As Goude as it gets…
What wouldn’t you do for a friend? In the case of Vogue Arabia’s October cover shoot, the iconic illustrator and photographer Jean-Paul Goude, who turns 80 this year, saw the opportunity to once again work with Farida Khelfa as an occasion not to be passed up. Although it may have been close to 30 years since the French model of Algerian descent and the legendary Frenchman worked together, their reunion melted away decades, even if at first they were both a bit nervous. “We don’t see each other regularly, we have our own families and lives. For more than 20 years we aren’t together anymore [as a couple] and people change so I was a bit worried. But everything went very well,” pronounced Goude of the shoot. Khelfa admitted to feeling exactly the same. “I was a bit stressed beforehand but as soon as we were on set it was easy for me,” she confirms.
The pair first met back when Khelfa was a new Parisian transplant. At the age of 16, she had left her parents, who had moved to France from Algeria, and her eight siblings behind in Vénissieux for the capital. It was while working in the nightclub Les Bains-Douches that the striking model – with her slender 2m tall frame, full lips, and lion’s mane of black, curly hair – captured Goude’s attention. “Her features are what caught my eye,” he recounts. “She has everything that I thought was beautiful. The nose, especially. I was crazy about her. It was in the dark and she was this queen with all these servants around her. She was fascinating, and she still is fascinating.”
According to Khelfa, Goude was a rather shy person, which was what drew her to him initially. Goude ended up needing some courage to even speak to her in the club that first night. But it was what occurred at the end of the night, when Khelfa walked the illustrator to a waiting taxi, that sealed the deal on their future together. He turned to say goodnight and “you kissed me,” says Goude. “On the mouth,” adds a laughing Khelfa.
That first meeting left an indelible mark on Goude and the pair eventually moved in together when Khelfa turned 20. When he was commissioned by the late Tunisian designer Azzedine Alaïa for a perfume campaign job, Goude felt that it was only natural to turn to Khelfa for the project. “At this time we were the only Arabs in the fashion world,” explains Khelfa of her and Alaïa. From that first meeting, she and the designer became instant and lifelong friends – and it was the iconic collage photo that Goude created of an elongated Khelfa with her arms outstretched and holding a diminutive Alaïa that was posted all over social media when the designer passed away in 2017. “The images that Jean-Paul creates, they stay forever. They are not something that disappears,” affirms Khelfa.
She would go on to become the muse not just for Alaïa, but also Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, and Christian Louboutin, and, more recently, an ambassador for the House of Schiaparelli. She would also sit for other legendary photographers like Pierre et Gilles, Peter Lindbergh, and Helmut Newton. More recently, she has stepped behind the lens herself to become a documentary filmmaker.
As for Goude, besides his seminal work with Grace Jones, he organized the unforgettable parade down the Champs-Élysées in 1989 for the bicentennial of the French Revolution. He also created numerous advertising campaigns for Chanel over the past 30 years, such as the 1991 Coco for Chanel fragrance campaign featuring singer Vanessa Paradis swinging in a birdcage. Then there were the years of eye-catching images he crafted for the French department store Galeries Lafayette, not to mention when he “broke the internet” in 2014 with his cover shoot of Kim Kardashian “pouring” champagne into a coupe perfectly placed on her derrière for Paper magazine – a remake of a photo he took of Caroline Beaumont while he was a magazine art director in the 1970s. In the past decade he has masterminded a number of major exhibitions of his work around the globe with titles that are always a clever take on his surname. Last year he presented In Goude We Trust at the Palazzo Giureconsulti and So Far So Goude in 2016, both in Milan, while in 2012 he brought the retrospective Goudemalion to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, featuring the full-size train engine he used during the bicentennial parade.
While their paths have diverged over the years, the pair never lost touch and it is clear that their admiration for each other has only deepened. “I don’t see time go by in any case,” remarks Goude. “It feels like it was yesterday when we were first working together, that’s all. It’s just a continuation. I still admire Farida, she is my friend. I still want to photograph her,” he shares.
Khelfa was surprised by how fast and easy the cover shoot in Paris unfolded. Building on sketches Goude had created of two different and elaborate concepts, the duo moved rapidly to once again bring to life the illustrator’s imagination. For Khelfa, the ease of the shoot also has a lot to do with how much time has passed. “Today it is easier for me to let myself be photographed than back in the day. Back then, I was uncomfortable with myself. I couldn’t bear my face or my body, I hated every single part of me. It is always difficult to hear someone tell me that I am beautiful. But I can accept it today and I say thank you. So it was much easier this time to work with Jean-Paul,” she says.
Goude sees himself as an illustrator more than a photographer, considering that he likes to take liberties with the images he shoots to exaggerate proportions or concepts. So it should come as no surprise that for this cover he envisioned “my star” bringing to the arid Middle East something that the region is unfamiliar with. “It never rains or snows, so why wouldn’t Farida come back from Paris and bring rain and snow with her? It seems obvious to do, but it works really well. It is poetic,” says Goude. “We created a miracle together,” adds Khelfa.
Originally published in the October 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia.