War Hero and…Fashion Writer? The Life of Edmonde Charles-Roux

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Fashion writer Edmonde Charles-Roux passed away last January at the age of 95. A noted author and journalist, Edmonde Charles-Roux lived a life that was full of adventure and fashion.

Charles-Roux was born in France in 1920 in a Parisian suburb. Her life changed dramatically during World War II, as she earned a nursing degree and volunteered in the French Foreign Legion as an ambulance driver. After being wounded during an aerial bombardment, she joined the French Resistance. She was later awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor for her work.

As the war ended, Charles-Roux became attached to the newly created fashion magazine, Elle. In 1948 she transitioned as a writer for Vogue Paris, which in 1954, appointed her as the editor in chief. Charles-Roux  soared in this position and is remembered for widening the publication’s cultural coverage. She is now cemented in fashion history for promoting the careers of many up-and-coming designers, like Yves Saint-Laurent and Emanuel Ungaro. She also included works by writers Violette Leduc, and photographs by Irving Penn and Guy Bourdin in the publication.

However, in 1966 Charles-Roux  was dismissed from the Vogue Paris. Although there were not any specific reasoning for the dismissal, Charles-Roux  and many others believe that it was all due to a cover she was planning for an upcoming issue. The cover featured model of the moment, and African American, Donyale Luna. Since the publication had never featured a model of African descent, Charles-Roux’s cover choice was so shocking that it may have been a cause of disposal. Instead of featuring the originally planned cover, the magazine quickly choose two white models. Other factors, like Charles-Roux’s focus on cultural topics than changing styles, may also have been a factor. “They didn’t like the way I was,” she told The New York Times. “For me, fashion has never been frivolous.”

Months after she was dismissed at Vogue Paris, Charles-Roux’s first novel, “To Forget Palermo,” won the prestigious Prix Goncourt. “When I was fired,” she stated in 1966, “I didn’t even know the book had been accepted for publication.”

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“Chanel And Her World,” by Edmonde Charles-Roux; Image via Amazon

Charles-Roux  continued her writing career, and in 1981 published, “Chanel: Her Life, Her World — and the Woman Behind the Legend She Herself Created.” “Chanel’s famous nostrils flared,” Charles-Roux  said about speaking with the designer for the book. “She blew smoke. She would not supply information or photographs. I knew I would have to do it on my own. She would never talk to me again.”

Charles-Roux life was a constant theme of bravery and social justice, even when she didn’t understand the impact. Even today, fifty years later after Charles-Roux’s dismissal, non-white models on magazine covers are still a rarity. It appears the fashion world still has a lot to learn.

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