For it’s 2005 launch, London-based bookstore Claire de Rouen hosted a party for the legendary photographer Bruce Weber, and since then it has remained a space where the significant areas of the contemporary cultural landscape can be easily accessed through the store’s contents. Following a single visit, it’s possible you’ll be left feeling as though your knowledge on specialist art, fashion, and photography has increased, and at very least, inspired by these subject’s inaugural figures from the past and present day whose image-based and written books are presented throughout.
After being introduced to the late Claire de Rouen, the current co-owner of the bookstore, director and artist Lucy Moore is solely responsible for the meticulous curation of magazines and publications that adorn the shelves that stock everything from the obscure to the well known; from Landscapes with a Corpse by Japanese photographer Izima Kaoru to William Eggleston's 5 x 7 and Heads: Hair by Guido, a collection of iconic images of cuts by hair stylist Guido Palau from the 90s. Lucy’s own studies in the field of Art have been extensive - a BA in Architecture and History of Art at the University of Cambridge, followed by a BA in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design and finally a Masters in Painting at the Royal College of Art. Now devoted to imparting her learned knowledge with others through Claire De Rouen, teaching, her own publication-based writing and frequent events at the bookstore, Lucy is personification of the exemplary ways in which she curates: intelligent, exploratory and committed.
Here Lucy shares with us five of her favourite books that celebrate female sensuality and we caught up with the woman behind one of London’s last remaining best kept not-so-secret secret spaces.
How would you describe the aesthetic of Claire de Rouen Books?
Precise, painterly, romantic, erotic, analytical, pop, unapologetic, sincere.
What's the story behind your initial involvement with the store?
I was introduced to Claire de Rouen in 2010 by my then boyfriend Ned Wilson, who knew her through a friend. I fell in love with her shop instantly - and with her! She was glamorous, knowledgeable and chic, and she had carefully assembled a collection of books, zines and magazines in Claire de Rouen that gave access to myriad worlds within the confines of a tiny yet beautiful space. This I think is what drew me to her most of all - her interest in the richness of the ideas, aesthetics and imagery explored in photography, and her enthusiasm for work which was challenging and bold.
What makes a Claire de Rouen book or publication?
I care most about the content of a book or magazine - I always ask myself whether a book or magazine 'needs' to exist - does it tell us something new? That's very important. But of course I also think good design and production is essential, because these create the platform for the content, and also communicate so much about a certain position or theme of exploration. This doesn't mean something has to be very high budget - but rather that it should be appropriate. The observational, inquisitive, narratival approach of the work of Ed Templeton, for example, worked so well in a concertina-format book that was recently published - the format matched the approach perfectly. I especially like publications that address the history of subcultures, feminist thinking, eroticism, beauty and aesthetics. The bookshop officially stocks photography, art and fashion titles but I also bring in some prose, poetry and non-fiction too. I carry all the books published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, for example, - these are fiction and non-fiction, and are totally exceptional. I have also liked Chris Kraus' writing for a long time, so I stock her novels.. These are just examples of the moments when I “break the rules”.
Are there any other examples of when you feel like you’re breaking the rules?
This year I'm introducing a carefully chosen collection of accessories into the store, which will complement the themes explored and subjects represented in the books and magazines that are the main focus of Claire de Rouen. At the moment I'm especially interested in the shifting landscapes of femininity, sexuality and eroticism in the 21st century (reflected for example in 'Dark Summer', an occasional erotic image night held at the bookshop). I've just added a new collection of fans from FERN to the online shop offering. They're a modern revival of traditional wood hand-fans which recall the historical mannerisms of fan use and provide a flirtatious glance back onto the ways in which women related to men in formal social settings of past times.
How does your own background as an artist influence your practice today?
I am deeply committed to the importance of everything that I stock at Claire de Rouen - whether that's importance of a body of work for issues of gender parity, aesthetic discourse, or just for pure pleasure. I think that this commitment is a natural consequence of my work as an artist, in which one's 'practice' must have relevance to contemporary cultural concerns.
How would you describe your relationship with books?
My personal relationship with books is often concerned with archiving - I keep a collection of books from each launch I do, each one signed by the photographer whose book it is - Collier Schorr, Bill Henson, Viviane Sassen, Valerie Phillips, Tim Walker, Lina Scheynius etc.. This is a both sentimental (the dedications written by the photographers mean a lot to me) but also a 'history-on-a-shelf' of some of the best new photobooks of our time.
I also collect books in a focused way - I am building a collection of the Nick Knight/Marc Ascoli/Peter Saville catalogues made for Yohji Yamamoto in the mid 1980s, also books on erotic imagery, as well as on individual artists including Marc Camille Chaimowicz and William Eggleston.
