Claire de Rouen Books
By BEL JACOBS
After working at the Photographer’s Gallery and Zwemmer’s, Claire de Rouen set up her eponymous bookshop in 2005 and ran it till her death in 2012, when artist Lucy Moore - with help from her friend Lily Cole - took over. Claire de Rouen Books is still the only specialist photography and fashion bookshop in London, with rare and signed books by famous photographers, out of print titles, self-published zines, fashion monographs and look books, a carefully-edited list of international magazines as well as unique prints and limited editions. And it is still, as it was in Claire’s time, a centre of inspiration for some of the creative industry’s finest students and practitioners. I speak to Lucy about taking on a project of such rare value.
You bought the bookshop when Claire died.
There was a very strong photography and fashion community and Claire spent roughly 30 years here. It’s amazing to think of Claire in the 70s and 80s walking up and down the street. She was incredibly glamorous. The shop became a hub for people like Giles, Jonathan Saunders, that whole generation. I’ve heard people say they learnt more from Claire than anywhere else. Of course, it’s a bit of an exaggeration but it’s a different education. Claire was very supportive of established photographers in fashion, documentary and fine art but also, of younger photographers. People felt that support very strongly. Part of her wisdom was to recognise that you could be friends with Bruce Weber and David Bailey and still buy a £4 zine - and that those two things could co exist in the same place.
Do you feel you’re taking on Claire as well as her shop?
Absolutely because people really loved her. The space is pretty much as she had it. But the nice thing is, when I took it over, that I felt the only way to truly honour what she did was to be myself. She was such an individual and I know she wanted me here. All the things I’ve been doing have come from loving the space.
What changes have you made in the last year?
Perhaps it’s a little more minimal. I still maintain the focus on photography and fashion and on supporting young photographers and publishers as well as established work. Often, I’m able to offer signed or rare books which is something Claire did. Because I come from an art background, I’ve started to explore the relationship between photography and art and book design and fine art.
How do you do this?
I’ve worked with some wonderful artists to present small projects here. French artist Marc Camille Chaimowicz produced a new edition of Madame Bovary which was beautifully made by Four Corners Books. He illustrated almost every page of the novel with a collage, painting, or photograph he’d taken specifically for the book. When we launched the book, Marc Camille made a display of some of the objects – leather gloves, perfumes, biscuits and a cigar - he’d used to make the photographs. Currently, we have 10 sculptures on display by German artist Christian Flamm, which are empty books with handpainted covers. They all refer to particular categories of book designs. If you look at one, it feels like a poetry book; if you look at another, it looks like a technical maths book. But Christian himself doesn’t define what they are, it’s just the feeling you get from them. He used the book form to explore a particular set of references.
Does everything inform everything else?
Increasingly. Visual ideas shift quickly from one medium to another. The relationship between fashion and art and photography is very strong at the moment and I enjoy exploring those relationships. It’s nice to be able to introduce a designer to an artist. Ideas manifest in different ways. It’s unnatural to restrict categories too much.
Where does fashion sit in all this?
One of the things I love about fashion is that it’s so quick. There’s this amazing capacity to absorb and digest and create something unique. You can see that in a negative way but I love it. It also manifests in enthusiasm. With any fashion book or magazine, you have to have it right now. Claire was really good with that.
What, in your view, is the impact of technology on publishing?
New technology can easily coexist with older technology. E books can be wonderful. But visual culture has a very precise relationship with materiality, with paper, the colour of the paper stock, the way it feels, its weight. The book form is still much more subtle than something like an iPad.
You can own a book in the sense you can’t with an ebook. You can write your thoughts onto the pages. There are specific qualities to each medium that can be used beautifully and intelligently. I don’t think one will supplant the other. With literature, it is much more cerebral. The visual images are made in your brain as you read the text. So e-books do the job a bit better in the sense they’re lighter so that you can carry around 25 novels. There’s a new exhibition of John Cheim, who worked on many of Bruce Weber’s books. His extremely intelligent and elegant design is to do with the turning of the page, the touch of the paper, the quality of printing. There are so many different print processes you can use in a book that you can’t use digitally. If anything, there are less bad books being made - which is brilliant. Bookmaking is so strong at the moment. And book collecting is huge. There’s so much passion for it.
How would you like people to enjoy the bookshop?
I’m happy for people to spend as long as they want to here. You need longer than a more conventional bookshop because there’s so much here. It is about discovery. What’s important is that this is an unusual space in central London. I have a lot of flexibility in terms of how I run the bookshop and that’s rare. And I like the size. It’s big enough. There are about 3,500 books. It’s beautiful in here. It has a feeling of peaceful contemplation which is quite at odds with Charing Cross Road outside. It’s like a sanctuary.