Tired of writing the same zealous trend stories for her day job at a French women’s magazine, Valentine Faure — a French journalist based in Paris — decided earlier this year to launch her own publication on the side. She gathered, amongst many noteworthy topics, a vintage Françoise Sagan interview, a Fran Lebowitz fan page, a breakdown of the looks of dictator’s wives, and a revisiting of Mary McCarthy’s 1963 novel, The Group.
She named it Chic Fille — French for “cool girl. (It stands in contrast to a “Fille Chic” — “stylish girl” — an important distinction that is ideologically rooted in the French publication’s approach.) The first issue, which came out mid-May, is entertaining and intelligent without being haughty; it wholly ignores the urgency of fads. Faure spoke to the Cut about why she decided to launch Chic Fille, what she feels is missing from women’s magazines, and who she thinks is the original “it girl.”
What inspired you to create Chic Fille?
I realized the biggest taboo for a women’s interest magazine is time. It’s hard to talk about the past; it’s always what’s new, what’s new, what’s new, what’s hot. It’s exhausting for a reader and for a journalist. Most of the time we’re asked to write nothing sad as a topic. But the part that makes a reader anxious is the pressure about ‘not aging’ and all that stuff. There’s this and the fact that, more and more, the reading [of women’s magazines] itself is stressful. It’s very short, the way it’s laid out is hectic and aggressive, like advertising, like a pack of yogurt with stickers. I think we have lost the habit of reading women’s magazines. You open an Elle, Grazia, you know it’s going to take ten minutes. Even if there’s a good story, you won’t read it. I can sense around me a desire for something other than what’s trendy, what’s new; I think there’s a real appetite for something timeless.
How did you decide on the format?
I find the square format playful, and it looks different. We were inspired by an old journal from the ‘70s called Plexus. It had a lot of drawings. Very intellectual and erotic.
Françoise Sagan and Jean Seberg are on the cover. In what ways do they embody the Chic Fille to you?
I think Sagan is a very beloved French figure, though she became a mess. She died ten years ago, but she has a real place in the French mentality. I like that on the cover, it’s Jean Seberg, the beautiful actress, who seems fascinated by Sagan; I like that the charisma is on Sagan’s side. She is the quintessential chic fille as I see her: adventurous, funny, stylish, brilliant. The idea was to talk about her less as myth and more as a young writer. In the interview she’s 21, it’s early in her career. I wanted to talk about this Françoise Sagan — not the puppet that she became later, with a drinking and gambling problem. There’s a need for a personality like hers that has to do with nostalgia. She was a nice person but she was scandalous too, though not in a provocative way. She’s more endearing than any “it girl” you read about.
Why a magazine addressing women specifically?
I don’t really know! There is no “only women’s interest” thing here. There’s no beauty, no fashion … there’s only what could interest both sexes — and I think it does. It’s a magazine about women rather than for women, and I think men could completely read it. It came more from a personal frustration about not being to write about things I wanted to write about.
Your interview with Anne Chabrol, who launched the original French Glamour in the 1980s, seems to reverberate with your own approach to creating a magazine. For one she acknowledges how contemptuous she thinks some women’s magazines are of their own readers. Do you think contemporary magazine standards were a reader demand, or were they imposed by the industry?
I don’t know. I’m very curious about how Chic Fille will be received. I think the best way to go is to ask yourself what you’d like to read yourself, instead of objectifying “the reader” and trying to imagine what women think. People take over magazines wanting to make money, without knowing how to make a magazine. And it’s a disaster. There’s a huge lack of creativity. Women are treated as “light” … I think being a woman is very serious and tough and hard, and selling the idea of women who want to buy stuff, and be “light” … I think no one is like that. My instinct would be to say it’s a mistake to take this road of always creating short, light pieces. I think a lot of people share that point of view. It’s a mistake to think that it’s either/or: It’s absolutely fine to really like light things and books. I don’t think it’s two different kind of women who read Chic Fille or Cosmopolitan. So I don’t want to have this tone of lecturing. The idea was to create a journal for women with a good spirit, which I think is missing a little bit.
There’s a real sense of tongue-in-cheek to the choice of subjects. Why do you think that’s missing from women’s publications?
I wanted to do a magazine where the main stance would be to take a step back, and just look at things in a quiet way — with a little smile, quoi. It’s a sort of elegant stance, I think, to look at things with a little humor. We make fun of the things you find in the supermarket, for example. Or of Joe Francis. In France, there is a systematic indignation; it’s very justifiable, but it’s a very boring discourse. I wanted this magazine to be fun, not elitist. Writing funny pieces about real things it the best way to be appealing and not too self-serious.
This interview has been edited and condensed.