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Wearable Publicity; Having a scarf designed to accompany a Book

Wearable Publicity; Having a scarf designed to accompany a Book

Wearable technology may be all the rage but wearable publicity is a lot more fun! I must be one of the luckiest of authors as I have had a scarf designed especially to accompany my latest book, Les Parisiennes; How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940’s. It’s a fabulous pure silk scarf made in Italy but dreamt up here in London by a brilliant young designer, Emma Greenhill. Emma offered to design the scarf as she started her fashion career in Paris and spent a year there working for John Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld, really getting to grips with what it takes to create a Parisienne! Having learned that luxury matters, (she subsequently worked in fashion PR for many years for a variety of big names, most recently Hussein Chalayan), now that she is setting up her own company she is determined only to use luxury fabrics and has her scarves made in the same Italian factory that manufactures items for Gucci and Alexander McQueen – as you can tell as soon as you touch them.

It is entirely appropriate that she has made a luxury fashion item to accompany this book as being stylish, even during the Occupation when shortages were dire, was anything but trivial for Parisian women; they believed that looking your best at all times was crucial initially as a way of showing support for their husbands and sons at the front, just as the magazines told them they must, but then, when defeat overwhelmed them, continuing to try and look their best as a way of not succumbing to their German occupiers. It was even a form of resistance, to show that they had not been ground down, and it kept thousands of frightened and impoverished women employed in their ateliers, beading, attaching fur or inserting pockets and linings. So, when shortages of fabrics meant new clothes were almost impossible, women spent hours cutting down old clothes, sometimes the suits of their missing husbands, or turning two bags into one, covering wooden shoes with fabrics and creating extravagant creations on their heads that passed as hats. Many people commented on the vegetables, flowers and cascades of ribbons that now appeared on the brims of hats. So keen were Parisiennes to appear fashionable at all times that, even as they arrived in the brutal camp of Ravensbrück, the other women prisoners already inside muttered and whispered about “Those Frenchwomen”…one woman smuggled in a powder compact – an unheard of luxury – while another wore an Hermès silk scarf.

The beautiful limited edition scarf Emma has designed for Les Parisiennes has at its heart a woman on a bicycle since women in wartime Paris went everywhere on bicycles – private cars were impossible to maintain and there was no fuel. Yet, as women were legally not allowed to wear trousers at the time (too masculine!) many designers made a form of divided skirt or culottes, which were really trousers in disguise! There are many other symbols in Emma’s scarf such as the caged bird with plumage in the three colours of the French tricolour which was a brooch designed by Cartier to represent how Parisians felt during the Occupation. But, come the Liberation, the bird was freed as the cage doors were opened. As I wear my scarf I shall proclaim to the world Parisian women certainly know how to do fashion.

Les Parisiennes can be bought at all good bookshops and on line in all the usual places www.emmagreenhill.com to see a selection of Emma’s scarves.

 

One book two covers

One cover, two books
In July, on Bastille Day, Weidenfeld & Nicolson will publish Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s. In October (in the book trade that’s considered simultaneous) St Martin’s Press in the US will publish Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died under Nazi Occupation.
Spot the differences!

This is not the first time that one of my books has been published simultaneously in the UK and US but I had assumed that since this book had been planned with and commissioned by both publishers together five years ago it would be the same product. Actually it is, exactly the same inside. But both publishers have chosen not only slightly different subtitles (one has the word Nazi while the other points to the fact that I have written about a whole decade) but very different jackets in which to clothe the words. Since I am constantly asked why, I shall try to explain!

The British cover tells a story. In the shadow of the Eiffel Tower (just to make sure you know where this is happening), a slightly wary, elegant Parisienne is chatting up a German officer who, even from the back, looks highly relaxed. His head is sympathetically angled to one side and he has one foot perched on a ledge. What he is saying to her we can only guess at but this cover is so wonderfully evocative that everyone who handles it will want to know what on earth is happening and (I hope) have to buy the book to find out.

