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How Malcolm McLaren’s Paris album came to be

One of my favorite projects in my decades long career, was the making of Malcolm McLaren’s cult album Paris.

Françoise Hardy, Catherine Deneuve, Malcolm McLaren, Amina. Photo © Jean-Babtiste Mondino. 1993

Paris was released thirty years ago. This beautiful soundscape of the city Malcolm loved, featured the voices of none other than Françoise Hardy, Catherine Deneuve, Amina, Sonia Rykiel and Loulou de la Falaise. To celebrate this anniversary and to coincide with the Paris Olympics, Sony Music Legacy is re-releasing it for the first time as a double-vinyl album and online. Music journalist Francis Dordor covers the story of the making of this album in an extensive and well-informed piece for the music and pop culture magazine Les Inrockuptibles. You can read the piece in French and English by clicking here.

Very sadly, on the same week as the release of this album, Françoise Hardy passed away after a long illness. Her track Revenge of the Flowers is powerful in its quiet mournful tone. R.I.P Françoise.

There are many urban legends about how the album was made and a few people claiming to have been involved in the conception of it or are behind the inspiration for certain tracks. With this post I will set the record straight.

Eugenia Melian & Malcolm Mclaren on set for the Round the Outside album press pictures.
Los Angeles 1991

I was living and working with Malcolm in LA. It was 1991 when, after the first of our many breakups, I decided to go back to Paris to focus on my career as an artists’ agent. After seeing a collection of unique old commercials on a tv screen at a niche exhibition in the Centre Pompidou called Art & Pub, I searched for and found the archive that owned such treasures; it was the National Commercials Archive or CNAP. Coincidentally CNAP was providing the content for the famous Nuit de la Pub evenings, or The Night Of Advertising, a fun, boisterous, once-a-year event in Paris that I never missed where a huge audience gathered at a movie house Rocky Horror Show style and watched 8 hours of uninterrupted commercials from all over the world, old and new. The audience participated, repeating the lines by heart, throwing rolls of toilet paper at the screen, booing or clapping. I thought it would be a great idea to try to bring the concept to New York and so I worked on spec at the CNAP for a few months, screening these treasures for hours a day and putting together a selection of reels that I could show to the heads of programing at MOMA, The French Cultural Attaché to the US, the French Embassy etc

Malcolm and I made up and we moved to London. After telling him in great detail about the unique commercials I was looking at, commercials written directed and acted by existentialists and surrealists, featuring other artists such as Salvador Dali and Serge Gainsbourg, Malcolm pitched the idea of making a TV show around the commercials, and his friend, the visionary Alan Yentob, then head of BBC2, got on board.

Salvador Dali for Lanvin chocolates 1969

In 1991 I moved to Paris again and researched and developed the content for our series which was to be called These Are The Breaks over the course of 14 months. At the fantastic public library inside the Pompidou museum I hunted down books and biographies on Existentialism, the Caves of Saint Germain, Jaques Prevert, Boris Vian, the Pére Lachaise cemetery, the Groupe Octobre, French pop culture and counter culture, it was endless. I was not sure what I was looking for but the films we had taken place between 1889 and the early 1990’s and referenced the culture and lifestyle of the period and its social movements. I needed back story and context.

From over one thousand commercials I viewed, I was able to narrow down the selection to a couple of hundred. Enough for a snappy 6-part tv series that was to be narrated and presented by Malcolm.

After filming These Are The Breaks in July 1992, with a BBC director that was not suited for the project, the series was binned by Malcolm. In the meantime, I had met two beautiful Black models in Paris who wanted to meet Malcolm and sing and so the music project Paris Blacks was born. Maggie Bond and Dominique Figaro were from Senegal and the Dominican Republic and Malcolm was inspired by the idea of forming an all Black girl’s band which would play into the diversity and the multicultural aspects of Paris… Afro French, creole, Afro Americans…the possibilities were exciting, but after a few demos which failed to meet the standards, we gave up on the project. Nevertheless we had that precious material on Paris that had inspired and motivated us for those two years, and I did not want to waste it so I convinced Malcolm to do an album, his own album, an album about Paris.

