Janie Samet, France’s most famous fashion critic, dies at 91
Janie Samet, France’s most famous fashion critic and the long-time reviewer of Paris daily Le Figaro, has died.
She passed away in Cannes on Sunday, aged 91.
Samet’s career reached its zenith during a 25-year-stint at Le Figaro, becoming the main reviewer of the daily newspaper, covering runway shows in London, Milan and, above all, Paris - where no show started without her presence in the front row.
Though she retired to live quietly in the south of France these past two decades, Samet was still very much regarded as the single most influential French reviewer of the past half century.
Janie Samet, for most people tended to use both her names, took her first steps in fashion early on. When she was just 18, and an intern for L’Écho d’Oran, she met the then fledgling designer Yves Saint Laurent when he won the International Wool Secretariat Prize, making her the first person to interview the future fashion superstar.
The prize, she would later recall in her memoires, “was, in fact a non-event for Paris, but our young man being from Oran, L'Écho d'Oran sent the intern that I was in the newspaper to interview the future great man. Two green rookies paralyzed with shyness met that day.”
In the late 50s, Samet began gaining attention at another Paris daily L’Aurore, where she chronicled Swinging London in a column entitled Bons Baisers (Sweet Kisses) de Londres de Janie Samet. By 1979, she joined Le Figaro, in another example of good timing, arriving at a moment when the influx of high finance, modern management and a new generation of designers into fashion began a remarkable period of sustained growth and cultural impact that continues today.
During her storied career, Samet built a reputation for her unerring eye, and ability to dissect a collection, or a designer, with a paper dry wit.
Encyclopediac in her knowledge of fashion, Samet prided herself for her independence, sitting front row, taking notes in pencil inside her leather-bound Hermès notebook. She was petite, often dressed in twin sets and pearls, and occasionally primly bourgeois, yet she was most beloved by often the most adventurous of designers. Gianni Versace, for one, regarded Samet’s review as the most important to read any season.
In 2007, in recognition of her brilliant career, Samet was made an Officier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Pierre Cardin pinning the famed distinction on a beaming Samet.
The year before she had published the charming Chère Haute Couture, dotted with pen portraits of Versace, Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld and others. Though she had penned her final reviews for Le Figaro by 2004, being succeeded by Virginie Mouzat, who in turn was succeeded by the author of this obituary.
Not known for skewering designers more for damning with faint praise, Janie Samet had a remarkable ability to understand within seconds whether a collection could work. One colleague, who often shared a car with her in Milan, would later recall sitting beside her at the debut of a new creative director at the house of Pucci. After opening her Hermès notebook, poised to take notes in pencil, she closed it abruptly within five seconds.
“Sometimes, you can tell a collection is a failure after one look!” she sniffed. The designer in question didn’t last at Pucci even one year.
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