Vanity Affair: This French Magazine Publishes Whenever It Damn Well Pleases

Egoiste, the publishing plaything of an eccentric Parisian icon, Nicole Wisniak, has come out just 17 times in 37 years. The next publication deadline is always: "When it's beautiful."

Egoiste, issue No. 17 of the "phoenix"
Egoiste, issue No. 17 of the "phoenix"
Michel Guerrin

PARIS — It’s a cold spring day, near the end of the 1980s. Nicole Wisniak directs a magazine photo shoot with British photographer Max Vadukul in front of the famous Fontaine de l’Observatoire in Paris’ Jardin du Luxembourg.

The magazine director suddenly gets the idea that the model should jump into the water. “It’s cold,” the young woman protests. "I can't." So Wisniak promptly walks into the fountain with her clothes on, and places herself under the powerful spurts of water. “Now, you can do it.” The model couldn’t refuse.

For 37 years, Nicole Wisniak has been managing, in her own way, Egoïste, a magazine that appears like a blatant anachronism in our fast-paced world. Issue No. 17 was published just a few days ago. Yes: 17 editions in 37 years. It’s rather quite astonishing.

Egoïste is a publication with a “spasmodic” schedule, says Jean-Paul Enthoven, a writer and friend of Wisniak’s. The magazine’s first edition came out in November 1977. The second the following month, the third six months later. A whole year passed before the fourth was published. After that, time kept stretching onward. This number 17 was three years and three months in the making. “We know when we start, not when we’ll be finished,” jokes photographer Paolo Roversi.

Marc Lambron, a writer, has found what may be the perfect way to describe it: “Egoïste is a phoenix that dies and is born again.”

Founder Nicole Wisniak seems more tormented than overworked. She says things like: “There’s a distance that comes with moving slowly that renders one intelligent;” or, “We don’t close the issue because it's Tuesday — we close it when it’s beautiful.”

The first edition was very thin and 3,000 of the 4,000 printed copies ended up in the cellar. The latest one boasts 256 pages in two volumes and weighs 2.3 kilograms. The 25,000 copies are expected to sell quickly, before the selling price of 35 euros increases on the Internet.

Stuck inside

Time is an elastic concept for Egoïste, but even after 37 years, little has changed about the magazine. It still has the same intrusive format, photo-friendly but not meant to sit on shelves, white matte paper, the same austere template, deep black and white contrasts, Garamond font, the dazzling printing, the pages folded but not stapled so as not to damage the photos. A classical sort of beauty emanates from its harmonious balance between elegant images and off-the-wall texts.

Wisniak, 63, commands respect, leading with her flowing waves of auburn hair and steely eyes. She works from home, in a shambles of a flat in Paris’ 6th arrondissement. There are times when she doesn’t set foot outside for three weeks.

She likes to quote Orson Welles, “I’m crazy, but not crazy enough to pretend to be free,” and claims to be “a maverick.” One of her pillows reads, in English, “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.”

Wisniak never worked at a newspaper or magazine before she created Egoïste. And that’s why this periodical simply doesn’t look like one. She never writes editorials. “I’m merciful towards my readers,” she says.

She prefers to quote a page from one of Kafka’s books or tell bad jokes. Two cannibals are talking; One says, “I don’t like my mother-in-law;” The other replies, “Eat your carrots at least.”

Egoïste is very much like “Nicole’s diary,” says columnist Patrick Besson. Are there any editorial meetings? “Are you kidding?” laughs Jean-Paul Enthoven. “Sure she has editorial meetings — with herself.”

She builds the publication from her daybed, a replica of Marie-Antoinette’s in the Fontainebleau castle. An insomniac, Wisniak works there, lying, because her friend, late novelist Françoise Sagan, used to tell her that “the brain is better irrigated” in that position.

One shooter at a time

She assembles the magazine with two or three close friends and her tribe of contributors. “Nicole is the sum of the people she calls in,” Enthoven says. As for photographers, after a Helmut Newton phase and a Richard Avedon one, Paolo Roversi is now her favorite, claiming no less than 92 pages in the latest edition.

“When it comes to photographers, I’m monogamous,” Nicole Wisniak confirms.

When we ask writers what pushes them to work with her, they all reply without thinking twice: the boss. “She’s marvelously eccentric, incredibly chic,” says novelist Marie Darrieussecq. “Melancholy caught up with her these last few years. She told me, about ten years ago, when she had recurring issues with money and bailiffs, ‘Honey, I tell myself that while the men who knock on my door aren’t wearing black leather trench coats, I’ll be fine."”

