French writer and fashion critic Janie Samet, who was the first to interview a young Yves Saint Laurent, died at her home in Cannes at age 91, her family confirmed.
Born on April 21, 1931, in Paris, Samet made her journalistic debut as an intern for L’Echo d’Oran, a French daily newspaper in Oran, Algeria, then under French colonial rule.
She was sent to interview the winner of the inaugural International Wool Secretariat (now the Woolmark Prize), who also hailed from Oran. The 18-year-old’s name was Yves Saint Laurent. After that initial meeting, Samet would follow the designer’s career to his retirement in 2002, later describing herself a “groupie” of the couturier.
Over the following five decades, Samet would witness the transformation of fashion, becoming “its eye and memory,” stated Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Group. “She was close to all those who, since the 1950s, through audacity and imagination, brought Parisian creation to all continents,” he continued, noting that Samet “loved the materials as much as the style,” attending shows from big houses and young designers alike.
In 1957, she joined L’Aurore, a newspaper that belonged to French businessman Marcel Boussac, who was then the backer of Christian Dior’s fashion house. Samet would stay 25 years, including a stint as a correspondent in London, and rise to deputy editor in chief.
Her arrival at Le Figaro as deputy editor in chief of its fashion section in 1979 coincided with the ready-to-wear boom. Over the next 25 years, Samet became an industry reference whose words carried weight throughout the industry, from designers to industry moguls.
Sidney Toledano, chairman and CEO of LVMH Fashion Group and president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture called Samet “one of the greatest fashion journalists in the world”; an “outstanding professional, always very rigorous in all that she wrote” and someone who “knew perfectly that couture had to be evaluated over several shows and, often, several years.”
“I learned to read between the lines of her articles to understand her appraisal. She never yielded to the temptation of sensationalism. Janie transmitted this flame, this passion and this rigor to younger generations in journalism but also in fashion, to both designers and executives,” he continued.
Pascal Morand, executive president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, saluted a “great fashion journalist [whose] vision and her writing, keen and alert, accompanied the development of fashion and marked their time.”
While couture would remain her favorite field, Samet would support a number of designers who emerged in ready-to-wear over the years, such as Chantal Thomass, Claude Montana, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and most recently, Mossi Traoré.
They awaited the next day’s column with bated breath and holding back tears — joy or relief would depend on what Samet wrote, Thomass said, recalling how “terrified” she and her contemporaries were of this figure of the “couture generation.”
While a critic who could not be cajoled or swayed, Samet formed close relationships with many, like Christian Lacroix, who met her in 1986 when he won the “Dé d’Or” fashion prize while at Patou.
Her passing felt like “the departure of a relative, at once a little near but also a little remote, severe and adorable at the same time, typical of a time that suddenly flew away with the evolution of the press, of social medial of fashion, big groups and their relationship to journalists,” the couturier wrote in an email to WWD.
The word “reporter” fit Samet best, Lacroix continued, remembering her with a notebook at hand, “scribbling what she gleaned in any circumstances, a show, a cocktail or even a funeral, bringing you to the essential in a few words before saying ‘thank you, that’s what I needed.’”
Fashion consultant Jean-Jacques Picart described the late writer as a steadfast partner-in-crime who always kept her word when given scoops and whose joyful personality stood out.
She was “always ready to jump in a plane, a train, a taxi to see a young designer, inaugurate a boutique, attend a festival,” driven by her constant “curiosity and faith in creation,” he continued.
He lauded her “loyalty to [her] publication and respect of the reader,” which made her “difficult to gauge because she never lost sight of [who] her readers [were],” particularly in her 25-year tenure at Le Figaro.
Samet’s contribution was acknowledged via a number of recognitions, including the first — and only — “Oscar de la Mode” awarded to a journalist in 1987 and being inducted into France’s Order of Arts and Letters in 1994.
After retiring from Le Figaro in 2004, she penned a book on Chaumet published by Assouline and a 2006 memoir “Chère Haute Couture,” (or Dear Couture), chronicling the highlights of five decades in fashion and its social scene, from a reception with Queen Elizabeth II to her fascination for Karl Lagerfeld, her passion for Hubert de Givenchy and support of Dior that began with Gianfranco Ferré’s tenure and continued into the John Galliano years.
In recent years, she had moved to Cannes but continued to keep abreast of fashion. Veteran press and public relations agent Jacques Babando, a friend of 30 years who has a home near hers in the South of France, recalled Samet as someone who adored her work and said she “was married to haute couture.”
A service will be held on Dec. 16 at the Cimetière Parisien de Pantin.
She is survived by a son, Patrick, and grandson Arthur.