With the Beatles at the Olympia, January 1964 (Photo: © AGIP/RDA/Everett Collection)
Editor's Note: You Curated readers may remember Sylvie Vartan from this post we did in September!
Sylvie Vartan just might be the most famous French woman you’ve never heard of. Which is pretty incredible considering that this pop idol, credited with bringing rock ’n’ roll, and youth culture, to a chanson-addicted France, has sold 40 million records and appeared on more than 2,000 magazine covers. She’s also been profiled by Vogue (1973), performed with the Beatles (1964)—and been dressed by the best.
Vartan’s extensive wardrobe—heavy on YSL and Marc Bohan for Christian Dior—has been exhibited at the Palais Galliera and is now the subject of a new book, Le Style Vartan, by brothers Christian and Eric Cazalot that will be published in France on November 5. Before it hits shelves—and inspires Fall 2016 collections in Paris and beyond—here’s what you need to know about Vartan.
She became a pop star by accident.
Born in Bulgaria, Vartan and her family immigrated to France when she was 8. Young Sylvie dreamed of becoming an actress, and indeed she has movie credits to her name, but she’s famous for singing, a profession she fell into when the singer her RCA producer brother hired for a duet was a no-show, and he subbed in Sylvie. Though her photo wasn’t on the hit album, the press found her, and, Vartan said in a recent interview, “I had to quit my school because there were legions of paparazzi . . . and the dean of the students asked my parents to keep me home.”
She was one of the original Yé-yé girls.
When rock ’n’ roll landed in France it arrived with a name translated from British slang. Yé-Yé sounds like “Yeah! Yeah!” as in, “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.” The music became a phenomenon because, as Vartan chronicler Eric Cazelot explains, “It was the first time here that teenagers were talking to teenagers!” Their idols were women like France Gall, Françoise Hardy, Sheila, and Sylvie Vartan, the blondest and, according to Life, “the most photographed of the bunch. “The French counterpart of the English mods,” is how a contemporary journalist described their style. Vartan, with her golden, schoolgirl fringed bob, was seen as the heir, and antidote, to Brigitte Bardot. She was, says Cazelot, “completely natural and sincere. She was not trying to imitate any other stars. In those days [1961-62] the majority of girls in show business were trying to look like BB! But not Sylvie. . . . She was just herself.” Vogue styled Vartan in Courrèges, but the ingenue personally favored jeans and sneakers or ballet flats.
On her wedding day, April 1965 (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images)
Performing with Johnny Hallyday in matching diamond-studded denim by Saint Laurent, July 1973 (Photo: © Henri Bureau/Sygma/Corbis)
With Françoise Hardy, at the Olympia, November 1963 (Photo: © Lipnitzki/Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)
Vartan, with fellow Yé-yé girls Sheila and Françoise Hardy, August 1969 (Photo: Reporters Associes/ Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Vartan in casual mode, 1977 (Photo: Jean-Claude Deutsch/Paris Match via Getty Images)