Adam Gopnik, the former Paris correspondent for The New Yorker, says that “Egoïste is a beautiful paradox that relies on Nicole’s ego and quirkiness.”

Nicole Wisniak doesn’t have the financial power of a publishing group behind her but she still makes a living thanks to her magazine. In 1990, she made a substantial amount of money — “I forgot how much,” she says — by selling the word Egoïste to Karl Lagerfeld, who then used it for a famous Chanel perfume.

In 37 years, she hasn’t made a single change in her folk-medicine-like business plan. She starts by selling ad pages then writes down in a notebook the money she’s given. There are 97 ad pages, divided between the beginning of the first volume and the end of the second — and we savor them with as much delight as we do editorial pages.

It’s the house specialty. Advertisers buy empty pages. Nicole fills them up with photographic stories she invents around the brands. Issue number 17 starts with an advertisement for Hermès that spans over six pages. A woman enters a cave and finds prehistoric rock paintings, among them the horse-drawn carriage that makes the brand’s logo. But the name isn't mentioned anywhere on the picture.

“Nicole Wisniak has carte blanche,” explains Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Hermès’ artistic director. This says a lot about the faith put in her. Like the readers, advertisers see their ads for the first time when they open the magazine, not before.

Another eccentricity is the time span between the last photo shoot — a portrait of Cate Blanchett over 13 pages, including the cover — and the publishing. This time, it took eight months. Eight months during which the object was carefully polished, refined, including three weeks at the printer’s, a top class professional in Montreuil, just outside Paris.

Egoïste, issue No. 17 — Photo: bbeab via Instagram

When she met Pierre Gradenigo for the first time, Wisniak said to him, “I was told you were a good printer. Prove it.” For 20 days, she stayed next to the machines, from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., to inspect every page in natural light. From a printer’s point of view, she’s a serious pain in the neck.

“Nicole wants to print in one color and one color only, black. And not in four colors, as is the norm nowadays,” Gradenigo explains. “Our machine is a Ferrari and Nicole forces us to work with a horse and buggy. She wants the whites very white, and the blacks very black. Which takes us 20 days instead of 4. Economically speaking, it’s absurd. Others might have felt the urge to strangle her. But we said yes because her demands are justified. In this adventure, we are defending the French savoir-faire.”

The news intervenes

Egoïste is often described as a timeless magazine, which is probably best when there isn’t a new edition every other week. For this issue, Enthoven published a portrait of soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which he wrote two years ago. “At the time, the man was a god. Now, he’s fragile.”

The omnipresence of photographer Paolo Roversi emphasizes the paper’s image of a literature-focused publication which floats above the passage of time. With a nod to Nietzsche, Enthoven says that the magazine is “untimely.” He also sees in it a mix of snobbery, terror and elegance. Why terror? “Because snobbery scares people and this magazine is too luxurious to be proper.”

But Roversi shifts the debate. “It’s not a timeless magazine, it’s a magazine that sits outside the norms.” Marc Lambron pushes the argument further and underlines the perspectives' singularity.

In this latest edition, eight writers tell the most memorable confession they ever heard. “I was 16 and somebody in my class committed a murder,” Lambron says. “He was a minor and was soon freed. I told the strangeness of having a lemonade and mint with a murderer.” In another section, Patrick Besson embodies great writers, Marcel Proust and Victor Hugo, and writes to movie directors to tell them the adaptation of their novels was bad.

The 19-page series that starts on the cover of the second volume is bound to set tongues wagging. It’s a portrait of Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, accompanied by a interview. A fair reward for the 31-year-old who lives in France and played remarkable roles in Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly (2009), Atiq Rahimi’s The Patience Stone (2012), and Hiner Saleem’s My Sweet Pepper Land (2013).

Paolo Roversi created a wonderful series with her images. Some naked, others where she’s wrapped in a veil. The shots were taken in June 2013, but after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, they have taken a political significance. It’s as if current events were catching up with Egoïste.

“We’re showing a great actress, we’re not doing for provocation's sake,” Roversi says. “A nude is for me the most elegant way to make a portrait, to show her "Little Prince" side, like she doesn’t know where she comes from.”

