“Styling has changed tremendously. I have contributed to that change, because
I have always tried to push the role of the stylist”
Marie-Amélie Sauvé’s career as a stylist stretches back to the late Eighties when she started as an intern at French Vogue. But throughout her career she has very rarely given interviews. It was something she didn’t particularly want to do in the past, she says as she arrives in a hotel bar near St Germain; but now she feels ready. This is not the only change of direction in Marie-Amélie’s life. After decades of association with French Vogue, and having played a central role at the magazine since Carine Roitfeld brought her back to the magazine 10 years ago, her focus has shifted across the Atlantic. She recently became a regular contributor to US Vogue and Interview, and soon after we meet the blogs are a-buzz with the rumour that she might be joining W and its new editor Stefano Tonchi, with whom she worked at T. But while she regularly jets to New York and even has a permanent team of assistants working there, Paris is still very much her home. And, sitting in the bar dressed entirely in black, periodically sweeping back her long hair and wrapping and rewrapping herself in her fur stole, it’s hard to imagine the city without her defining presence
Photographed by Patrick Demarchelier Written by Murray Healy
So did you come from a family that was interested in fashion?
‘Yes, my mother and grandmother were. My mother went to a fashion school in Paris and studied fashion illustration. My grandmother loved fashion too – she was an artist and designed furniture. The whole environment from my mother’s side had a lot to do with art; she used to take me to all the museums as a kid. I don’t know if that’s why I did fashion…And when I was 18, my mother found me an internship at French Vogue – that was fun. So that’s how I started.’
So you grew up with a very educated aesthetic…
‘Yes, I think so. I come from a quite intellectual family, from my father and from my mother too. I suppose it was my mother who tried to push me to do fashion. I wasn’t thinking about fashion till then, actually.’
So when you were at school, what was it that interested you?
‘It was more philosophy, literature. I actually felt a bit bad about doing an internship at Vogue because for me fashion was a little bit too superficial.’
It wasn’t intellectually rigorous enough…
‘No, not for my father and my grandfather!’
Although were you still interested in fashion as a teenager?
‘I was completely obsessed with fashion! Obsessed! I could cry over a dress. I came from a very big family, I am the fifth of six. And when you come from a big family sometimes you have the dresses from your older sister… I would be so upset. I think that kind of frustration made me even more passionate about fashion.’
What kind of fashion were you into at the time?
‘I would look at fashion magazines. You want to get the right things, the right pants, the right T-shirt, etc. It’s very important for a girl, I think it’s part of the process of defining yourself. And, also you dream about movies, about actresses, about models…’
Who were your icons at the time?
‘I don’t remember specifically, but of course Jane Birkin, Jacqueline Bisset… I was reading French Elle a lot, which was such an inspiring magazine at that time. It gave a lot of great fashion ideas, how to dress, which bags to have, and how to mix pieces together. I definitely wanted to look like the girls in the magazine!’
So when did you arrive at Vogue?
‘It was in the mid-to-late 1980s. It was really amazing, at that time French Vogue was really like a family. Helmut Newton was still there, Guy Bourdin… Amazing photographers were still working for the magazine, so
I learned a lot about photography – strangely it was not so much about fashion when I was there. I learned a lot about making images by working with those people. They were more than photographers, they were such artists. Bourdin was an amazing character… I was completely impressed and I wanted to stay of course.’
What kind of work were you doing when you were an intern?
‘You would open all these bags of clothes, you would check them all. I was doing really basic things. After that, I assisted on shoots. I was assisting a fashion editor there, Franceline Prat; I think she is still at French Vogue, she does jewellery now. So I was styling – although at that time Vogue was not so much about styling. You would just call in clothes, like a dress from Chanel, and photograph them. You didn’t really do styling like putting a top from a certain designer with a skirt from a different designer – it was more about a complete look back then. So I learnt a lot about Vogue and about images and photography, but I didn’t learn so much about fashion. I learnt much more about fashion when I went freelance and started doing consulting. With consulting, you put yourself into a position where you have to give your input and think more about the clothes. I learned so much about clothes then!’
What led you to go freelance?
‘After a while in your career you want to learn more, but I was also quite frustrated at that time… Maybe it’s not good to say this, but I was not impressed with just photographing total looks.’
It’s not very creative, is it?
‘No. Also, I was young and those clothes seemed very old-fashioned to me at the time. At that time I was like, “Oh my God! That is so ugly!” I’d be on shoots and going, “Bleurgh!” That was another part of my frustration [with styling]. Consulting allowed me to push designers to create clothes I’d want to photograph and even wear myself.’
Who where the first brands you consulted for?
‘Trussardi was my consulting first job – can you believe it? I didn’t really know what I was doing to be honest with you because it was my first experience.’
So you’d be travelling between Milan and Paris?
Who was designing it then?
‘When I arrived, nobody was there.’
There was no designer?
‘That’s right. They had no studio really; it was a mess and I had to do the collection myself. I’d met Nicolas Ghesquière six months before and asked him to do it with me – it the year that he took Balenciaga, 1997.’
So how did you meet Nicolas?
‘I met him through my friend Lionel Vermeil, who was working with Jean Paul Gaultier at the time, which is where Nicolas was doing an internship. So I met with him a
That’s a long-lasting collaboration between you two.
‘Yes. It is an amazing relationship. It’s great.’
At the same time as Trussardi, did you start consulting for other brands as well?
