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

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Fashion writer Edmonde Charles-Roux passed away 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 1920 in a Parisian suburb in France. 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 and by 1954 she was appointed as the editor in chief. Charles-Roux thrived 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 like Violette Leduc and photographs by Irving Penn and Guy Bourdin.

However, in 1966 Charles-Roux was dismissed from Vogue Paris. Although there was not any specific reasoning for the dismissal, Charles-Roux and many others believe that it was due to a cover she was planning for an upcoming issue. The photograph featured model of the moment, and Black American, Donyale Luna. Since the publication had never featured a model of African descent, Charles-Roux’s cover choice was shocking and may have lead to her disposal. Instead of using the initially planned cover, the magazine quickly replaced it with a photograph of two white models. Other factors, like Charles-Roux’s focus on cultural topics than fashion trends, 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

In 1981 next book, “Chanel: Her Life, Her World — and the Woman Behind the Legend She Herself Created” was published. “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’s life was a constant theme of bravery and social justice, even when she didn’t understand the impact. Today, fifty years later after her 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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