The American cover is more subtle but also features an elegant Parisienne, this time she is striding purposefully towards a shelter perhaps, or a doorway protected by sandbags, but into where? This cover too has an air of mystery and needs some explanation. Paris, once defeated in 1940 was declared an ‘Open City’ which was the deal between Vichy and the Nazis which prevented it being attacked by the Germans and saved its most iconic buildings and bridges. But the sandbags were put in place in 1939, when there was huge fear of German bombings, and largely not removed until the Liberation even though it was unlikely that the Allies would bomb civilians when they needed to concentrate their fire power on German and other targets. By 1944 however the Allies considered they had to bomb strategic targets in the vicinity of Paris and there were of course civilian casualties.

When I was first shown the UK cover (yes, authors are consulted!) I was worried the picture was almost too good and therefore must have been staged or even doctored. But, as I should have realised, the truth is always more interesting. It is a genuine photograph by Roger Schall who was given special permission to take pictures in occupied Paris (others were not and if your were caught with a camera there were serious consequences). He had also published during the Occupation several books of views of the monuments of Paris and of France, under the imprints of Verlag Schall, Odé and Kremer with captions in German and obviously directed at a German audience. According to a French museum curator, Catherine Tambrun at the Musée Carnavalet, Schall was probably paid by the Germans to take photographs during the Occupation and the most obvious destination for such photographs would have been the German propaganda magazine Signal. He used his talent to survive. Is it worse than a vegetable seller?

This is another kind of deal, then, and as my book tries to make clear, surviving in Paris was for almost everyone, dependent on doing some kind of deal. After the war this was often punished as collaboration and it was assumed there was a sexual element to many deals. Sometimes there was, but it was rarely as clear cut as that. I have tried over the last few years to understand where the line between survival and collaboration should be drawn and it shifts constantly. I think my two covers lead you enticingly and with great style into that debate.

Buy the book at your local bookshop please! or else through Amazon, Barnes & Noble or IndieBound

Les Parisiennes Reviews

Read Negotiating with Silence by Lisa Hilton TLS (October 7th 2016)

One of the distinctive features of Anne Sebba’s richly intelligent history is the author’s evocation of sound. Sebba has deliberately eschewed a focus on well-known primary documentation for her history of Parisian women during World War II, choosing instead to alert her readers to a “quieter and frequently less well-known” set of voices. Those voices, belonging to women of all classes, ages and educational backgrounds, weep and sing through this extraordinary book, and through them we also hear the soundtrack to the city’s occupation, the “clackety-clack” of improvised wooden- soled shoes, the sinister clang of iron shutters banging closed on abandoned businesses, the squeak of a bicycle carrying hidden messages after curfew. Sebba’s story is also a negotiation with silence, the silence of the dispossessed, the vanished and the unacknowledged, many of whose stories, through the author’s indefatigable use of letters, diaries, objects and interviews, are heard here for the first time.

From the moment the French government retreated to Bordeaux on 10th June 1940, Paris became a ‘significantly feminized city”. It was women, Sebba argues, who represented the front line as the Wehrmacht poured in, who had to confront their country’s defeat both practically and ethically. The patriarchal nature of pre-war French society was the first obstacle: women without cheque books or bank accounts of their own were financially marooned, attempting to provide for their children without access to cash. For many, the obligation to resist became as urgent as finding food, but as Sebba delicately and compassionately demonstrates, this was, at least initially, no simple matter in the unprecedented atmosphere of moral ambiguity which pertained. Yet even as Paris emptied, life was just beginning for many disaffected women, and whilst resistance demanded both intense courage and sacrifice, the years of occupation were to prove richly fulfilling.

“Resistancialisme”, the term coined in 1987 by Henry Rousso in reference to the myth coined post-war by both Gaullists and Communists, and according to which the French unanimously and naturally resisted the Occupation, remains a vexed issue. As Margaret Atack observes, this myth was not in “monolithic domination”, and discordant voices of collaboration and complicity have found their place in a continuing examination of the legacy of French fascism and anti-Semitism, yet Sebba’s work demonstrates the extent to which, in contrast with Jewish experience, that of women who resisted, who were deported, tortured and killed has remained relatively unexplored. Sebba delineates the unutterable disgrace of Vichy’s treatment of French Jews- from the dehumanizing effects of the expropriation of their property to the deportation of Jewish children on the initiative of Pierre Laval, the head of the council of Vichy ministers. The youngest child sent to Auschwitz under Laval’s direct orders was 18 months old. Of the total of 76 000 Jews deported, just 3%, 2,500, returned to France. In contrast, 50% of resistants returned, designated as patriotic combatants, rather than victims by the provisional post-war government.