Patrick Besson says he’s astounded by the series, which depicts “an incredible transgression but also a troubling religiosity.”

True to herself, Nicole Wisniak takes two steps back. “Golshifteh lives far from her parents, her family, her landscapes. That’s plain to see, isn’t it?”

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A check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здраво!*

Welcome to Friday, where Joe Biden vows to protect Taiwan from China, Alec Baldwin accidentally kills a cinematographer, and can you guess what day it is TODAY? We also have a report from a researcher in San Diego, USA on the sociological dark side of food trucks.

[*Zdravo - Macedonian]


Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry may be set to ease, or get much worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before, writes Persian-language media Kayhan-London:

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.



• Biden vows to defend Taiwan: U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if it were attacked and had a commitment to defend the island nation that China claims as its own. The White House clarified for the second time in three months that U.S. policy on the subject has not changed, and declined further comment when asked if Biden had misspoken.

• Call on China to respect Uyghurs: A statement from 43 countries denounced China's human rights record at the United Nations over the reported torture and repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, as well as the existence of "re-education camps" in Xinjiang. The declaration calls on Beijing to allow independent observers immediate access. In response, Cuba issued a rival statement shortly afterwards on behalf of 62 other countries claiming "disinformation".

• Alec Baldwin fires prop gun, kills cinematographer: U.S. actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza after discharging a prop gun on the set of his new movie, near Santa Fe. The accident is being investigated.

• Berlusconi acquitted: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted of judicial corruption charges. The 85-year-old media mogul had been accused of seeking to bribe guests present at his infamous "Bunga Bunga" parties to lie about the evenings as part of an underage prostitution case.

• COVID health workers death toll: A new WHO working report estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 between January 2020 and May 2021. The same report also noted that fewer than 1 in 10 healthcare workers were fully vaccinated in Africa, compared with 9 in 10 in high-income countries, and less than 5% of Africa's population have been vaccinated.

• Seven killed in Russian gunpowder factory blast: An explosion at the Elastik gunpowder and chemicals plant southeast of Moscow killed at least seven people, while nine are still missing.



Dutch daily De Volkskrant pays tribute to "sound master" and renowned classical conductor Bernard Haitink, who died at 92. Born in Amsterdam, Haitink made more than 450 records and led some of the world's top orchestras in the span of his 65-year career.


The food truck, a sign that the white and wealthy are moving in

In San Diego, California, researcher Pascale Joassart-Marcelli tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun. In The Conversation she writes:

🥡 In 2016 in City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice). Just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors — who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets — now face heightened harassment.

🤑 Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation. Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure. It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies.

🏙️ My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44. When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

➡️


€6.65 million

The remains of "Big John," the world's largest triceratops skeleton ever found, were sold at auction for a European record price of 6.65 millions euros in Paris to a private anonymous collector from the U.S. The 200 pieces of the skeleton were unearthed in 2014 in South Dakota and reassembled by specialists in Italy.


Police bust Mexican drug gang recruiting boys via online video games

Police in Mexico have intervened to rescue three minors, aged 11 to 14, from recruitment into a drug gang that had enticed them through online gaming.

A top Mexican police agency official Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, said the gang had contacted the youths in the south-central city of Oaxaca, chatting through a free-to-download game called Free Fire, which involves shooting at rivals with virtual firearms.

Calling himself "Rafael," another player of the same age, the suspected gang member offered one of the youths work "checking radio frequencies and watching out for police presence" in Monterrey, northern Mexico, reported national daily El Heraldo de México. The pay was unusually good — 8,000 pesos (almost $400) every two weeks — and the youth called two friends who also wanted to get in.

The three boys were set to take the bait, but an anonymous Mexican intelligence agent following the exchange while also posing as youth playing Free Fire, ultimately led police to a safe house in Santa Lucía del Camino, outside Oaxaca.

➡️


"I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back."

— U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to defend Taiwan if it came under attack from China, an assertion that seems to move away from the U.S. stated policy of "strategic ambiguity." His administration is now facing calls to clarify this stance on the island.


Paramilitary soldiers are conducting a check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority that have left at least 33 dead since early October. The region, claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, has been the site of a bloody armed rebellion against India since the 1990s — Photo: Adil Abbas/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

DO YOU FIND PEOPLE WHO WRITE IN ALL CAPS PARTICULARLY ANNOYING? Feel free to COMPLAIN, or otherwise let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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