In September 1992 Malcolm and I prepared our proposal with specific and concrete material and fully developed ideas. And we started pitching. In January 1993, the Paris album was officially green-lit after Fabrice Nataf then head of Disques Vogue came on board provided we could involve five big French names.

Automatically I became the producer and creative director, using all my contacts and the knowledge I had of the city I had already lived and worked in for many years. As per Malcolm, I was legally not given a producer’s credit because Disques Vogue only allowed three music producers on their contract: Malcolm, Robin Millar, an important music producer known for Sade’s hit album Diamond Life, and Malcolm’s arranger and composer Lee Gorman. So be it. I had no choice, after two years I was already so far into the project, that to step away or hand over all my work for free would have been insanity.

P.S I did get an opening line thank you on the back of the sleeve and my contribution to the project was acknowledged many times in the interviews that Malcolm did subsequently whilst promoting the album.

My priority was getting the five big names involved, so I aimed at the top: who was France’s biggest actress? Catherine Deneuve! France’s iconic pop music artist from the 60’s and 70’s? Françoise Hardy, queen of ye-ye! And the enigmatic singer, Beat girl, poet of the existentialists and face of bohemian society? Juliette Greco! and why not the Queen of the Nouvelle Vague Jeanne Moreau? plus as a reference to the musics of the French African colonies, I chose the young French Tunisian pop singer Amina Annabi who the year before had come in second at the Eurovision music contest, representing France. Fabrice at Disques Vogue was excited and with his blessing and the help of my patient but forceful right hand Rita Dagher, we started to contact them.

Most urgently I had to find a writing and recording studio for preproduction, where Malcolm could write lyrics, lay down musical ideas and record the demos to give to each one of the ladies and to Robin Millar before he could come over from London to record them. I had an old friend, Frederic Bouveron who had a crumbly basement studio in a beautiful hôtel particulier on the rue de Tournon where he lived with his brothers and where I used to party in the 80’s. Fred loved Malcolm’s work from the days of Duck Rock and Madam Butterfly so he came on board as engineer and we worked from his studio. From London we brought in Lee Gorman, arranger, composer and producer, to work with Fred plus a contact of Fred’s, Didier Makaga, an excellent artist, composer and musician from the Reunion island, whilst Robin Millar also prepped in London. The Paris album had officially started. It was January 1993 and the work would continue until the middle of the next year. One wall of the studio became The Wall. Malcolm’s mood board where everyday he updated the lyrics and photographs of each song and singer.

Malcolm was very thorough while he decided what was to be in the album and we used to walk all over the city with our Walkmans, getting sounds and musical ideas and looking at the places featured in the research from These Are The Breaks. We combed Pigalle for La Main Parisienne and listened to Raï music from Algeria for Club le Narcisse, sat on Jim Morrison’s and Edith Piaf’s graves at Pére Lachaise for the song Pére Lachaise, roamed Saint Germain des Prés where the caves used to be, the Café de Flore where Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir wrote every day, Montmartre, Buttes Chaumont, Clichy, the famous Tati department store in Belleville, the artists’ ateliers of Montparnasse…we went everywhere, and Malcolm’s insatiable curiosity and energy paid off as he would come home at the end of a long day, notebook brimming with single words, impressions, thoughts, that he then converted into flowing prose and beautiful lyrics while the melancholic melodies of Eric Satie and Claude Debussy played in the background.

Twenty five years later I would use many of these textures, city stories and French findings whilst writing my novel Wildchilds. The city of Paris gives you all this, and much much more. You just have to know how to look.

Malcolm McLaren strolling by the Jardins de Luxembourg. Photo © Morgan Schmid 1993

Stripping on the catwalks on those tiny dimly lit clubs
Girls who turn from time to time into animals
And then back into animal girls
Drinking at the well of their true desires
.

Lyrics by Malcolm Mclaren for Club Le Narcisse.

