Egoïst is a rather fancy French fashion, um, magazine that I ran across a couple of years ago when I was first looking at Ellen von Unwerth’s work. I hesitate to call it a “magazine,” as each issue seems to come out in two parts and it’s huge, rather expensive, and very well done, for an unbound almost newspaper-like thing, and its release schedule is “whenever it’s ready.” In any case, it’s not a monthly fashion rag like Cosmo or something, though there are some similarities.
Egoïst No. 18’s two parts, Tome I: Xavier Dolan and Tome II: Jessica Chastain contain rather long fashion spreads (shot by Paolo Roversi and Ellen von Unwerth, respectively) and profiles of and/or interviews with Dolan, Chastain, and other actors, directors, artists, musicians, and the like, and other fashion spreads and single shots by Roversi and von Unwerth and a few other photographers, plus short fiction, essays, and other writing. My French-reading skills have faded a great deal since grad school, so I didn’t even try to read the articles, but overall, it reminds me a bit of a very high-class Cosmopolitan or a better comparison might be Playboy with no nudity: great photography, sure, but also good, high-brow writing, art, social-consciousness-raising articles, and other hallmarks of the age.
Book I opens with about 70 pages of very high-class long form and single page ads, for Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Dior, Chaumet, Givenchy, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chanel, Emile Garcin, Lacoste, E. Gutzwiller & Cie, Burma, Ruinart, F. P. Journe, Guerlain, Petrossian, and Maison Vincent Darre. I didn’t mean to list them all, but the list gives a picture, I think, of the audience for Egoïst, perhaps, and to be honest, it’s probably not me.
Well, except for the photography. I have a good deal of interest in the making and defining of “good pictures,” the forms and uses to which fine photography may be put, and the like, and Egoïst is an interesting thing in this regard.
After all these ads, which aren’t obviously ads—some pages contain no reference to a brand at all, and they all have a Fine Art feel that is missing from most every other ad I come across—we finally come to the imprint and contents page. The listed contents only start on page 74, and after some confusion, I realized that the first 72 pages were all ads, and that no other ads appear in the rest of Book I or Book II. That’s how coherent and consistent Egoïst is in its overall design and layout: the ads fit seamlessly into the overall thing and it’s really brilliant.
So the magazine content then begins, with a biography and set of photos of Xavier Dolan, a pretty, sensitive-looking young actor/director/writer,* whose expressions and pout remind me of young Johnny Depp, probably incorrectly. Paolo Roversi knows what he’s doing and gets the right sort of vibe for a young star of his caliber. Similar, if shorter, profiles of violinist Alexandra Conunova, Maurizio Cattelan, Amal Clooney, and Milla and Ever Jovovich follow, neatly bisected by a series of “Tweets from the Grave” composed by Patrick Besson. “The 21st Century, I can feel it” says the Devil… and, rather distubringly, “I had said that I did not want a convertible,” attributed to JFK.
French wit is largely lost on me, I think, as that offends something deep in me, so I’ll leave off translating the “tweets from the grave” and get on with it.
Ellen von Unwerth’s photographs of Milla Jovovich and her daughter Ever are funny and fun and make me want to try to make some family portraits in this high-concept fashion style. I really can’t imagine actually pulling it off, getting buy in from, say, my brother in law and nephew, much less getting the glossy, flawless beauty glow alongside, but still. And looking back at Wicked, which is glossy and contrasty and perhaps slightly blown out, the work in Egoïst has a sheen and gloss far beyond that in Wicked that speaks to von Unwerth’s long career and a sort of realization of her aesthetic.
Several pages of writing—the pages have the “Littérature” heading, but I’m no longer familiar enough with French to really tell what they all are, and I’m too lazy to google translate a paragraph or two of each—and a set of head/shoulders, hyper-bokeh portraits of model Sara Grace, round out Book I.
Book II opens with over a dozen chameleon-type portraits of Jessica Chastain in various costumes, all with von Unworth’s excellent framing and posing and all, and in her signature style. A long interview with Christopher Hampton, punctuated with portraits by Roversi, and a profile of Héloïse Adelaïde Letissier, better known as Christine and the Queens, with a long set of photos, again by Roversi, follow. Roversi is a different sort of photographer to von Unworth, more of the simple backdrop, classic lighting, head-and-shoulders, type. His set-ups are far simpler, but he clearly knows how to direct the sitters, who also know how to act and pose, and the Christine and the Queens portraits are somehow very similar to the chameleon-style Jessica Chastain portraits: in a few, Chris looks almost androgynous, posing sort of like David Bowie on the Heroes cover, like a Heckel painting; in others she looks like Jack White somehow; in others she seems to be doing tai chi. Good stuff.