‘Yes. It was at that time we started on Balenciaga. And after that, we did some consulting for Callaghan, an amazing Italian brand. I love consulting because you start from the beginning; you really have to create something from nothing. And you can really influence fashion and the trends.’
So, at Trussardi, how did you build that first collection?
‘I tried to think about how to create simple basic clothes that I would want to wear, for example which style of pants, or coat I would want to wear. I wanted the collection to represent the style of a contemporary girl. But I was alone in there with no studio and no assistants! It was definitely a good experience for me, I was so unselfconscious at that time.’
When you’re young, you don’t realise how much you don’t know yet; it makes you confident.
‘Yes, exactly. I was not insecure. Strangely, maybe I’m more insecure now because
I know more.’
So how was it at Balenciaga when you started there? How do you and Nicolas work together?
‘At the beginning, apart from French Vogue, I was only doing Balenciaga – it was a very, very small crew, and very close-knit as we used to spend a lot of time together. I used to come to the studio: he was making clothes and I was trying them on myself, so it was very playful and really creative. We were constantly experimenting and were quite strong-willed.’
You knew what you were doing by this point?
‘He knew. He is so smart, and very determined.’
You were very young to be heading such a prestigious house, albeit one that had hit troubled times.
‘Of course we were very young, it was such an amazing opportunity. Actually at the beginning, we didn’t specifically look at Balenciaga’s history.’
So you weren’t overwhelmed by the archive…
‘For Nicolas’ first collection, he did something completely new. It was a clean break, completely new, completely modern.’
And you were still creating stories for French Vogue. By this point the ‘total look’ way of doing things had passed; did you have much creative freedom there?
‘Yes, having a lot of creative freedom has taught me a lot. But I was also used to working with a pretty strong list of credits. I think it is important to still be able to show your point of view of fashion, even with those constraints. Now, working with American Vogue, it is important for me to be able to show my ideas and my point of view, while bearing in mind that the magazine sells over three million copies and is very much focused on its readers.’
Didn’t you start working with Patrick Demarchelier quite early on?
‘I did use to work with Patrick when I was assisting, but as a fashion editor I’ve only been working with him for about ten years. I started working with Patrick for French Vogue and now I’m working with him for US Vogue. I love Patrick, he’s great, amazing.’
Of course, French Vogue underwent an amazing rejuvenation when Carine Roitfeld came in as editor-in-chief…
‘Yes, and I became more involved of course, because when Carine arrived they asked me to come back to the magazine. We were a very small group. I think I’m very different from Carine and I think that’s why it was good, because the differences are what make something rich. I think Carine is amazing because she understands fashion very well.’
How would you describe your woman?
‘It is difficult for me to describe my woman, but I imagine her to be an edgy and contemporary woman.’
So, you started off as an assistant – at what point did you start acquiring your own assistants?
‘I think that happened when I became freelance. You need to create a team because you need people around you to help you, absolutely. I think that when you are creative, you are able to exchange and share your ideas with somebody. Now I have two assistants in Paris and two assistants in New York, and I have interns. I love to have a lot of people around me; I love to hear what people have to say about everything. The more mature I become, the more I believe that it’s not just about yourself, even though you are the one to come up with the general idea and to give the directions. Whether with photographers or with designers when you do consulting, it’s always a dialogue at the end of the day. It’s all about creating a group of people around you to give you strength. Of course you can be amazing and powerful on your own, but you create something truly amazing with the help of other people. In that sense, working at American Vogue is an enriching experience – there are strong interactions between great photographers and some of the most talented fashion editors. I also believe that when you are generous, you create more connections and are able to do amazing things.’
You mention consulting with designers: more recently you’ve worked with Cavalli and Chloé. But going back to that first Trussardi collection – wasn’t it terrifying the first time you sent a collection onto the catwalk?
‘At that time I was really, really scared, because it was a huge deal and I felt completely alone. Of course a shoot is scary as well, but a show is even scarier because it is more important. But you learn how to deal with your stress when you become older, which is good.’
When you started as a stylist, it was about creating a complete single-branded look. Now the stylist creates an entire vision. Do you think the role is significantly different from when you started?
‘Of course, it has changed tremendously. I’ve been doing the job for a long time now and
I am a part of that change too.’
Well, your own work has changed the role.
‘I think so – I have contributed to that change, because I have always tried to push the role of the stylist. I always like to do something new, to have new experiences, to work for other magazines and to work with other photographers. When you are with different people, you push your horizons all the time. I think that’s why fashion editors are evolving all the time. But I think that our role is very different from that of designers and photographers.’
But would you agree that the fashion editor has a bigger role in creating the image now? And has it made the photographer less powerful?
‘I started with Newton and Bourdin, so of course they were more than powerful. When you work with people of your generation it’s different, you mature together, so you are more confident. That of course changes the nature of the relationship.’
You mentioned that you have assistants in New York and of course you’re working for American Vogue. Are you going to relocate?
‘No, I’m based in Paris and I travel between New York and Paris all the time.’
Is that quite tiring?
‘It’s fine. I like it. I like change, I like balance, if I stay in Paris too long then I’m bored and I like New York because it’s very active. It’s very dangerous to become part of the furniture.’
You’ve been working a lot on Interview as well.
‘Yes, it’s good, it’s a very good magazine. I’m very happy with my new experiences. Working in New York as a French girl for an American magazine is a great experience.’