It was a full sensorial experience and we even had meals at the same bistrots and cafés where many of these Parisian events took place or artists used to meet at. I still have and treasure those notebooks, they bring me much joy, but also sadness because Malcolm is no longer on this earth.

Then the nightmares began. I can laugh now, but when you put so many divas in the same room you can be sure to get the fireworks.

When we sat down with Jeanne Moreau in her living room it was me who was star-struck, even though I had already exchanged a few phone calls with her directly. Sitting on the sofa in front of me was the legend, the spunky odd beauty with the raspy smoky voice whom Orson Welles had called the ‘best actress in the world.‘ Jeanne and Malcolm chatted amicably, her english was impeccable. Malcolm was writing a song called Paris Paris for her. Then she asked us who else was on the album. When she heard that we had approached Greco, “Oh, that lesbian?” Jeanne said, but when Malcolm told her that we were also approaching Françoise Hardy and Catherine Deneuve, her face became stony and hard. She lit another cigarette and blew the smoke out slowly saying: “It’s either ME, or them,” and the meeting ended there. Jeanne practically pushed us to her door…au revoir. Mortified, her agent Tony Krantz who I had become friends with, invented an excuse that Jeanne was not available and her agenda was full. Much later, in November when we had nearly finished the recordings, I tried again, pitching to her Malcolm’s idea of me conducting a 15-minute interview with her in French, that we could use in the album. Jeanne replied “NON, too busy.” Only later did we find out that she was in rehab…In January 1994 Tony Krantz contacted me to say that Jeanne was now free and really wanted to be on the album. It was too late. The team was already back in London working on the mixes. What a shame.

Malcolm decided to give Paris Paris to Catherine Deneuve.

Jeanne Moreau

To contact Catherine Deneuve I went to her mega-agent Bertrand de Labbey founder of Artmedia, the first and most powerful talent agency in Europe. I called Bertrand directly, and he was charming, always available and helpful and did not think that the idea of coupling his biggest client Deneuve with the man responsible for punk was risky. Incidentally the very successful french tv series Call My Agent is based on Bertrand! Bertrand did not speak any english so the process was painstakingly long because I had to translate all of Malcolm’s faxes with pitches and lyrics into French for Bertrand and then back again into English for Malcolm, and this for months.

I had shown Malcolm where Deneuve lived on the Place Saint Sulpice because in the early 80s I had worked at a boutique right next to her building and would see her walking around the place every day. Malcolm decided that it would be brilliant to talk to her in person in order to speed up things and stalked her from a corner table at the Café de la Mairie for days until he was able to run over to her on the square, introduce himself and hand over the demo of what would become her song Paris Paris. The unflappable Deneuve was terrified because she thought that she was being mugged. It was not a good start.

Catherine Deneuve by David Bailey 1969

We met with the ‘Muse of Existentialism’ Juliette Greco at her favorite bar inside the Lutetia Hotel. Bemused, Juliette had agreed to the meeting because her agent was a big fan of Malcolm’s work. Malcolm had been inspired by the french existentialists since his days at art school in London. A lot of that angst plus Situationism was present in Malcolm’s approach to the Sex Pistols music and attitude. It was dark in the bar, Juliette wore black and smoked, not uttering a word. Malcolm, intimidated and shy, smoked and did not open his mouth either so I was left to do all the talking, selling our project and raving about her. It was a nightmare. Juliette left the bar with the promise that she would listen to the demo and read the lyrics…and why not? maybe be part of Paris.

