ELLE has never been one to focus exclusively on fashion. In 1945 when Hélène Gordon Lazareff, launched the native French publication alongside her husband Pierre Lazareff, founder of the French daily newspaper France-Soir, she set out to do things differently. This included advertising-free issues (an attempt to move away from the corporatization of publishing), consistent long-form journalism, and “a new tone,” according to the French National Audiovisual Institute, which saw Lazareff put “a particular emphasis on freedom, feminist demands and the consumer society.”
While most fashion-centric magazines in 1945 – just a year after women in France were granted the right to vote – were putting forth issues mostly filled with glossy editorial imagery, ELLE (French for “she”) made its mark with what has been described as more a newspaper than a magazine thanks to its lengthy articles, which often consisted of in-depth discussions of topics, such as feminism, something of a controversial topic at the time. There was still, of course, colored imagery and a focus on fashion at play.
The Making of a Magazine
“Deeply influenced by WWII, the immediate post-war political climate, leftist political philosophy and early feminist movements in France,” Lazareff, as noted by The Luxe Chronicles, “married both style and substance in her publication, [which was] instrumental in helping French women achieve significant gains most notably in workplace and reproductive rights.” Similar efforts were underway at Vogue around this time, under the watch of editor Edmonde Charles-Roux.
With the help of Françoise Giroud, who served as editor of ELLE in its earliest years, the magazine consisted of columns urging women to vote, and articles that emphasized the importance of women’s ability to vote independently of the political views held by their significant others and celebrated the number of women elected to the French Assembly.
Also in the mix: “Practical and feminine topics (fashion, beauty, horoscopes, cooking) and more feminist ones—such as sex education and abortion—with a view to informing women of their rights and leading them towards greater liberty and equality,” as Sandrine Lévêque wrote for Laboratorium Journal last year.
While ELLE was not without more conservative takes on the traditional gender norms/roles of the time, Lazareff, according to Peter Knapp, who was the art director for ELLE from the 1950s to the 1960s, unequivocally “believed that women were equal, if not superior, to men.”
Modern Day ELLE
Fast forward to 2018, and ELLE is the world's largest fashion magazine, with 46 editions around the world. Lazareff’s publication, now almost 30 years after her death, has – for the most part – continued in the vein of her initial work. Yes, the pages of the magazine include advertisements now and it participates in brand partnerships, but the element of awareness surrounding “freedom and feminist demands” is still at play.
Consider the September 2016 issue for the magazine’s British edition. With multiple covers, the issue celebrated “The Rise of the Rebel,” highlighting the work of actress/activist Amandla Stenberg and trans model/actress/activism Hari Neff, among others. In putting Neff on its cover, ELLE became the first major British magazine to feature an openly transgender woman. It has continued to tackle feminist-related topics, whether it be a look at male feminists, the role of plastic surgery and makeup in feminist discourse, or Beyon