Within this vastly unjust disparity, Sebba detects another, that of the women, Jewish or not, whose bravery and suffering were largely discounted as de Gaulle welcomed home his nation’s returning sons. The General’s own niece, Genevieve, was deported to Ravensbruck, “where God”, she described “had remained outside”, yet pitifully few accounts of women’s lives there were given any public attention. The activities of the forty women who served actively in the F Division of the SOE, the Special Operations Executive created by Churchill in 1940 to assist resistance activities in occupied countries have also been neglected- since their very presence in France was in defiance of the Geneva convention, much of their work has been written out of history. Yet they fare better than the many prostitutes who were deported, victims of Vichy’s obsession with moral recovery, women who had perhaps hidden escaping airmen in brothels, but whose many acts of kindness and courage went undocumented. It was women who did penance for the emasculation of their nation- as Sebba describes, during the épuration sauvage in the immediate aftermath of the war, 20, 000 tondues displayed their shaven heads as exculpation for the men who had failed to protect them. Economic collaboration – the practice of a predominantly male commercial elite – was not nearly so severely punished as sexual submission to the enemy. And what constituted collaboration? As the writer

Colette discovered when she relied on the help of Suzanne Abetz, wife to the German Ambassador, to recover her Jewish husband Maurice Goudenet, when family members began to vanish, no one was above using highly placed contacts to help them.

Resistance is evoked here in two uniquely “Parisian” forms -art and fashion. Anyone who dismisses the latter as trivial would do well to observe the courage of Lucien Lelong, president of the Chambre Syndicale, who pleaded the case for French couture so successfully in Berlin that 25 000 women workers were saved from deportation. As a German visitor to Paris remarked, the resourcefulness of the women in remaining fashionable brought colour to an otherwise grey everyday life, whilst the re-establishment of the fashion industry after the war was an essential component of France’s economic recovery. Sebba’s definition of a ‘true” Parisienne is captured in the spirit of one woman, who, though nearly starving, preferred to use her daily allowance of an ounce of fat as hand-cream, a stubborn gesture of elegance which suggests the psychological power of chic. Aesthetic defiance was the stance of Jeanne Bucher, a gallerist who staged at least twenty shows of ‘decadent” cubists and surrealists during the Occupation, and whose premises served as a safe house- one man hiding from the Gestapo was amused to find himself sharing a hidden bed with a stack of Braques and Picassos.

Sebba is adept at explaining the changing political climate of Paris as the war progressed, but she never allows politics to overshadow her subjects’ voices. This book does not judge – instead, in the breadth of its humanity, it achieves some of the recognition which the Parisiennes own heroic

See the review online

Read Clare Mulley’s review of Les Parisiennes in the Spectator: http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/07/keeping-up-appearances-in-1940s-paris/
(June 2nd 2016)

This is a valuable book, not least because it doesn’t shy away from the physical misery of women’s lives — the indignity of having a period in camps with no sanitary protection, the abortionists who were put to death under Vichy while prostitution was legal, the children who died because their mothers were too weak to breastfeed. Although Sebba salutes the bravery of Les Parisiennes, such as Geneviève de Gaulle, who made great sacrifices to resist the enemy, she is careful not to condemn the ones who chose simply to survive. ..To read this book is to admire female bravery and resilience, but also to understand why the scars left by the Second World War still run so deep.”
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/les-parisiennes-how-the-women-of-paris-lived-loved-and-died-in-the-1940s-by-anne-sebba-f8p6s8dnk
(July 2016)

” Anne Sebba’s tour de force of research and reflection…is a testament of silk and sacrifice of choices to resist or collaborate … Keep this extraordinary and evocative book close by and you will never lift a lipstick insouciantly again.”