Juliette Gréco and Miles Davis at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, May 1949. © Jean-Philippe Charbonnier/Gamma-Rapho

Françoise Hardy was a difficult get. She was living a reclusive life away from the spotlight and had not had an album out in many years. As a teenager Malcolm had been inspired by Hardy’s music and frequented Café Macabre and other French-themed clubs and cafes in London’s Soho. We had to get her onboard at any cost. One of my closest friends in Paris was the notorious party girl and ex call-girl Susi Wyss. Susi was a very close friend of Françoise and her husband, music artist, composer and actor Jaques Dutronc, so I begged Susi to help me get an audience with Françoise. Stern and opinionated, Françoise told Susi that she hated punk and did not particularly like the disruptive personae of McLaren. After a meeting at her house for a first pitch, I sent Malcolm with the very respectable and charming producer Robin Millar to plead our cause. After that meeting she did not say non, but did not say oui either. Françoise wanted to wait until she had the demo and lyrics. Her song would be Revenge of the Flowers, based on Emile Zola’s 1885 novel The Demise of Father Mouret where Albine, an innocent country girl takes her own life by poisoning herself with the fumes of a thousand flowers. Françoise loved the idea.

Françoise Hardy 1965

Getting the wonderful French-Tunisian singer Amina Annabi was the easiest because Amina loved the idea of a collaboration with the legendary Malcolm McLaren of the Duck Rock and Fans albums. Amina came on board immediately, was charming, fun and bubbly and introduced Malcolm to her very good friend and collaborator Wasis Diop, an excellent composer and singer from Senegal specialized in jazz, Afro-pop and West African music. Wasis came on board as guest artist and his gravelly voice stands out on tracks such as Amina’s La Main Parisienne, Deneuve’s Paris Paris, Gainsbourg’s revisited Je T’aime Moi Non Plus and Anthem. Wasis also contributed to putting together unique but unknown artists from West Africa to sing backing vocals or play instruments. I visited the writing studio every evening and most times the tiny space would be filled with the smoke of many joints and piles of empty pizza boxes as these passionate men worked through the night until dawn on numerous takes.

Wasis Diop and musicians at the recording studio. Photo © Morgan Schmid 1993
Musicians at Frederic Bouveron’s studio. Photos © Morgan Schmid 1993
Wasis Diop and a musician recording at Frederic Bouveron’s studio. Photo © Morgan Schmid 1993
Didier Makaga on the studio floor. Photo © Morgan Schmid 1993

Finally recording was set for the month of July 1993 and in June we were still not ready, it was chaos of course as I could not confirm recording studios nor a date for Robin Millar’s Paris trip. Catherine Deneuve hated her lyrics because they were “filthy” as per her agent, written in French by a friend of Fred Bouveron and thus Malcolm had not paid much attention to their meaning so Bertrand forced us to work with lyrics written by a composer and song-writer that he represented, David McNeil, son of Marc Chagall. After massive problems because the new lyrics did not fit the original song written by Malcolm, a mad scramble to fix the song ensued. On july 12 Deneuve quit and we were offered to work with Isabelle Adjani or Fanny Ardant instead.

For Juliette Greco, Malcolm had made a stunning demo where she was to sing about her passionate love affair with Miles Davis which had started in 1949. It was a hauntingly emotional piece but Juliette “hated” the song and pulled out of the project completely. Her agent told me that she refused to sing or talk about her love story with Miles which, unbeknown to Malcolm, had ended so badly. This song, Jazz is Paris, remains my all time favorite on the album and I was desperate to not let it go.

Miles and Miles of Miles Davis from Jazz is Paris, on The Wall. Photo © Morgan Schmid 1993

Jeanne Moreau was still “too busy”. Charlotte Gainsbourg refused to be part of Malcolm’s version of “Je T’aime…Moi Non Plus” a 1967 best-selling song banned in many countries due to its strong sexual content, sang by her mother Jane Birkin and composed by her dad Serge. So I went looking for Vanessa Paradis, the huge pop singer with the breezy baby-like voice as a perfect replacement. Françoise Hardy said nothing, but agreed to record her song. The only one who was thrilled with her demo was Amina.