More French writing follows—an interview between Françoise Sagan and Egoïste editor Nicole Wisniak, letters exchanged between Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Adjani—and then there are historic photographs of famous men—Samuel Beckett, John Paul Sartre, Pope Francis, Charles de Gaulle—all with well-photoshopped, hyper-realistic tattoos, depicting scenes and icons and symbols related to their lives. More biographies and portrait sets follow: Patrick Bruel, Bella Hadid, Lapo Elkann, Martin Scorsese. And then, in what seems a dramatic shift, somehow, there’s a photo series of migrants on boats, rendered in the high contrast brilliance of the rest of the magazine, followed immediately by a set of art photographs from Donata Wenders, titled “la vitesse de la lumiére.”
The Wenders work is more closely related to the fashion spreads than are the photographs of migrants and refugees, in my mind anyway, but they look different because there’s not enough subject in focus for the brilliantly sharp contrast and gloss to hold. I think the photographs are of dancers as they move, but can’t really be sure: the forms are sometimes obviously human, at other times more bird like. That the photographs of the migrants and refugees look almost identical to the photographs of fashion models and movie stars—though the refugees appear mostly in large, crowded groups on a boat, rather than singly in studios—bothers me some. It seems they should be of more concern and importance than, say, Mille Jovovich and her daughter or Christine and the Queens, both of which received more coverage, more spreads, than did the refugees. In the same way, to render them with such beauty makes me twitch a bit, though I’m at pains to say precisely why.
Should refugees and migrants be rendered differently from the Jovoviches and Christine? the Queens? If so, how? The particular refugees here, from Mali, I think, are already obviously different from the movie and fashion stars in the rest of the magazine: they’re in densely packed groups, mostly; their clothing is their own, and not from some fashion house; their skin is a different shade (somewhat disturbingly, almost every other photograph, even in the ads, pictures people with pale skin); they’re carrying all their earthly belongings with them as they flee violence in their homeland. And, as they land in Europe or wherever, and a young girl marches across the gangway with all her things piled in her arms and balanced on her head, a professional fashion photographer pops a couple of octoboxes and a beauty dish on her or something, and she later appears in Egoïst…
Is the disconnect only in my mind? Probably, and still, readers of Egoïst, its publishers, its advertisers are very likely somewhat on the left, like me, and therefore probably generally have some concern about the refugees’ plight, and when they’re the publishers of a very fancy fashion journal thing, well, they should absolutely draw attention to that plight with 8 or 10 pages of their fancy fashion journal thing.
I’m feeling some cognitive dissonance here. Anyway.
Book II, and thus vol. 18 of Egoïst winds up with some more Littérature and then two sets of photos of houses and interiors: one a very fancy, haute bourgeois chateau; the other Balthus’ studio, I think. Both are beyond-aspirational for a prole like me, but maybe regular readers see some decorating ideas?
So… I guess you can see the comparison to Cosmopolitan, if not old Playboy magazines: great photography, good ads, decent writing, interviews with and profiles of musicians and artists and actors and all, a somewhat bougie view of some big social issue, and an eye to the ways the rich and famous live. Egoïst is a very high class fashion magazine, one that I probably have no business even knowing about, let alone owning an issue of, except that the photography is excellent and I have a passing interest in very high-concept fashion work, so.
I didn’t realize that it wasn’t a regularly-published thing, or, rather, that it had only put out 18 issues in its existence, with the first appearing in 1977, until very late in the writing of this over/re-view. Editor Nicole Wisniak has been with it since its first issue and the 70-odd pages of ads at the beginning were her idea and her concept and are all purpose-shot for that particular issue, then never used again… That these brands (see the list above) jump at the opportunity, and have since the beginning, is telling. Reviewers and commenters call it (paraphrasing) a sort of high class fashion accessory for the rich-and-in-the-know, which I’m definitely not. But it’s also spoken of as a collectible, an object d’Art, featuring the best (fashion) photographers around, and, well, I do have a rather large-ish collection of zines.
Egoïste 18 remains available (the website proclaims “LE NUMÉRO 18 D’EGOISTE EST SORTI !” on its front page… and the issue appeared in 2018),** and while I don’t really recommend it, it’s something worth taking a look at. It’s a very fine fashion journal/magazine thing, and I’m glad to be exposed to it, though I wish I’d kept up my French study some so I could read the text. Oh well. There’s still plenty of great photography to look at and some photographic ideas to try, maybe. It’s not cheap, for a magazine, but it’s reasonably priced for what it is, and probably worth having, if you’re so inclined.
*I originally assumed “actor” until I looked him up and found that he’s actually more of a writer/director, or as much of a writer/director as actor. Still, the “pretty, sensitive-looking” and “young Johnny Depp” still apply, and, still, probably incorrectly.
**This “review” was written and appears in late 2020.