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PARISIAN WOMEN, HOW DO THEY DO IT?

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 25 SEPTEMBER 2008 - The Carnavalet museum, an institution which specializes in the history of the city of Paris, recently hosted an exhibition of some 230 works of the cartoonist, Edmond Kiraz, more usually known as Kiraz. Drawings, cartoons and sketches, both in black and white and colour, as well as original gouaches and press cuttings of this artist, born in Cairo of Armenian origin, were on view in chronological order.

But strolling round the show, one of the first things one noticed was that all drawings carried the same message: women are frivolous, empty-headed creatures who will go to all lengths to catch their man.


She's told me so much that I musn't repeat that I scarcely know where to begin.
© Kiraz
Photo courtesy of Musée Carnavalet, Paris

Kiraz today is still producing the same superficial woman, 'darling' though some say she may be, that he drew on his arrival in Paris over sixty years ago. There has been no evolution in his work, and he is still reproducing the same foolish females in cartoons which lack both sparkle and humour and carry no social insight whatever. His women are boring creatures and his success is all the more surprising when one considers that in the 1960s when his career took off, France produced many other cartoonists of great value, including Georges Wolinski, Jean-Jacques Sempé and Jean-Marc Reiser , to name but three.

Be that as it may, Kiraz has enjoyed an inordinate amount of commercial success, and Bruno Marchand, the press attaché for the exhibition tried to explain why.

"When he arrived in the French capital from Egypt at the age of 23", Marchand explained, "Kiraz scarcely noticed the beautiful palaces, historic monuments and great museums, being totally fascinated by the women he saw in the streets. He adored them, calling them dragonflies and likening them to exotic tropical birds as they were so different and so much lighter, in thoughts and appearance, from women he had known. It was at the end of the war and there was a certain freedom and elegance in the air. Women were extremely slender, no doubt due to the privations of war."


Les Parisiennes
© Kiraz
Photo courtesy of Musée Carnavalet, Paris

Kiraz became a political cartoonist for numerous magazines in Egypt before his arrival in Paris where he frequented the Workshop of the Grand Chaumiére, but despite having attracted the attention of Marcel Dassault, began to publish his work in Jours de France, a publication concentrating on princes, princesses and the like, (1964 -1987), Marchand saw no political implications in his drawings.

"His women are timeless", Marchand enthused; "they are not housewives; they are very much upper class. They live in the up-market areas of Paris and are only concerned with men and spending money, not with politics. Also", he added triumphantly, "they are often blonde".


My poor husband! No sooner does he get used to my figure that I change it.
© Kiraz
Photo courtesy of Musée Carnavalet, Paris

Being blonde myself, such comments endeared me neither to Monsieur Marchand nor to the artist himself, a sentiment not shared, for example, by Hugh Hefner of Bunny Club fame. Writes Mr. Hefner in the press dossier: "These women with their big doe eyes bubble over with fun. They are sophisticated with that Parisian chic and touch of eroticism mixed with indifference which makes them unique." Indeed, Hefner admired them so much that from 1970 they have regularly appeared in Playboy U.S., wearing rather less clothes than previously. And Hefner is not alone in his admiration.

From 1995 and 2000, Les Parisiennes were found in the magazine, Gala, a publication wholly concerned with the private lives of the rich and famous, not exactly aimed at intellectuals.


I found a blond hair on his jacket, but I don't dare say anything in
case it belogs to a boyfriend.
© Kiraz
Photo courtesy of Musée Carnavalet, Paris

Moreover, from 1962 Les Parisiennes have appeared in advertisements for Perrier water and have boosted the sales of such differing products as Scandale lingerie, Parker pens, Candia milk, Canderel (a substitute sugar) and Renault cars! Not even the prestigious Paris department store, Galeries Lafayette has resisted. And for each publicity campaign, there are the same skinny, conniving females, using sex to get what they want.

But it is the captions, often added minutes before publication, which render much of this stuff so puerile. Many of the early drawings, with their fluid lines and delicate colours and which are set in the French capital's bars, cafés and terraces, pavements, parks, and gardens do reflect a certain superficial idea of Paris, but unfortunately it all ends there. There's not a single idea in all his work and as the years have passed, it has been increasingly tarnished by unfunny, flippant and sexist comments.

Patricia Boccadoro is a senior editor at Culturekiosque.com

Les Parisiennes de Kiraz
Musée Carnavalet
Hôtel Carnavalet
23, rue de Sévigné
75003 Paris
Tél : (33) 01 44 59 58 58

BOOK TIP

All titles are chosen by the editors as being of interest to Culturekiosque readers.

Parisiennes: A Celebration of French Women
By Carole Bouquet, Madeleine Chapsal, Marie Darrieussecq, Catherine Millet, Mireille Guiliano
Hardcover: 240 pages
Flammarion (October 2007)
ISBN-10: 2080300377
ISBN-13: 978-2080300379
$49.95

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