Two weeks after the nightmare that was the first week of july, on the 21st, Deneuve said yes. Again. I was trying to secure and confirm the proper high-end recording studios such as Studio Marcadet and Studio Michel Berger, as well as top musicians and engineers to record Françoise, Catherine and Amina in a fitting environment. Robin Millar was on standby to arrive in Paris and we had no one to sing Greco’s song about Miles Davis. Listening to the the demo of Jazz is Paris with Malcolm’s vocal guide, we all decided that it sounded beautiful and Malcolm should sing it himself. I had to convince Malcolm who flatly refused until I badgered him so much that he gave in. Since the lyrics were written from the POV of a woman, i needed to find a special female voice to narrate a few lines in order to revert the POV back to what Greco would have said, so I thought of Loulou de la Falaise, the ultimate IT girl, Left Bank bohemienne and muse of Yves Saint Laurent. In 1980 I had done an internship at the press offices of Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture and I remembered her with fondness, an exotic beauty with the perfect English enunciation. I was still in touch with head of press at the Haute Couture and she put me in touch with Loulou. Loulou was amused, and agreed.

I give you kisses
in all the secret places
Miles and miles of Miles
Your profile like an Egyptian queen
The best looking man I’ve ever seen.

Loulou de la Falaise on Jazz is Paris

I never managed to find Vanessa Paradis. She went M.I.A on us. We must have scared her.

Malcolm Mclaren singing. Photo © Morgan Schmid 1993
Loulou de la Falaise recording Jazz is Paris. Photo © Morgan Schmid 1993

The recording sessions went well. Deneuve was shaking because she was so nervous and did not know how to sing. Loulou was very quiet and shy too, as was Malcolm, who was intimated by Deneuve and Françoise and unusually withdrawn. For the recording sessions our team had managed to hire some extraordinary musicians such as Sir Guy Barker who plays the sexy trumpet on Jazz is Paris, or the incredible Luis Jardim who plays percussions on Paris Paris, Jazz is Paris and Pére Lachaise, and also guitarist Babik Reinhardt, son of the Django Reinhardt, one of Europe’s top jazz musicians and legend. In order to bring a bit of lightness to the tense studio days, I hired Susi Wyss’s son Morgan Schmidt to shoot the behind the scenes during some of the writing sessions and during Françoise’s recording session. Morgan had known Françoise since he was born.

Françoise Hardy recording Revenge of the Flowers. Photo © Morgan Schmid 1993
Amina at Marcadet studios recording La Main Parisienne. Photo © Morgan Schmid 1993
Our girl’s choir with Malcolm Mclaren recording Club le Narcisse. Photo © Morgan Schmid 1993
Malcolm Mclaren, Robin Millar and Jock Loveband at Studio Michel Berger. Photo © Morgan Schmid 1993
Eugenia Melian at Studio Marcadet. Paris album. Photo © Morgan Schmid 1993
Malcolm Mclaren and Françoise Hardy at Studio Marcadet. Paris Album. Photo © Morgan Schmid 1993
Malcolm Mclaren in the mixing studio. Paris album. Photo © Morgan Schmid 1993

After the recordings in July, Robin Millar returned to London to mix and Malcolm worked with his team in Paris, but we ran out of budget for a few weeks and had to pause the whole production. Another massive headache because we started to lose talent.

After Françoise Hardy received her final mixed song she thought it was awful and wanted it binned. We were destroyed. After 48 hours she came back to Fabrice at Disques Vogue and told him she now liked it, a lot. Go figure. Her song was specially moving because she sang about the young Albine and her suicide by asphyxiation of flowers. Musically it had a thick dense sound, Phil Spector-ish, like a toxic fume enveloping your senses, the poisonous vapors from the flowers that caused Albine’s death. Françoise’s voice was haunting.

A thousand hungry flowers
Loving you for hours and hours
Soon smothers me so tenderly
.

Françoise Hardy on Revenge of the Flowers.

