Femina Magazine

black and white image of front cover of Femina magazine from 1906

'The perfect review for women and girls’

Marta Franceschini (abre numa nova janela) (European Fashion Heritage Association)

Subtitled ‘The perfect review for women and girls’, Femina was an illustrated magazine created on 1 February 1901 by Pierre Lafitte which took its name from the Latin word femina, meaning ‘woman’.

Femina was the first French magazine targeting a female audience, consisting mainly of readers belonging to the middle class. The support of early-20th century Parisian fashion was central for the magazine, advertised through the pages as the most fashionable option for intelligent and refined women caring about their appearance.

black and white page from Femina magazine featuring illustration of two women wearing elaborately detailed evening coats

The illustrations represented the main attraction of the magazine.

In May 1903, the Femina edition titled 'Women Artists at the 1903 Salon' dedicated three pages to the illustrations of Louise Abbéma, Louise Catherine Breslau, Camille Claudel, Maximilienne Guyon Louise Clément-Carpeaux, Laure Coutan-Montorgueil and Juana Romani. After a few years, the magazine cover, which had previously been mostly a reproduction of a photograph, started to be accompanied by a cartoon illustration in bi-chroma.

black and white page from Femina magazine which features a full-length portrait of a model wearing a dress

Anne R. Epstein, in her review of the book by Colette Cosnier, The Ladies of Femina, described a mystified feminism in the editorial direction of the magazine.

Indeed, Femina was not born to be a feminist magazine but rather a woman’s magazine. The editorial strategy of Pierre Lafitte, the publishing director, was inspired by The Ladies’ Magazine, a successful English publication.

black and white image of a page from Femina which shows a photograph portrait of Queen Ranavalo

Lafitte envisioned a luxury magazine dealing with fashion trends, society and family. However, feminist topics of the time – including the claims of the suffragettes in England and the acquisition of voting right by the Danish women – were treated and discussed in the journal. Moreover, Lafitte used to give great prominence to leisure and sports practised by women and, from 1906, he launched The Femina Cup, a golfing competition.

In 1909, the French Academy raised the question of the election of female members: immediately Femina asked its readers to elect 40 writers, to fill an imaginary female academy and published on a double-page an illustration showing the 40 elected seats in the institution’s dome.

black and white page from Le Nouveau Femina magazine which features a model wearing a fur coat
colour front cover of 'nouveau femina' magazine featuring a model in a cream-coloured outfit, she holds a flower behind her back

After being suspended in 1917, Pierre Lafitte sold the journal to Hachette; the publishing house then merged Femina with another magazine called The Happy Life.

Building on the success of the name, in the 1950s another magazine started being published: the first number of Nouveau Femina came out in 1954, presenting the spring collections and marking the reopening of the maison Chanel with a piece by Jean Cocteau.