an Anna Wintour à la française. I wish I’d polished my shoes. She is so influential that a book of fashion photography has appeared with her name on it – even though she did not take any of the pictures. She sits in the front row at all the fashion shows, where a thumbs-up from her can launch a career in design.
At Numéro magazine, where she is editorial director, the staff call each other chéri, the French equivalent of daaarling. I’m handed the latest edition. In it, a model has grass, feathers and fruit stuck to her, but no clothes; others wear only the stripes of shadows. Babeth is famous for her photoshoots, the subject of her book, Babeth.
“She is coming,” says Leslie Kalfa, Babeth’s tall, bespectacled assistant. In walks a diminutive figure in a white shirt and jeans, clutching what looks like a large and well-filled bin liner. There is a lot of air-kissing as she greets her staff. “Nice heels, daaarling,” she purrs to Kalfa, before holding out her hand to me. She is rake-thin with long dark hair, an all-over tan and a husky voice. We go into her luminous, orchid-filled office overlooking Avenue Victor Hugo.
This woman certainly knows her mind. She is as enthusiastic in her likes as she is in her dislikes. J’adore, meaning “I love it,” vies with c’est horrible as favourite expressions. She glances over a piece of paper on the table. “It’s horrible,” she says in her sexily accented English, looking at a draft of an article about her book for a photography magazine. She has spotted some errors and asks Kalfa to get an editor from the magazine on the phone. “I can’t let it through like that,” she says.
Babeth tells me she grew up in Morocco and was 10 when she moved to Paris, where, under the influence of a lawyer father, she studied law at university. “I hated it,” she says, lighting one of her Vogue cigarettes. “But it has made my mind clear. I have a fantastic memory because of that. When I see a show I remember everything. Law helped me do that. It is training for the mind.”
She’s wearing silver Christian Louboutin high heels; her shirt is undone enough to give regular glimpses of her black lacy bra. “I like black and white,” she says, laughing at her taste in clothes. “I’m a simple woman.” She admits, however, to possessing “a few” pieces of haute couture.
Kalfa summons her to the phone. “It’s a bad mistake,” Babeth tells somebody called Agnès. Her tone does not invite contradiction. “I was not artistic director of Glamour magazine,” she continues. “I was fashion director. And as for the collection of photographs you have selected, it is your ‘best of’, not mine.” She returns to our table. Her mobile rings and she answers it. She says she’s in an interview with a “super-nice” journalist. I breathe a sigh of relief.
At fashion school she won first prize in her year for a knitwear design. Jean Paul Gaultier was on the jury. She recalls the fun she had as fashion director of Jill magazine, still a legend in the fashion world: “I was young. I was playing. A lot of the shoots were done in my grandmother’s flat.”
Kalfa brings a cappuccino for Babeth, who is reaching into her bin liner for a cigarette lighter. I ask if she is easy to work with. “Moi?” she asks in amazement. “I’ve had the same team for 10 years. I’m a true person who never plays with people and never uses them. I love them and they love me. I am demanding, of course. But so are they.”
Other fashion-world figures tend to be nice about her. “She’s not a Wintour, really,” said Charlotte Bialas, a creative director for leading French fashion houses. “She’s a real personality and a muse to designers. She’s behind a lot of success stories.” Babeth snorts at a question about her influence in the fashion world. “Influence. Influential women. Blah blah blah… Yeah, I discovered a lot of photographers. I’ve brought on young people. It’s not a job, really. It’s a real luxury to work like this. It’s a passion.”
Paris, she says, is “just the centre of fashion”, but fashion “is everywhere. It’s in the street. It’s in music. You go to India, to Morocco. There’s fashion”. She bristles over a question about the role of fashion magazines in encouraging eating disorders. “Don’t you think that when Kate Moss arrived on the English market they all said, ‘She’s too thin, she’s anorexic’? Now she’s a great star. What does that mean? There are polemics about everything. About food. About the environment. I hate polemics. There are beautiful girls. Fantastic, beautiful models. They are just very thin. That’s it. Fat is not the aesthetic of the age.”
She says she loves seeing girls without make-up and women with wrinkles. “That’s why I created Numéro. I was bored with magazines that told me how to seduce a man. I wanted to create this magazine for an intelligent, smart woman who wants to read about art, design, music: not about stupidity – creams that take away wrinkles, you know, which is stupid.”
Babeth is married, with a 15-year-old daughter at boarding school in England. The family has a house in Normandy, where Babeth and her husband spend most weekends. Babeth enjoys running on the beach, but adds: “I’m a bonne vivante. I enjoy life. I love eating. I love drinking good wine.” She reads books on meditation and yoga. Her enthusiasm for the latter used to be so great, she might have become a yoga teacher had she not gone into fashion.
Nowadays she prefers an evening with friends for relaxation. Tonight it’s a Kylie concert – “she’s super-nice” – with Gaultier, also “super-nice” and a great friend. Another of her friends is Karl Lagerfeld, who published the book.
Numéro sells around 80,000 copies per issue, she says, a figure she’d like to increase: there are plans for Russian and Japanese editions. She will not get into French politics, saying “No, no, no, no” when I ask her opinion of Nicolas Sarkozy. She is, however, a fan of Carla Bruni, the former model and singer who married the French president in February. “She has great style, she’s beautiful and a good singer.” Babeth is shocked when I ask her age. “A woman never tells,” she says, and means it. As we leave I ask about the bin liner. “It’s Chanel,” she says with a giggle.
She will not get into French politics, saying “No, no, no, no” when I ask her opinion of Nicolas Sarkozy.
I'm glad she ansered that, someone who knows her place. Usually after reading articles or interviews about someone I end up liking him less than I did before (so many arrogant people), but she seems to be a nice person.
Djian likes to say she is interested only in the fashion of today, and when we met over lunch, she cringed as I brought out several dog-eared copies of Jill. “Oh, I can’t look at them anymore,” she said.
I liked that as well, not living of the past.
Thanks for opening the thread, it would be interesting to see something of that magazine Jill, I didn't know it.
I have all 11 issues of the magazine Jill that I inherited from my Mother. I scanned one Jill edit styled by Dijan for Lindbergh's thread. I also scanned an edit she styled for Vogue Italia also by Lindbergh.
^thank you to you MMA ... for the JILL's editorial ...
when I saw the name of Tanel and this weird bra, I was like "wow. great!! one of the first JPG special editorial ???!!!" and then I looked up the credits closely ... and what a surprise to see this "weird" bra isn't him at all !!!
but the ed' is still AMAZING !!!
and the Vogue Italia .... but this one is already burnt in my mind!
Babeth was yesterday part of an "exclusive" doc. about fashion industry (magazines and models). I learnt more about the modelling industry than about the editors.
But it's always nice to see how it's going on .....
you can see the tvshow there : http://www.m6replay.fr/
click on "émissions" and then find enquête exclusive.
it's in french and not only about Babeth ......