By Madeleine Kingsley  http://www.thejc.com/arts/books/162416/review-les-parisiennes 

“Sebba has found an enthralling way of looking at the story by focusing on how the choice was made by French women, and, in particular, by the women of Paris.” By Sarah Helm Observer

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jul/31/les-parisiennes-anne-sebba-review

Read latest review in the Sydney Morning Herald: Accomplished biographer Anne Sebba has uncovered some extraordinary stories…. The author has also produced some extraordinary statistics …Sebba has produced a clear-eyed view of a bitter decade in the life of the City of Light.

 http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/anne-sebba-portrays-womens-wartime-hardship-in-les-parisiennes-20160905-gr8yo6.html  Sept. 2017

Read latest review in the Sydney Morning Herald: Accomplished biographer Anne Sebba has uncovered some extraordinary stories…. The author has also produced some extraordinary statistics …Sebba has produced a clear-eyed view of a bitter decade in the life of the City of Light. http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/anne-sebba-portrays-womens-wartime-hardship-in-les-parisiennes-20160905-gr8yo6.html (Sept. 2017)

” Anne Sebba’s tour de force of research and reflection…is a testament of silk and sacrifice of choices to resist or collaborate … Keep this extraordinary and evocative book close by and you will never lift a lipstick insouciantly again.”

By Madeleine Kingsley  http://www.thejc.com/arts/books/162416/review-les-parisiennes 

“This is a valuable book, not least because it doesn’t shy away from the physical misery of women’s lives — the indignity of having a period in camps with no sanitary protection, the abortionists who were put to death under Vichy while prostitution was legal, the children who died because their mothers were too weak to breastfeed. Although Sebba salutes the bravery of Les Parisiennes, such as Geneviève de Gaulle, who made great sacrifices to resist the enemy, she is careful not to condemn the ones who chose simply to survive. ..To read this book is to admire female bravery and resilience, but also to understand why the scars left by the Second World War still run so deep.”
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/les-parisiennes-how-the-women-of-paris-lived-loved-and-died-in-the-1940s-by-anne-sebba-f8p6s8dnk
(July 2016)

Caroline Moorehead in the Literary Review described it as “Sebba’s book, with its phenomenal amount of detailed research and its vast cast of characters, is rich in stories about the tricks of life under occupation, the heroism of those who carried out acts of defiance, the slipperiness of collusion and the vast profits made by fixers, contacts, middlemen and entrepreneurs. She is particularly good on the fashion world and the scheming equivocating social luminaries…”
https://literaryreview.co.uk/occupational-hazards
(July 2016)

Read Clare Mulley’s review of Les Parisiennes in the Spectator: http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/07/keeping-up-appearances-in-1940s-paris/
(June 2nd 2016)

 

 

Les Parisiennes The Spectator Review

Ten Reading group questions for Les Parisiennes

  1. The big wartime histories of France have, until now, been about military battles and defeat focusing on men such as de Gaulle, Hitler and Petain. Yet these names feature only incidentally in my book and the battles are mentioned just in the context of what resulted. To what extent do you think this makes Les Parisiennes ‘Women’s History’ and therefore less important or is it (as I believe) just as important to understand these lives on the home front #warwithoutthebattles.
  1. Why has it taken so long for the women’s version of events to become known? (self-effacement, need to erase memories, desire to get married and have a family, lack of recognition for women because they didn’t carry weapons or may not have been part of a registered group of resisters)
  1. How different was it for mothers? Did mothers have a responsibility to stay with their children (eg Odette Fabius abandoned her ten year old daughter in the cinema, other mothers gave away their children to a passeur without knowing where they were being taken, should a mother compromise her child by using her to carry documents if this was for the greater good?
  1. Pick one character who you think behaved especially badly and one who you feel you identified with or was especially courageous.
  1. Do you feel women were exploited by SOE F section, who desperately wanted agents in the field to shore up the French resistance but knew that men would be too easily arrested but that average life expectancy for an agent was 6 weeks.
  1. What do you understand by the word collaboration? Is it collaborating to perform on stage, is it collaborating to sell fruit and vegetables to a German, is it collaborating to buy food on the black market or to sell jewellery and high fashion to Germans when French women at home had nothing?
  1. Why do you think fashion continued to matter to Parisian women even at a time of war? And to what extent is that concern vanity or can it be justified as an important aspect of self-respect and pride by not giving in to an occupying force?
  1. To what extent did all women have a choice both during the Occupation and Post war? Do you think Parisienne women behaved in a particularly sisterly way after 1945 or do you think the political resisters (largely non-Jewish) should have been more supportive of the Jewish resisters, many of whom were sent to Auschwitz and, seen as victims, did not therefore receive the same recognition?
  1. After the Liberation, why did so many men punish women accusing them of ‘collaboration horizontale’ – often without trial – whereas several of the male, economic collaborators were never punished. Is head shaving ever justified since after all hair grows back or women can wear a turban (as Andrée Doucet commented).
  1. Having read the book, how would you define a Parisienne? And is that different from how you would have defined a Parisienne before reading the book?
  1. What aspect of the book did you find the most surprising…eg that prostitutes were helpful to resisters and have barely had their role recognised, that women did not have the vote in France until 1946, that a woman was guillotined in France in the 1940s for organising an abortion?  Or that Paris was a largely feminised city throughout the war as millions of men were absent, as prisoners, in hiding or dead?

