Franceline Prat | Source: The Little Squares
NEW YORK, United States — Anyone who still loves magazines will be enchanted by this quick film portrait of legendary French Vogue editor Franceline Prat; proof positive that great editors are born and not made. Her collaborations with Guy Bourdin, Norman Parkinson, Bill King, Albert Watson and especially Helmut Newton will forever hold their place at the pinnacle of the history of fashion photography.
When she is asked, "who showed you how to do that?" she answers quite honestly, "nobody!" It was her personal style that she brought to every story, including her now famous house on the French Riviera, which served as a backdrop to many classic images, which appeared in French Vogue during the 1970's. Having survived many an editor-in-chief, she was not only muse to the most difficult and important photographers, but also acted as mentor, teacher and great friend to everyone around her, from Azzedine Alaia to Marie Amélie Sauvé. Here, she talks about the first time she ever worked with Helmut Newton covering the Cannes Film Festival where she found a young unknown actress named Isabelle Hupert.
Listening to these marvelous stories in the digital age, they seem almost fictional. It’s as if, somewhere during the last turn of the century, fashion, while trying to defend and define itself, has become somewhat of a cartoon image of itself. It is hard to imagine that during that time at French Vogue, there weren’t even individual credits given to the many people who contributed to what would become some of the most influential imagery ever created. All great magazines, fashion or otherwise, are the result of great collaborations rather than any individual expression. There have always been star photographers, brilliant art directors, incredible writers, super models, fashion editors and of course, the editors-in-chief, who serve to inspire and guide these teams to express the point of view of the magazine.
So why do we still love magazines? And why hasn’t the rise of digital technology stamped them out already?
It's not surprising really, if you think of them as the triumph of the group effort whereas the website or the blog is more like the triumph of the individual expression. While becoming part of the community, the online experience still underlines the idea of “this is me” and “this is what I think. ” Sites like Polyvore with its “let's everyone try and do a layout!” and individual blogs, which are like secret diaries we all get to peek into, have added an amazing new dimension to the industry.
It's as if the fashion hungry population has become so familiar with our language and imagery through television shows and movies, they have deconstructed and mimicked the making of designer collections, magazines, and even the behavior of the press offices (all three most brilliantly parodied in the series Absolutely Fabulous). The public’s unending fascination with our industry and their ability to now actually participate through reality TV, red carpet reporting and online communities has had wonderful, sometimes silly, yet always amusing effects. Anything that brings a sense of humour to a sometimes humourless industry is a good thing.
So let's celebrate the great moments in the creation of great magazines, those “paper movies” with a strong point of view. Whether focused on travel, nature, politics, literature, fashion or all of the above, magazines have many advantages over the digital experience. They get to tell stories over space rather than time. They show you what they want to show, leaving intact the allure that has been lost a bit with all of the ‘sharing’ we do now. They have a 'lean back' captive audience and have the very fashionable quality of not being forever.
Therefore we cannot let the next generations think our industry is like winning a game show; it's up to all of us to share our experiences so we don’t lose the ability to make these beautiful moments either on the printed page or anywhere else for that matter. It wasn’t too long ago that most people didn’t even know what a stylist was. Let's not forget the art of the creative collaboration, the days when photographers would hang out in art departments and argue with graphic designers and the passion wound up all over the page.
Debra Scherer has worked at American Vogue, French Vogue and Italian Vogue, where she is currently a contributing editor. She is co-founder of The Little Squares, where 'We Still Love Magazines' is like a company credo.
What do you think? What is the role of magazines in the digital age?