The fourth in our ongoing presentation of great readers answering great questions put to them by publishing veteran Wes Del Val. In this interview, Wes finds out about the book-packed home of international fashion director/stylist Camille Bidault-Waddington.
One Great Reader No 4: Camille Bidault-Waddington
I first noticed Camille Bidault-Waddington about a dozen years ago when her name and face regularly appeared in Purple magazine. Since then she’s continued to show up there and in several other of the fashion world’s most influential magazines where her distinctive and offbeat tastes have made her one of the industry’s most in-demand stylists. What really made me perk up though was when I spotted the cover of issue number five of the Danish interiors title Space Magazine and she was nonchalantly smoking a cigarette...surrounded by piles of books. I immediately picked it up and flipped to her story to see more and it appears that a person lucky enough to visit her wouldn’t be more than a few feet away from a book at any place in the apartment. Needless to say she loves her books but isn’t precious about them (as you’ll see), and routinely uses what’s in them to fill her Instagram account with images that others aren’t posting and which will be new to you. Find her there and you’ll quickly see why her singular eye keeps her so sought after by all the top knowers in fashion. -WDV
WDV: What’s your favorite book on your shelves with the ugliest cover?
CB-W: Not sure I can answer that because lots of books have a pretty ugly cover, you can not judge in the same way a book you found online because you wanted to read it fast—like for example Bartleby by Herman Melville—and a book as object, or one that you thought would be nice because the cover and the paper had a sensual attraction (which of course books do) but then the actual writing is very annoying and boring or worse. Loving books means actually hating books, too, and when I am in a bookshop I am fascinated by the mass of rubbish. Basically I guess the answer is my edition of Bartleby.
Which sources are the most reliable for you to determine what you want to read next and where do you buy your books?
It is hard to answer that because I need to discover a book—I find it very difficult to read what I was gifted—it is a search through a film, another book, a sentence of a character, a sociological article, a friend talking about it, etc. The books usually come to me naturally, there is a certain form of coincidence that’s part of their charm. I love going to the Ecume des Pages on Boulevard St-Germain and in a bookshop on Rue des Martyrs called Vendredi. The first one is like cruising from one table to the other and the second one is small and concentrated in poetry, philosophy, and alternative writing. During confinement I used Amazon at the beginning, feeling very weird, and actually received some books half blank printed by some crazy AI.
Who are your favorite French writers who you’re most sorry your non-French speaking friends can’t read?
Maybe Annie Ernaux? I don’t know if it is translated but the book Des aveugles from Hervé Guibert is very, very intense and vivid in mental images.
Your friends are in luck, Ernaux is one of the few who has had multiple titles translated into English and I think Les années (The Years) actually found some readers. And I just checked and Guibert’s Blindsight was translated in 1996 but appears to be long out-of-print. Hint hint Semiotext(e), who has translated multiple other Guibert titles...
Let me flip it and ask if you’ve read anything in English which you wish were available in French? The French of course are much better at accepting book translations than we Americans are so this may be difficult to answer.
I’d say Jane Bowles.
Do you ever read original English-language books in French translation and vice versa?
I usually read books translated in French. Have tried lots in English and still try, sometimes it works, but being quite busy I find it already difficult to find time to focus and I need to facilitate my possibilities. I don’t mind translations, I actually sometimes read a book with two different translators, some translators are brilliant writers. There is only Richard Brautigan that I can not read in French, it feels it is not in English, it is in American, and the joy of his words can only be in American. In French it feels weird.
Yes to “American” versus “English” for sure, there can be a definite difference of feeling on the page.
American is clearer in a way, slang is always the tricky bit in all languages.
I think sorting books by color is god-awful and only done by people who don’t care about books. As well if your first thought with books is to decorate with them then I think you also don’t really care about what is in them. How do you feel about all that and have you ever been impressed by shelves you’ve seen organized as such?
Shelving books by color, why not if that helps you to remember them, but at the end it really looks like a hotel lobby…and that also would mean unchosen colors being too present, it is an invasion to me I feel—people who are obsessive with order scare me. But I am impressed by everyone’s shelves except mine. My books are a living creature oscillating between quicksand, paper furniture, and columns of stuff. In this time of confinement, I’m not sure what to think of it, one day they are friends, one day they are a spiral to hell. I care about the content, but I also sit on my books, climb on them, and can sometimes rip a blank page out of them to write some notes…I love the quality of paper, the ink smell, all that craft, but I can’t resist doing the things I do to them…
Who’s the best-read designer you’ve worked with?
Can’t pick one but I would say Natacha Ramsay-Levi and Christophe Lemaire.
You’re walking by a cafe and see someone reading a physical book. Which title is it that would bring you such unexpected glee that it would make you interrupt him or her to share as much.
I would never do that, too intrusive.
Ha, my French wife said the same thing! I should have known… Ok, then which would it be that would put a big smile on your face?
Maybe a teenager reading Nadja from Breton, we all went through that!
What three titles do you see on someone’s shelves which tells you they have discerning taste?
Simon Liberati’s Anthologies des Apparitions, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, and all of Houellebecq’s work.
What magazines do you still read cover to cover?
The ones I work for…AnOther, self service, More or Less, Vanity Fair France, Dazed, Vogue Italia.
You’re at a dream dinner party, what two living writers are sitting on either side of you?
Pauline Klein and Simon Liberati, not because of their books, but because they are nuts and fun and my friends! I don’t need to meet the people I like to read, I’d rather not actually.
You have fifteen minutes in your favorite bookstore to grab all you want and carry it home. What are you rushing to scoop up?
A French one, a foreign one, a short one on philosophy, and a photo one.
A bookstore asks you to come up with one unique category section for them to shelve their books, what do you choose?
Utopias from the 13th century until now.
A friend of mine used to get me the inspiration books Phoebe Philo and Hedi Slimane gave to guests before they showed their collections, and I truly treasure owning them, so my last question is do you have any cool or unknown books you’ve picked up over the years that you wouldn’t have if you weren’t in the fashion world?
I have those, too, and yes they’re cool. I have lots of beautiful books given to me by photographers I’ve worked with and that are in small editions. Maybe the Yohji Yamamoto lookbooks made by M/M with Paolo Roversi, Craig McDean, David Sims. Now book dealers are bonkers with their prices so not sure those are even available.
One of the great perks, hold on to them! Thanks Camille!
Camille Bidault-Waddington at home. Photo by Cecile Bortoletti