It took me two days to choose an outfit for Joan Didion's Blue Nights book signing. I was 21 at the time and couldn't decide between wearing my glasses or contacts. I kept imagining Didion's iconic Corvette photo shoot, the one that would immortalize her as a literary paradigm of intangible savoir-vivre. But I also considered her present frailty, her years of tenacious heartache. I wondered what woman would show up at the event, which woman I wanted to appeal to more. I had a feeling that would be one of her last appearances, but then Céline proved me wrong.
The French fashion brand tugged at the heartstrings of every female English major in the world on Tuesday. They released an ad featuring the current 80-year-old, poised but impervious, as she's appeared for most of her public life. She's clad in items that highlight the brand, but represent the (perhaps involuntary) elegance she has been harnessing in her prose.
For those who are unfamiliar with her writing, her nonfiction especially, it's a mausoleum of longing. Didion lost her husband and only daughter years ago, using her writing to braid their lives within pages of resolve. Even before her heartache, Didion was pining for her home. She succeeds in illustrating a sharp intersection of body and place, personifying geography as if it’s an old friend visiting to comfort her. To say Didion is in touch with her surroundings is an understatement, as it is her magnetism to California that pulled her from her deepest trenches. It is this understanding of region that transcends her beyond time and space.
Didion's duality as an intrepid author and goddess makes it easy for me to embrace her vitality on a different kind of page. What makes her such a perfect person for this role is the unwavering strength in every cell of her body. Her gaze surpasses horizons of emotion, memory, and experience. Didion offers more than what the average model could only ever pretend to offer. And I think Céline was brave enough to admit that, in so many words.
This ad demonstrates a collision of literature and fashion in a way I have never seen before. It is important to consider its implications, as they convey a message that each world couldn’t convey separately. The future of the author is changing. And I don’t mean through a commercial avenue, but through the dilution of their profundity. Authors are not closets of proverbs, ethereal beings of sanctimonious quotes to reblog on Tumblr (my gchat status is a quote from The White Album, but that’s beside the point). They are so much more than that. They are blood, skin, and bones. Bills, healthcare, and car trouble. While their words are perpetual, their lives are ephemeral trials of normalcy that we need to accept.
Céline’s photo of Didion breathes life into the icon that was once draped over a Corvette. I see my grandmother in her hands and wrinkled cheeks. I see conversations we have over tea. I see someone I’ve always known, but am curious to explore deeper. For the first time, I actually see her.