Photography ANGÈLE CHÂTENET
Story by CAROLINE GAIMARI
Camille Bidault-Waddington has said that her style is always based on her life: her emotions and reactions, her loves, her doubts and disgusts. Right now, the legendary French stylist is in the throes of a seismic life change, and she’s wearing it (quite fabulously if you ask us) on her sleeve: she’s moving out of the apartment where she’s lived for more than a decade, she cut her hair (three times in three days!), she’s bidding adieu! to a mountain of designer dresses and finding comfort in boxer shorts and men’s suits. In other words, she’s a Homme Girl after our own hearts. Here, she sits down in her Paris living room one last time, amidst piles of books and magazines and old memories, to talk with an old pal about the trauma of transitions, the beauty of simplicity, and why the best work always comes out of being just a little bit scared.
Caroline Gaimari: You just made a big move, after 14 years in the same place. How did that go?
Camille Bidault-Waddington: I’m in my new flat. I moved because I couldn’t bear my old flat. I’ve never owned a place though—the idea of owning something never made it all the way to my brain. I was busier having fun. (Oops!) I thought it would be a brilliant idea to take the month of August to take my time and pack, write, and hang out with a writer girlfriend. But that turned out to be the shittiest idea ever because I was already so burnt out from the year of work. And moving is so scary. You just find lots of old stuff as you go through your whole life. And you can’t just ask someone to do it for you. I had to look at the books, the clothes, the letters, everything...It was horrifying! And you’re alone and all your friends are on holiday. But I became great at rage-packing. You wake up at 2 in the morning and have a sudden “pack attack.” Then you go back to bed and have another pack attack at 6am.
TELFAR tank top; UNIQLO pants; vintage BOUCHERON gold bracelet.
When you decided to move, did you consider leaving Paris?
When you work in fashion you’re kind of stuck between a handful of cities: New York, London, Paris, Milan...I lived in London already. When I go back, I find it too tough to be in a city that is so spread out. You can’t go many places in a day. And now, since Brexit, lots of London fashion people have moved here so there are even more people to work with here in Paris now. Everyone left New York, so there isn’t a “vibe” there these days. Maybe that will come back. Milan is another option, but it’s very bourgeois. I’m a bourgeoise, of course, but I like being around all sorts of people. Except the people in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The people I’m meeting in the lesbian world are helping me to explore with people who think differently, so that’s opening up something new. But, to leave Paris, I wouldn’t know where to go. My son Albert is now 19 so perhaps I could start thinking of somewhere to move.
From left: "A photo of me at Margiela in 1993 (by Anders Edstrom), and one of me naked (by Horst Dickgerdes)."
What about moving to the country side?
I would be anxious in the countryside after one month. I would be uninspired and my creativity would numb. I’m not really good with gardening. I can’t even “cultivate my own garden” as Voltaire says. A move forces you to start a new chapter. I did a break-up and a move at the same time. It’s hardcore. You have to go through the physical and the mental trauma of the move, all while trying to create a nice, beautiful, new space. But after the confinement, it’s nice to be able to stare at new walls and a new ceiling. I had to reboot myself and create something for my future that is peaceful and sexy.
Are you sentimental with things?
Not at all. I am not attached to objects at all. I nearly sold my wedding dress. I got rid of lots of kids’ sculptures, letters, books, furniture, framed shit, and family objects. And all of my dresses because now I find them weird. I can be attached to a photo but that doesn’t take up that much space. I’m no Marie Kondo because that’s too rational. But I’m not a hoarder.
I'm surprised to hear about the dresses.
I kept one from Balenciaga because I think it’s like a museum piece. I kept two black dresses and three white dresses because they are a bit more masculine. I could use them to dress up being a priest or a nun. I did keep a few more skirts because I think now skirts are genderless. My son and I piled all the dresses on the bed into a huge mountain. Some went to charity shops, I sold some, I gave some. So much goofy, colorful stuff that felt totally irrelevant now.
PIERRE HARDY for BALENCIAGA BY NICOLAS GHESQUIERE loafer boots.
Your completely over dresses. Got it. Could you still get into heels?
Maybe those Margiela heels. Or men’s heels, like Cuban heels. Ilike clothes, though, of course. I want to get some nice suits, somenice men’s shirts. I love boxer shorts. A new overall register.
Do you see your new personal style influencing your styling work?
I used to do some very complicated things. And now I find that too girly, too busy, and too anecdotal. Now, I want to simplify and bring more masculinity into my work. It’s less eccentric. With age, I don’t project myself in the same way as I used to. Now, I project more my sexuality than my outer image.
Shall we talk about your radical hair change?
I cut my hair because I was so bored with myself in July. I knew it would work because I had short hair for almost all my teenage years. But now for me, short hair can be quite hardcore—either you look like a little boy or you look like an old woman who decided that it was “fresher.” And then you’re fucked. I cut my hair three times in three days but then I was like “what am I going to wear?” because I was still wearing the clothes from when I had longer hair. Now suddenly I looked more like a guy, but I don’t feel like a guy. I have to refine this in September.
