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Writer & Entrepreneur | Paris
Celebrated writer, free-spirited intellectual, brilliant socialite and eternal lover, Frédéric Beigbeder is a shimmering disco ball that illuminates everything in his cosmos. His romantic spirit perfectly mirrors that of Paris, especially that of his quartier préféré, Saint-Germain, where you will find him discussing literature and changing the world until way too late in the night at the area's most iconic local bars ...
RV: Was taking on the role of Directeur de la Rédaction of Lui Magazine the perfect role for you?
FB: It's true that it's great fun and we are very lucky! Not only are there beautiful images to create with amazing girls, but I also have the opportunity to hire a lot of writers that I love, both French and international. In one of our latest issues, Robert McLiam Wilson wrote a fantastic article on "How to flirt in the street". I'm very happy with this new adventure, and the magazine is really quite successful with, on average, 100,000 copies sold each month. In fact, the role of Lui is no longer the same as it was 20 years ago. People buy it for other reasons now; you’re buying a high-end magazine that is part-lifestyle, part-literary and with beautiful, sexy images of undressed fashion. What’s funny is that we act like we’re doing a fashion shoot, but without any clothing! Léa Seydoux was very brave to accept to be on the cover of our first issue. She’d just received a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for the movie The Life of Adele. She really trusted us, and thanks to her, we launched the magazine – it was born! Right away, people started saying “Okay, if Léa did it, it’s okay, it means we can do it too”, and that opened the door to Kate Moss, Gisele Bündchen, Rihanna and Laetitia Casta. In fact, we work on this publication very egotistically – I always try to think about myself first. It’s very important for the reader to know that the person or people who create a publication do it for themselves first, not to please anyone else. I don’t seek to please the reader – I try to have fun, to please myself, and I always ask myself what I feel like doing, who I feel like meeting, which girl do I feel like seeing a bit sexy and at least if no one buys it, I’ve succeeded in pleasing myself. That’s already a good thing.
RV: How would you define Parisian women?
FB: Being a Parisian myself, I can tell you that they’re incredibly capricious, little pains in the neck and that I hate them! But it’s obviously why I also love them. It’s very complicated to seduce a Parisian woman. When you’re a Parisian man and you travel, you meet amazing, gorgeous women, but you'll always have a bit of nostalgia for the capricious and unbearable side of French women. You can never get bored with a Parisian woman. They are so demanding that they’ll never be completely satisfied. It’s like a never-ending rodeo. It's tiring, they change their mind all the time, they complain all the time and criticize everything. It makes life very difficult for their husbands, but at the same time, it is charming to think that she’ll never be happy and that I still have work to do! But if I had the choice between a woman who I’d never make happy, or one who I could make happy and who would be kind and smiling and nice all the time, I’d prefer the one who I could never make happy!
RV: You’ve always been associated with the intellectual anti-conformism of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Is this still the case?
FB: I’ve always lived in Paris's 6th arrondissement, around Saint Germain and the Luxembourg Gardens. In the past, I was an angry young man rebelling against my bourgeois social environment, against my parents of course, against the advertising world. Soon, I’ll be 50 years old and I realise that now I’ve become more resistant to change. Today, I’m less of a rebel and am more a part of the resistance. I’ve evolved from being rebellious in order to change the world to a moment in my life where I’m more understanding about the world. It’s true that nowadays I want to stand up for the lifestyle of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. I want to preserve places like this traditional French bar where we are now, La Palette, where you can change the world until far too late into the night. Where you can discuss literature and the atmosphere is quite open for intellectual discussions about life and civilization.
RV: It seems as though you are very nostalgic about the past...
