” Character. One could not fail to notice it despite the lack of emphasis and theatrics. She arrived, and it was as if a spotlight had suddenly illuminated her, a spotlight of absolute respect. This character is Claude Brouet, eminent of elegance , first journalist of ELLE, where she headed the fashion section until 1969, then editor-in-chief of fashion, beauty and cuisine of “Marie Claire”, and finally stylist of sublime dresses for the house of Hermes.At 93 she still has flamboyant hair, precise words, very sharp eyes, a hurricane smile. Because she loved her job, she wanted to bear witness to it in a beautiful, captivating book, “Claude Brouet, a fashion journalist”. Half a century of history of elegance, women’s liberation and the press , told with wit and wit, an exciting encounter.
SHE. Looks like you were born into fashion!
CLAUDE BROUET. After working at Chanel, my mother managed the Schiaparelli home salons. This very haute couture lady dressed me in a very modern way. In a photo of me as a child wearing dungarees that amazes all my friends! In my class – this is before the war – the little girls wore coats with round collars of velvet; I had a double-breasted Shetland overcoat, made to measure. I was dressed pure and hard! I f***ed Mommy so bad I ended up having a smocked dress. And Mrs. Schiaparelli gave me a white ermine coat, but she never got out of her box!
SHE. How was your mother dressed?
CB extension With great sobriety, even at Schiap’, which didn’t just offer eccentric tailoring. My mother didn’t like her body, she thought she had too much chest. When I was a teenager, she would look at me – “Ah alright, stop! –, because a small chest is easier to dress…
SHE. Little girl, did you have a calling?
CB extension I’m Libra, any decision is difficult to make… I studied a bit of everything, philosophy, drawing, Spanish, I was a spoiled girl! Until the moment we decided to get married, Jean-Pierre Brouet and I. We had met at a surprise party, we were 17, we said “Good evening sir”, “Hello young lady” – we can’t imagine what it was anymore! Since it was out of the question for me to live off my parents, I looked for a job. I had heard of the Bal des Oiseaux which was held at the Palais Rose, the former private residence of Boni de Castellane, I dreamed of going there. A friend of my mother’s offered to help the photographer who was on his way there. He was amazed, I knew everyone, I’ve been a cinephile since I was 11, I spent my life in museums, I read the newspapers… Especially ELLE, from the very first issue, which my mother had received before anyone else because the model on the cover she was wearing a Schiaparelli dress! In 1950, at the age of 20, I joined the magazine “Vive la mode”.
SHE. Where did you study until 1953…
CB I arrived at ELLE on June 2, 1953. At the back of the building on rue Réaumur, I was told: “They are all in Hélène Lazareff’s office. The entire editorial team watched the coronation of Elizabeth II on a television that Hélène had rented for the occasion. I had never seen one in my life! I admit it was a pretty memorable entry.
SHE. Do you remember how you were dressed?
CB extension Probably a straight skirt, black or navy – I’ve never been very curled – a blouse with a high collar and shoes with moderate heels. I found my style later: one day, I bought at Prisunic on the Champs-Élysées a little busy thing, a little dress in anthracite jersey, I took off the belt and I sewed darts under the bust. I didn’t invent anything, it was in tune with the times, but it lengthened the silhouette and I realized that I looked much better than when I tightened the waist. You don’t know what women have suffered with Christian Dior’s New Look!
SHE. A mythical collection from 1947, which you speak of as a throwback!
CB I squeezed myself so much that the clasps on my skirts went into my flesh, creating sores and scabs. I had reached 48 centimeters of life, but lunch was a tragedy, I’m greedy! What a constriction for the body, what a colossal step backwards for women: the compressed waist, the swollen breasts, it was the same anti-freedom. At the time I was like everyone, I found this exaltation of swirling femininity wonderful, it is today that I find it retrograde.
SHE. Hélène Lazareff founded ELLE, which she directed until 1973. How was she?
CB extension He had a lot of charm, and let’s say it was better to stay on his comics. It’s rare that a press chief like her is so interested in fashion, which was great… and sometimes tricky. It took me years to get her to go to a Pierre Cardin show, because she always presented at the same time as Chanel, whom she revered. However, you cannot imagine the desolation that seized us fashion journalists when we saw the first collection of Coco Chanel on her return after the war! [En 1954, ndlr.]
