Today I wanted to start a new series called The Chic Writer. Just for the fun of it, this series will feature a well-known chic writer in each installment plus a little bit about what we love about them. Naturally, being chic and stylish isn’t the end all and be all about being a writer – rather, it’s their ability to write funny, delightful, memorable and truth-piercing pieces! – but for this series, we’re also celebrating writers for their originality, their style, their personality and that It-ness about them that makes their persons just as exciting as the stories they write.
The first writer to feature is none other than Simone de Beauvoir. Who better to start off the Chic Writer series? She was a wearer of many hats (and I don’t mean that literally, although who can forget her stylish headwraps?). Not only is she a writer, she’s also a philosopher, social activist, feminist, social theorist, teacher and intellectual. Together with her long-time lover, Jean-Paul Sartre, she embodied the free thinking, free loving, existentialistic intellectual culture of the 20th century. She was a woman who truly flourished and made the most of her intellectual capabilites, excelling in mathematics and philosophy, becoming the ninth woman to have received a degree from Sorbonne and the youngest person to pass the Ecole Normale Supérieure agrégation in philosophy, placing second directly after Sartre.
de Beauvoir was also the author of the famous treatise The Second Sex, as well as of the works She Came to Stay, The Mandarins and The Woman Destroyed. Altogether she published over 20 works, including a collection of her correspondence with Sartre (edited when first published to protect the identity of those still living who featured in the correspondence). She also kept and published detailed diaries of her travels, such as her trip to America (America Day by Day) and China (The Long March). She was a noted traveller, having also visited countries like Japan, Africa, Mexico and most notably Cuba during Fidel Castro’s reign where she and Sartre met Catro and the other leaders of the revolution, including Che Guevera (though a year later, they would later voice their disillusionments over the Cuban Revolution.)
And everywhere she went, de Beauvoir brought her inimitable French elegance with her. Those long dresses and skirts, accessorised with headwraps, neck scarves and beret-like hats… but to be honest, these garments only work on her because of who she is and how she carries herself. At the end, Simone is who she is because she could be none other. My favourite picture of her remains Irving Penn’s portrait of her. Wrapped in a tweed coat and her dark hair pulled back in its usual crowned updo, she stares at the viewer head-on. She is unapologetic, unwavering and entirely herself. She is Simone.