FB: The danger today lies in an excess of progress without reflection. Let’s take a look at the example of digitisation: is it fantastic, or is it dehumanising? I don’t know. The act of dematerialising books, records, movies, and having all of culture and the history of humanity in your smartphone – is this a good or bad evolution? At first, I thought it was good news – it was the dream of the great philosophers of ancient times: being an honest man who speaks Latin fluently, who knows everything about everything and who practically has a library in his brain. Now, it’s technically possible, but at the same time, doesn't it cut us off from pursuing our curiosity? Will it make us lazy and closed off to culture? When you go over to people’s apartments now, there are no more books, no more bookshelves. There are no more record collections, and I feel a void. Of course, they start to explain, “Don't worry, I have everything here in my smartphone.” These technological tools that were presented to us as a way of getting closer to each other have actually become a way to isolate us from one another. Let’s not lose our good old habits, to leave our homes, go to a bar, order a drink, get to know people. You take that away, and that will be the end of mankind!
RV: Is complaining a way to resist change as you get older?
FB: I am getting older so I talk like a veteran who prefers his old bachelor habits. I guess it’s the natural process of life. I think that life consists of being liberal – then afterwards, the older you get, the more conservative you become. When you get older, deep within, your body prepares you to die, and how does it do that? Well, you don’t understand anything about the world anymore – the older you get, the less you understand about what’s going on around you. And then comes the day where you really don’t understand anything at all, and well, then you die. On the other hand, we can fight against this – for example, Karl Lagerfeld is a typical example of someone who is older than us, and at the same time, he is plugged in, very modern, knows everything and loves all of the new technologies. It’s actually interesting – he's really the exception to all this. I’m attached to memories – maybe because I’m a writer, and it's my job to seek out the magic in the past.
RV: How would you describe your writing style?
FB: I think that I’m a reflection of my time, a character who has gone through quite a few different lives and professions all related to writing – in newspapers, books, movies, TV shows, it’s all about writing. A writer who expresses himself on multiple platforms – not only books. One shouldn’t be a Puritan – you can defend a certain kind of mindset, of irony and impertinence everywhere. This freedom can only be found in books, in the press, in broadcasting … this mindset is exactly what I feel that I inherited from the inhabitants of this city. Parisians discuss and argue topics all night – I have memories from when I was a child hanging out in cafes and listening to people. I loved doing that and I still do. I feel like this is the only city in the world where you can be in a café by yourself and then start talking to the waiter, and then there’s the guy who will come up to the counter and make a comment about politics or some other topic like that. A conversation starts, then a pretty girl comes along, and we flirt and we drink. Where is this possible? I don’t think it’s possible in Los Angeles – it doesn’t exist. I think there are two kinds of writers; the writers of the past and the writers of the future. Proust is a writer of the past, and so is Modiano, and so am I. I like to constantly go back to my memories – the past fascinates me. Everything from the '70s and '80s fascinates me.
RV: From your perspective, is Paris still the capital of glamour? What makes Parisians so different?
FB: Everything is beautiful in Paris, with the exception of arriving at the airport! Crossing the Seine from Notre Dame to Pont de l'Alma is magical. The intelligence of Parisians, their wickedness, their dissatisfaction – I find it all very charming. Keep in mind that intelligence does not lead to happiness – intelligence leads to frustration. Everyone says that the French complain a lot, but that's natural when you know that you were once a great colonial empire, and today you're a country with mainly luxury brands and Bordeaux wine. I am clear about the fact that I live in a museum city, but I really take advantage of it. I actually walk frequently in front of the Académie Française and the Pont des Arts – I hate those locks though. If someone could just remove all those stupid locks! The booksellers, the Shakespeare and Company bookstore – it’s all wonderful. You can walk along rue Guénégaud and rue de Seine. I like the empty museums, like the Musée Gustave Moreau – nobody ever goes there. It's beautiful with its ancient workshops. Or take a walk in the park of the Rodin Museum – it’s incredibly poetic and calm. It makes no sense, actually – Paris is the opposite of capitalism. It’s the opposite of speed, of cost-effectiveness. You walk in a park, you sit on a bench, you discover a statue of a gorgeous girl. It’s really moving.
Interview: Enrique Nalda
Photography: N. Guerin
Interview first published in RedVisitor Magazine: Issue Two - Purchase Now
M O R E I N T E R V I E W S . . .