I cannot remember how fashion designer Sonia Rykiel ended on the album after we had nearly wrapped the project because I have my production files in storage, but I do remember her daughter Nathalie calling me to say that her mother was mad at us for not being included, and I agreed! after all Sonia Rykiel was the epitome of the Parisienne to the point that she even had a club sandwich named after her at the famous Café de Flore where she had her lunch every day, same table at the back, on the first floor. Nathalie was thrilled that we halted the presses to include her mother. We recorded the song Who The Hell Is Sonia Rykiel in January 1994. In the song Malcolm ad-libs throughout, while Sonia very diligently does her best to keep to the beat, and actually sings! it was a heartfelt collaboration that felt spontaneous and fun. Malcolm had always been passionate about fashion and very much involved since the days of his famous London shops on the King’s Road, in the 1970’s, so it felt natural to us that the legendary and very Parisian fashion designer Sonia Rykiel be part of Paris.

Sonia Rykiel by Andy Warhol. 1986. Image by © Andy Warhol Foundation/Corbis

When we finally had a release date for the finished album: May 1994, we had to start planning the press and promotion with the department at Disques Vogue. The fantastic Jean-Babtiste Mondino was hired to shoot the cover with the black and white close-ups of the ladies. Catherine Deneuve’s video (below) was directed and shot by her ex husband David Bailey and featured Catherine, Malcolm, Wasis Diop and Maggie Bond. However, not understanding why the father of punk would become a crooner and sing about love and Paris, the European press mostly dissed it saying that it was kitsch and forgettable. As usual Malcolm was ahead of his time. Some magazines, mainly abroad, raved over it and in Poland it became a best-selling album.

Malcolm Mclaren by Jean-Babtiste Mondino. Paris album 1994
Catherine Deneuve and Malcolm Mclaren in the Paris Paris video directed by David Bailey. 1994. Watch on Youtube.

Malcolm could not find a label to distribute Paris in the US so he turned to his friends Jon Baker and Ziggi Golden, founders of the edgy UK label Gee Street Records which in the 90s were in a joint venture with Island/PolyGram. PolyGram US did not know how to promote Malcolm because he was not a musician so Ziggi at Gee Street took over the marketing and linked the release of Paris in the US to a big fashion bash in New York in the fall of 1996. For this we pulled all our strings and brought in another one of Malcolm’s closest friends, James Truman, then Editorial Director at Condé Nast Publications, and our dear friend Joan Juliet Buck, Editor in Chief at Vogue France. Together we produced the massive party at the Ukranian Institute. Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Hardy and performer Blanca Li were flown in, as well as Josette Kalifa, a wonderful street singer that I knew from Paris who sang at the party. Five hundred guests came: media, the supermodels, people in the arts, fashion and the New York subculture, downtown meets uptown, everyone turned out en masse to celebrate Malcolm.

I asked my artist David lachapelle to shoot the flyer and my other artist, choreographer Blanca Li, to be in it. It was a special photograph. Three massive talents from my agency, Malcolm, David and Blanca, together in the same shot.

Malcolm Mclaren and Blanca Li by David Lachapelle. Invitation to the US Paris album release.
New York 1996

The Paris album now has many fans, old and young, its success and iconic stature growing slowly but steadily, becoming a reference for the moods of the city of love, the perfect soundscape, the essential playlist. Malcolm described Paris to Haidee Findlay-Levin in ACNE Paper: “Getting lost and looking for sex, for love, opportunity…of someone trying to find himself, trying to find Paris. I tried to create what was ultimately a map, a musical map of Paris.”

To this day the song Paris Paris is still being used by designers on the catwalk… Valentino, Miu Miu, Dior.

Thank you Young Kim from The Estate of Malcolm Mclaren for always protecting Malcolm’s vast and important legacy and Morgan Schmid for the beautiful and essential photographs.

Eugenia Melian. July 2024



6 responses to “How Malcolm McLaren’s Paris album came to be”

  1. Chloe says:

    Read the all arricle on the train on my way to Bologna. Such a vibrant trip!

  2. Steve E says:

    E..incredible ..what a life you live …i love it ..thank you for taking such great care of our beautiful man there

    Ho[e to see you soon

    Much love & hope your projects are moving in the right direction Steve x

  3. Paul Matrtin Smith says:

    BRILLANT!!!!!!!

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