SHE. But why ?
CB extension It was sinister: masquerade clothes, mortally sad clothes! And then, little by little, tweeds became beautiful and suits very desirable. It goes without saying that sewing is sewing. A Chanel jacket is not a garment like any other.
SHE. What did Hélène Lazareff’s ELLE look like?
CB extension He was inventing a modern newspaper. She herself was very free in private life, although she and her husband Pierre got along remarkably well. In the shots, she found that the models weren’t “bejeweled” enough. We were always waiting for the moment when she would take off the cameo that she always wore, to tell us: “Then put it on the model”!
SHE. We can no longer imagine how much fashion imposed its dictates in the 50s… What were they?
CB extension Each season, Christian Dior was photographed, inch in hand and kneeling in front of a model, to give the length of the dresses that women would wear. Our role, as fashion journalists, was to photograph the stitching patterns full length, front and back, so readers’ seamstresses could copy the pattern. The women’s concern was finding the right dress for the right occasion. We received many letters: “Can I wear this dress to a wedding? ”, etc. He showed a lack of self-confidence and a strong desire to be “hip”.
SHE. For your part, you understood very early what the development of prêt-à-porter will be like…
CB extension. I had heard of a group whose name has always made me laugh, Les Trois Hirondelles, which brings together “wholesale couture” houses, ie high-end clothing. If there was a pejorative word at the time, it was ‘tailoring’ – it was flow! The women who had money sewed for customers, the others had their clothes made by seamstresses. And now, suddenly, these houses used quality fabrics, calling on stylists who were no longer satisfied with copying last year’s collections but proposed beautiful and innovative garments. It was truly a revolution. My first prêt-à-porter subject in ELLE was titled: “It’s all ready, it’s now! The models had an alarm clock in hand meaning it was quicker to get dressed than it was to go to your seamstress!
SHE. You have met many people. There was a special one, with Pierre Cardin…
CB extension I knew him when he was very young, he was a friend, an exceptional cutter. He would take a piece of fabric, a few pins and invent a garment for you. When she returned from Japan with Hiroko, the grace of herself, who became her muse and inspirer of her, created purified clothes of crazy simplicity and poetry for her.
SHE. What are the great fashion moments you experienced?
CB extension I can’t ignore Dior’s New Look, then Cardin of course, and also Emmanuelle Khanh. In the 60s, for brands that didn’t yet bear her name, she designed street fashion, including polo shirts for Cacharel: all the women had them!
SHE. Saint Laurent, are you skipping it?
CB extension No, although I don’t wear it to the fullest and it could make my hair stand on end! He is a great classic couturier, well done, perfect, surprising, but he didn’t invent anything. At the right moment, he took out the pea coat, the safari jacket, the trousers – hats off! On the other hand, Madame Grès, I put her very high.
SHE. You also admire Sonia Rykiel.
CB extension My colleagues and I went to Laura, her husband’s shop on avenue du Général-Leclerc. She showed us clothes we didn’t see anywhere else, and then we started buying sweaters that Sonia Rykiel had made for herself in the beginning. She then opened her own boutique on rue de Grenelle, and I lived happily in her own jersey dresses. After the arrival of the creators, a wave of excitement! Mugler, Montana, Jean Paul Gaultier… Let’s not forget Issey Miyake: a unique sense of movement. All of a sudden, parades felt like shows. Kenzo was also, of course, a huge shock.
SHE. Out of all these creators, you have a particular fondness for Jean Paul Gaultier. How come ?
CB extension Because while we retain his eccentricities, he’s a first-rate cutter. He has talent, heart and memory… Alaïa also had a unique personality, and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else work so hard.
SHE. Are you still interested in fashion today?
CB extension More often than not, everything looks bad to me! I joined Alexander McQueen’s Instagram because I think his former assistant is doing a great job. Good job, this is what I love!
“Claude Brouet, fashion journalist”, by Claude Brouet, with Sonia Rachline (Editions du Regard, 295 p.).