Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"Mallarmé on Fashion" by Stéphane Mallarmé (Edited and translated by P.N. Burbank & A.M. Cain)


ISBN: 9781859737231 Berg


The only reason I would be reading a book about a French fashion magazine that existed in 1874, is if there is something odd about the magazine and its editor.   In two words: Stéphane Mallarmé.    Whatever mysterious reason, Mallarmé, who is without a doubt one of the great poets that came from France, had a job where he not only edited, but also wrote the entire magazine, using various alias.    He managed to produce eight copies of "La Dernière Mode."   "Mallarmé on Fashion" is a pretty interesting book on multi-levels.  One, is the thought of such an avant-garde poet of his time and place, working on a fashion magazine in such complete control, as well as a bit of fashion history, but also the importance of fashion in French culture.   Especially in the 19th century.

Mallarmé writes as a woman as well as a man in this magazine.   The magazine is very formalized in its format.     As "Madame de Ponty" she writes about contemporary fashion trends in Paris, and elsewhere.   As "Ix" (now that is a mysterious name) he's a stuffy theater and book critic, and mostly has a certain amount of anger about music taking over text on the Parisian stage, and then there a food section, where they have elaborated menus and recipes.   There is also a correspondence section, whereas the editor, he gives fashion advice, and also a travel section as well, recommending travel points and where to stay on vacation.   At the end of the issue, Mallarmé offerer what is best in Parisian entertainment for that month or season.   He covers everything from music hall entertainment, opera to city parks.   It is very much like Time Out or Los Angeles Weekly directory.

Stéphane Mallarmé


Mallarmé was known to be interested in the decorative arts, so it's not a huge surprise that he would write about interior design of rooms, but his intense knowledge of fashion is totally new to me.   In an odd way, Mallarmé is actually critiquing the fashion world, but even more so, the fashion magazine.   I think he sees it as a window to what is happening culture wise - so readers now, get a unique portrait of Paris 1874, through the eyes of Mallarmé, but him using various identities to convey that world.  Again, it is clearly not known why he did this. It could have been for a paycheck, but it is interesting that he did so, by not just writing one column, or as editor - but doing it all!   In many ways, it was an upscale zine of its time.  He wanted to do more than eight issues, but the publisher (not him) pulled the plug on the project.

La Dernière Mode, 1874 (Edited and written by Mallarmé


"Mallarmé on Fashion" is very much a scholarly text book, and is geared for the lit-crit lunatic, but it is also an essential book on anyone studying Parisian culture of the 19th century as well as what 'pop culture' was like in those days.  Editors and translators P.N. Burbank and A.M. Cain do a great job in presenting Mallarmé in the hard (not delicate) world of high and low fashion.   Fascinating book.

- Tosh Berman
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