In the past, you’ve taught at the likes of Royal College of Art and London College of Fashion and you also write extensively for many fashion and art publications. How do both of these things inform your role at Claire de Rouen?
At the moment I'm not teaching so much because I'm focusing on setting up a new publishing wing of Claire de Rouen. But I hope to return to it soon. Students come to the bookshop very often, to do research for projects and to find inspiration. I like teaching because it means I have a better understanding of the way they are being asked to work, and so I can assist better with research. Claire de Rouen is part of a culture that is partly created by the art and fashion students in London and so it's important that I'm aware of their patterns of enquiry (which I can be, via teaching).
Writing allows me to think in depth about the artists and designers whose publications I stock at the bookshop. I trained as an artist and I don't make paintings at the moment but I find writing fulfils a certain need I have to be creative. Also, I guess for me to properly be able to understand what is important, it helps for me to be involved directly - the teaching and writing help make Claire de Rouen a better bookshop.
What does femininity mean to you?
I think one of the most important principles by which gender parity will be achieved is an avoidance of strict pigeon holes about how women should be, think or behave. Femininity as a word needs to be reclaimed - it's a word men often use to describe the qualities in a woman that they like. I suppose it could be positive to describe it as 'a commitment to the qualities particular to women' - which is quite abstract I know!
I am not speaking for all women, but I feel, for myself, that the way I would like to define femininity is: a confidence in intuitive decision making, a commitment to one's sexuality, an avoidance of competition with other women, and the setting of one's own aspirations.
Which females resonate with you the most and why?
At the moment I am especially inspired by women from two very different categories - those of my very close friends who have recently become mothers and are all fulfilling this role in their own specific way, and on the other hand, a small number of older women whom I'm lucky enough to know, who don't have children but have very fulfilling lives - successful careers, a formidable independence, and countless friends who love and respect them deeply. It's very important to me that women are not expected to have partners or children in order to be deemed 'successful' - unfortunately I think this expectation still often pertains in mainstream Western culture.
My dear friend and co-owner of Claire de Rouen, Lily Cole, is a constant source of inspiration.
In terms of photography and fashion, I currently find Dana Lixenburg's work in photography totally outstanding - she's been nominated for the Deutsch Borse prize and I hope she wins it. Grace Wales Bonner, an artist and fashion designer, is also someone for whom I feel a great admiration.
Finally, what are five of your favourite books/publications on female sensuality?
1. Baroness magazine
Baroness is the sister to Baron, the ‘erotic magazine for gentlemen’... I remember when Baron came out 4 or 5 years ago and it felt quite radical because of the way it positioned erotic imagery at the centre of what was, at heart, an art magazine. I think Jonathan Baron, who set it up, made a point of describing the naughties as quite a repressed decade (despite its nickname). Contemporary visual culture, in the UK at least, is now is much more permissive, and I think this openness about sexuality is in general a very positive thing. How can a ‘female gaze’ really evolve? The space offered by print makes a lot more sense for this than digital, because it can formalise the gaze in a way that the internet can’t. Baroness is part of the conversation.
2. Selfies by Tracey Emin, published by Lorcan O’ Neill
Tracey Emin’s Selfies is a leporello-format artists’ book, twinning her ‘selfie’ gouache drawings with photographs taken in Rome of architecture and paintings. I find the juxtaposition of non-photographic images addressing female subjectivity with photographs of the symbols of wealth, power and religiosity that are emblematic of Rome to be very intriguing, and beautiful at the same time.
3. You Must Make Your Death Public, ed. Mira Mattar, published by Mute
Chris Kraus wrote her novel I Love Dick in 1997 and because a new English edition was published recently, everyone has been reading it again! To me, Kraus proposes a whole new language to articulate female power in I Love Dick (and isn’t it so brilliant that the man in question is really, in real life, called Dick..?). This book collects together all the talks and media presented at a symposium on Kraus held at the Royal College of Art in March 2013.
4. Mirrors of the Mind by Meret Oppenheim, published by Kerber
Meret Oppenheim’s Breakfast in Fur (1936) is an artwork I first learnt about when I was studying Surrealism as part of my degree in History of Art at Cambridge. This strangely animalistic domestic-turned-ritual object seemed so evocative of sex and perversity – and it was also hilarious! And the psychological dimension of Oppenheim’s work has continued to inspire me, along with that of two other great female artists – Isa Genzken and Louise Bourgeois.
5. Surfacing by Katinka Goldberg, published by Journal
I discovered this book at a book fair in Paris years ago. It’s about the relationship between Goldberg and her mother – about a very singular form of intimacy and the struggle for independence that always occurs within this precious dynamic.