What is it about 2016 and anniversaries and why being in Jersey makes me reflect?

The wedding dress worn by Wallis Simpson’s 1st mother -in-law, now restored at a cost of more than £4,000There’s a huge anniversary at the end of this week and everyone in the literary world and beyond is getting very excited about it. Publishers have spent years preparing books on the great man while scholars are falling over themselves to find something new to say, reinterpreting the will or the plays, discovering a greater depth to what he really meant, why he mattered to suffragettes and just how much did he know or invent?

But, excited though I am about Shakespeare, there’s another date this week that’s been exercising me and I am not talking about the Queen’s 90thbirthday. April 24, one day after the big birth and death date, marks thirty years since the death of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. I’ve been called by a number of journalists wanting to know how the public perception of That Woman has changed in the thirty years since her death. A German radio station has even prepared an hour long programme on the significance of the Abdication eighty years on…German? Yes, for reasons not difficult to fathom.

To most who ask, I answer that the change came in 2011 with the discovery of 15 unpublished letters which I detailed in my biography of Wallis. But this week I learned another intriguing fact. I am in Jersey to give a talk about Wallis and am told (blushing because I did not know) that Wallis’ first mother-in-law, the mother of Win Spencer, was a Jersey girl! Agnes Lucy Hughes married Earl Winfield Spencer of Chicago in Jersey’s Town Church at St Helier on 10th December 1887. Her magnificent cream silk wedding dress was made by one Madam Henry of New Street, St Helier and was recently restored for about £4,000 by the Jersey Museum for an exhibition which, after it was first shown in Jersey, travelled to America. Now I am intrigued: Agnes was apparently already living in Chicago when she met Earl Winfield Spencer but obviously Jersey mattered enough to her to return there for her wedding. Their unfortunate son, Earl Winfield Spencer Jnr., a handsome pioneer naval aviator, is known to history as the first husband of the infamous Wallis Simpson. But less well known is that another brother, Dumaresq Spencer, died fighting in World War One – a war for which he volunteered and did not have to fight since America initially did not join in the war. I am reminded of him as I walk past Dumaresq Street in Jersey – another clear indication that Jersey was of considerable importance to the Spencers since Dumaresq is one of the oldest names associated with the Island.

Does it matter? Yes actually, it does. I have always known that Win Spencer’s mother was deeply patriotic – so much so that when Dumaresq was killed in World War one she was quoted as saying that if she had another son she would gladly give him to the war effort. I could not understand such exaggerated patriotism. Now I almost do.

But in fact, I was excited to come to Jersey because of its relevance to my forthcoming book, Les Parisiennes, How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940’s about women in wartime Paris, when it was occupied by the Germans. I have tried hard not to be judgemental in the book since, after all, how can those of us in Britain, who were not invaded, understand the pressures of a Nazi Occupation? But the Channel Islands of course were occupied. Nowhere could they understand quite as well as here in Jersey and Guernsey what Occupation meant on a daily basis.  So, I can’t wait to return to Jersey and talk about this rather different subject. Well … perhaps not so different. If we hadn’t had the Abdication 80 years ago not only would we not be celebrating such a long reign by our present Queen but, who knows, we might not be celebrating anything much at all. But that is to enter into the ‘what if’ territory from which most sound historians run a mile. But,just occasionally, it’s irresistible as well as amusing to contemplate. And that is why anniversaries matter; they make us stop to think of how we got to where we are.