September starts tomorrow.
I’m not ready. But I’m going toward a dandy look. Not full Quentin Crisp but maybe a feminine-masculine thing. Like a feminine gay guy. But not leather or gym gays. Something poetic. Now I need to find a new world. If you change your love life, if you change your flat, you have to adjust yourself as well.
What about just being ordinary?
That doesn’t work. I dated some normcore people. And I’ve been in normcore flats. But I can’t, I’m a fashion person. I can’t have a uniform. I’m not inspired by normcore. I need some kind of craziness mixed into the everyday, things that trigger a feeling that I can project into my work. I’m not normal. If only my brain could be a bit more normal.
Your book collection is overwhelming.
The books were in piles all over the house. I would be on the sofa, looking at all those books. I would notice the titles on the spines. You start to make sentences from those titles, as these poetic titles mix with industrial titles. These conversations with the titles can trigger some cool stuff, but usually if you are tired, it can get strange and unhealthy. Now, there are no more books on the floor. I want to be in front of white walls and a fireplace—some softness where my eyes aren’t searching for a focus. Not always starting a conversation alone with books. The movers talked about books in meters, and I maybe got rid of 4 meters. It’s a lot of mental decisions I had to make, but the quantity isn’t that impressive. Moving is weird because every little thing is a decision.
What did you want to be when you were a teenager?
A literature critic. Then I wanted to be a soldier. Then I wanted to be a nun. Then I wanted to be a spy. To that, my father said that I would have to have sex with lots of people I wouldn’t want to have sex with. I was horrified. Because I was reading lots of magazines, I gravitated more toward the art world. I always liked clothes, and looks, and music but I wasn’t particularly “into fashion” as a teenager. Music people always have great looks. Anyway, I ended up going to Penninghen. But all that made me realize was that the advertising world was not for me at all. A friend then encouraged me to go to Studio Berçot, saying it would help me get inspired and all that. I obviously never went to one single technical class—I can sew a button but I can’t make a dress. I got to assist at French Vogue after school, where I discovered the job of being a stylist. Playing with clothes and photography—perfect. Then I dated some photographers and I was able to develop my style in this time when indie magazines were starting to come out.
Are you still taking pictures?
I love doing it, but it costs me a fortune because I need loads of assistants. I know the result I want but I don’t know technically how to do it, so I need lots of help. For it to be printable, I can’t do it on my own. Technical shit bores me to death so I don’t see myself ever learning. I have a little Contax that a photographer friend gave me. But even when I see those contact sheets, it’s really freestyle. It’s quite accidental when it’s good! I have to have assistants, and it has to be done properly. If not I just freak out. I have a sort of Capricorn psycho-rigidity.
What are the psycho-rigid styling rules you have? I think you told me once that the only unacceptable thing is kitten heel mules.
I have said so much crap. Obviously when you say something like that, you do the exact opposite six months later. I’m psycho-rigid about the fact that I need to scare myself, to be a bit disturbed by what I am styling.
THE LOT RADIO classic T-shirt; UNIQLO pants; CELINE BY HEDI SLIMANE boots.
Right now, in August 2022, what item is just unimaginable for you?
I am so over clothes that are only held on the body by little strings. Right now it’s about little bits of fabric just held on the body. I think this came from the body positivity movement because it’s much harder to develop a volume for different sizes. So a one-size-fits-all garment is a sort of answer to this. I respect that but it would be good if someone could question a shoulder, or a structure, or a volume. To go back to some construction of clothing.
Your Instagram is a treasure trove. How do you conduct image research for your styling work?
It’s absolutely haphazard. First, there is a feeling. Don’t ask me where that feeling comes from; it’s certainly a reaction to whatever happened in the seasons before. It’s this hyper-sensitivity that is a problem in my real life but a good quality for the job. Then I start opening books and suddenly things happen. My Instagram is just non-thought. I can’t even explain why I post what I do, but it’s always related to life and things that I like or dislike. My research is vague but fluid. It goes from one idea, which I overthink, and then I go back to the books. My research is really a headfuck but then it makes sense on the day of the shoot and that’s when I understand the process. I’m quite happy when I see that it all makes sense; that’s the problem with absurdity and nonsense. It can make sense for only two or three or 20 people. I don’t need it to be understood by many. I’m always surprised that other people like it.
I always say that if someone wants to work with Camille Bidault, there is no substitute; they either have to hire you or they don't get to have it.
Yeah, I’ve heard that. But still, it’s always very surprising and flattering to hear. It reassures me a lot. But I’m always taken aback, although I don’t want to know what they see. Because I don’t want to make what I do into a recipe. Having a recipe would mean it was logical. And then the process wouldn’t work because the process is not logical. It can make fashion boring to have a recipe