Colette in the Belle Epoque

Colette, The Captive. Design by Mervyn Kurlansky (Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes) 1970. Engraving by A. Florent from ‘Le Salon de la Mode 1902. Reproduced by permission of Mary Evans Picture Library

Colette was a society beauty in the 1890s and wrote the Claudine series of novels about a young girl’s growth to maturity. They were hugely popular for many years but, incredibly, they were published under her husband’s name and he received the royalties. This caused Colette much hardship but she continued as a writer and was eventually nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1948. I guess that counts as getting the last laugh.

The covers of these Penguins show engravings from late 19th century magazines or fashion catalogues. They are tinted in mostly warm tones and set in a decorative border that evokes the Art Nouveau designs of Hector Guimard. The Colette designs capture the flavour of Belle Epoque Paris with great simplicity.

Le Moniteur de la Mode 1888
Le Moniteur de la Mode 1888

The covers, from 1972,  are credited to Crosby Fletcher Forbes, then a leading design studio in London. It expanded to become Pentagram in the same year and is now the “world’s largest independent design agency.”  The partnership had a long connection to Penguin.

This series is typical of the stylish and polished aesthetic that prevailed under Penguin’s art director in the 1970s, David Pelham. 

colette-6 ……colette-7


colette-4       colette-9 …….

colette-12  ////colette-8 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s