PARIS, France — “I can’t help it. I’ll always have sweaters full of holes and scruffy hair,” says Camille Bidault-Waddington, ageless in high-waisted denim shorts and an ’80s sweatshirt, as she serves tea in a vintage Royalty mug.
Her trademark tongue-in-cheek subversion of French bon goût — colliding kitsch and chic, second-hand and couture — has earned her styling assignments at influential magazines like French Vogue, Purple, Dazed & Confused, AnOther, and Self Service (where she has acted as fashion director) as well as consulting work for brands including Marc by Marc Jacobs, Sonia Rykiel, Chloé and Esprit.
But it’s the time Bidault-Waddington has spent on both sides of the English Channel that has shaped her work the most. Indeed, her uniquely Anglo-French approach often confronts each of these countries’ totems and taboos, combining a very British sense of humour and incongruous mixing and matching with a whiff of osé French sex appeal.
Camille first discovered fashion at an early age. Her mother, “bored out of her mind” with her life in Rouen, far from the French capital, had subscriptions to just about every fashion magazine of the time. Jardins des Modes, Depeche Mode, and Elle filled the family home.
But the minute she turned 18, Camille boarded a train to Paris. And after a short stint in advertising — “because that’s what all hipsters did back then” — she enrolled in prestigious Parisian design school Studio Berçot, where magazine editors often sourced assistants. After graduation, in a stroke of good luck, Camille landed directly at French Vogue, working with fashion editors Paquita Paquin and Marie-Amélie Sauvé. “At that stage, the role of fashion editor or stylist was still undefined — it’s very jazzy these days, books are being written about it, but it took my parents five years to understand what I do.”
However, it was coming to London, in 1997, where she met editors Katie Grand, Charlotte Stockdale, Grace Cobb and Harriett Quick, as well as designers such as Giles Deacon, Stuart Vevers and Luella Bartley — “every night, we’d meet at the Bricklayers pub in Shoreditch” — that proved to be Bidault-Waddington’s most important career move.
“This was a fantastic time of my life," she says. "We never talked about money or advertisers. It was all about who could come up with the craziest idea: a fashion shoot with gallons of water in one case, one with fire in another, you name it.”
When Bidault-Waddington returned to France six years later, her time spent in London gave her an important advantage. “They thought that by hiring me, they were buying some English ‘coolitude,’ despite the fact that I grew up [in France]. It also helped, of course, that my last name is Franco-British, so no one ever knows where I’m from.”
“But I try to avoid officially ‘cool’ pieces and designers and prefer giving a twist to something unexpected,” says Bidault-Waddington of her work. “For example, I love Armani these days; it’s far more interesting to style than, say, Margiela.”
She is also particularly adept at finding the thin line between what is elegant and what is ridiculous. Recently commissioned to stage a photo shoot themed around girls in boy’s clothes, she decided to dress the models in “the ugliest things for boys on the market — you know, embroidery on sportswear, silly suspenders,” feeling that something that looks totally off on a boy might look fabulous on a girl.
Alongside her editorial work, Bidault-Waddington also works as a consultant for a number of fashion brands, what Bidault-Waddington describes as a completely different kind of assignment to styling. Indeed, brands typically call in consultants like Bidault-Waddington to help create, maintain or enhance their image, which often has little do to with the actual clothes.
“We had to work around the actual product and invent a whole new language,” says Bidault-Waddington on her work for Esprit, which resulted in a campaign shot by David Sims featuring Gisele Bündchen. “The photos look fab, the attitude is just right and I feel it breathes a new life into the brand.”
But after a decade and a half in fashion, Bidault-Waddington feels the industry has changed significantly. “Collections are shorter. Pieces are either seen everywhere, or impossible to get.” Pressure from advertisers is also far greater than ever before. Nevertheless, she doesn’t find it hard to include the obligatory brand in her styling work. “It’s yet another challenge. I do what I always do and turn the pieces on their head.”
So what advice does Bidault-Waddington have for aspiring stylists trying to break into today’s fashion industry? “Don’t be drawn to the strong pieces of a collection. It makes finding your personal style much harder,” she says. “Rigorously read all the magazines on the market. Go to the museum — Google Images doesn’t count. Be modest, and work your arse off!”
Alice Pfeiffer is a writer based in Paris.