A Chic, Rare, Costly, Ego-booster

Nicole Wisniak ranks the creative eccentricity that erratically brings forth her top-selling, elegant Egoïste revue, on a par with the hand-crafting of a Hermes handbag — stylish, time-consuming and frankly only for the discerning.

Thrity years for just 15 issues, its hard work Chez Egoïste

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In that vein she has little time for the demands of digital age readers that it should appear more frequently and, heaven forbid, offer on-line availability. Her only concession to the digerati is this sparse on-line presence and if they want to purchase a copy, there is a reseller on Amazon here.

Otherwise queue up at a Paris news kiosk and if you’re lucky you might still find a lone large-format copy featuring black and white picture tributes to the world’s greatest photographers (among them Richard Avedon, Paolo Roversi, Bettina Rheims, Jean Lariviere, Ellen von Unwerth) and pieces by and about Parisian intellectual gods (such as Alexander Garden, Jean d’Ormesson, Bernard Kouchner, Boulouque or Clemence).

Announced by Claire Chazal on her televised magazine programme, JT on TF1, with all the fanfare of a great cultural event, the latest Egoïste weighing in at 3 kg is, to the delight of its advertisers, already a sell-out. Issue Number 16 of this luxury 290-page magazine hit the news-stands on May 9 and despite the price — a bagatelle at 35 euros — within hours it became very difficult to find any of the 25,000 printed copies left. Unsurprising really, the early editions of her prized and erratic revue are now very pricey collectors items.

Launched in 1977 on a shoestring, Egoïste is held by some — probably those who don’t rise early enough on publication day — to be an awfully laid back affair because the publication gaps between each issue — something of a moving feast and entirely dependent on “when the magazine is ready” — are constantly stretched. The gap started off as a month between Issues No. 1 and No. 2, six months between No. 2 and No. 3, a year for No. 4, and a record-breaking four and a half years between No. 15 and No. 16. Erratic Publishing is not the name of Wisniak’s enterprise but it might well be. However despite the extended time gaps between publication days, little seems to change. It retains its original large format, thick glossy paper, elegant artwork, plenty of white space, its Walbaum romantic typeface and is impeccably printed in black and white.

Old-fashioned? “Timeless” , responds Nicole Wisniak to her immensely loyal but sorely tried readers, insisting that like the Hermes Kelly handbag, where nothing has changed in sixty years, perfection in magazine production takes, well time. This is particularly so in Wisniak’s case. For she, wearing her advertising director’s hat, insists that every single advertisement she accepts is hand-crafted by her and her team, and not even the advertiser or their agencies has a clue what it will finally look like until its done. Wisniak insists on total originality and designs outstanding one-off storyboards for these clients. Clearly a successful ploy for so powerful has her brand and her idiosyncratic publishing habit become, that advertisers line up for years begging to be included. Indeed they have even tried in vain, to persuade her to sell them the right to re-use Wisniak-created ads elsewhere.

Writing in Le Monde Michel Guerrin describes the latest offering from the House of Wisniak as “exuding an air that is closer to Saint-Germain-des-Pres than to the suburbs, to a fan club than to the steely incisiveness of a surgical knife.”

To critics of her ethos Nicole Wisniak retorts, “the magazine is not backed by any media group so producing an issue is a lot of work and we don’t set the sort of deadlines that an ordinary magazine does, we simply say the deadline is the day when its finished, “the aim is to close the edition when it is beautiful”.

Obviously, from there, writes Michel Guerrin, all sorts of madness is possible. For example she can decide not to print a page until “the blackness of the pupil of an eye is absolutely perfect” . The printing of the latest 25,000 copies took six weeks. It took her a year to complete production of an ad for Vuitton: ten pages of pictures that tell the story of how a polar bear leaves home with his luxury bag and ends up eventually inviting himself to a New York global warming conference with Al Gore.

Advertising of course is the life blood of any magazine, but ads are often seen as an intrusion and a chore for the reader. However the 80 pages of advertising carried in Egoïste are a delight to the eye. Advertising has become an Egoïste legend because it does not follow a formula. Nicole Wisniak imposes her own ideas on advertisers lucky enough to win space in her magazine and the advert is developed over several pages, rather like a short film. “The advertising script pops up in my head like that bulb that lights up over a Mickey Mouse cartoon character”, she says.

Nicole Wisniak, the daughter of Polish immigrants, is Egoïste’s editor, consultant art director, advertising director, production controller and distributor.But she does have a small inner circle of three collaborators: Eleonore Therond, an independent art director, Judith Grumbach who is Nicole’s daughter, and Siegfried de Turckheim. Much of the writing is distinctly highbrow, but the magazine’s visuals are the main attraction. She admits she likes to see her revue acknowledged for its authorship and not just for its spectacular artwork and images.

Among latest contributors – my family as she calls them – are Patrick Besson, Pascal Bruckner (Roman Polanski’s defence lawyer), Jean-Paul Enthoven, Marie Darrieussecq , Marc Lambron, Jorge Semprun, Adam Gopnik, Jean d’Ormesson, Marc Fumaroli, Frederic Beigbeder, JMG Le Clezio, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Luc Bondy, Florence Schaal and André Glucksmann (who was defence lawyer in the recent Roma row).

If you somehow didn’t get down to your Maison de la Presse in a mad rush after the Claire Chazal show, never mind. Make a diary note to catch the next issue … in two years time perhaps, who knows?

Story: Ken Pottinger

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