Purple Magazine
— Purple #31 The Paris issue

eva ionesco

eva ionesco

interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
photography by BRETT LLOYD

at age five, she became the muse of her infamous mother.
at 11 she made her film debut in roman polanski’s
classic “the tenant” and posed for italian “playboy,”
at 13 she became queen of the paris nightlife scene

her films and books are a dive into her unique life
and a glamorous image
of paris, and now her son,
lukas, is releasing his first album

OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you write the screenplay for your new film, Une Jeunesse Dorée [A Golden Youth]? Was it after your romantic encounter with the writer Simon Liberati?
EVA IONESCO — I had written a first version of the film, which I had in mind would be about the days of Le Palace. But at that time, I still didn’t know if it was going to be an autobiography or not. I had read Simon Liberati’s 113 Études de Littérature Romantique [113 Studies of Romantic Literature]. I thought: “This is really good. I need to read his first book.” I read Anthology of Apparitions and thought: “This sounds a bit like me. It’s very good.” I recognized something of myself in this story about girls who lose themselves in the night. I got in touch with Simon and immediately suggested he write the screenplay with me. At first, he didn’t want to, but then we finally ended up working on it together. And we fell madly in love.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You worked on it after you fell in love?
EVA IONESCO — Before. After this screenplay, we fell in love and got married. But the film was a starting point.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you both did the writing, and the story evolved quite a lot because at the beginning you were focusing on the history of Le Palace and your relationship to Parisian clubs.
EVA IONESCO — I wanted to do something multiform, which partook of nightlife.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a fiction film, but you were still very inspired by your own experience, particularly concerning Le Palace. You go back to when you were a teenager, when you started going out, and Le Palace was a place for encounters and the mingling of social types.
EVA IONESCO — There were lots of different groups at Le Palace. The film does, in fact, reference that moment when I was going out, but in reality, when I started going out, I was much younger — I was 13 years old. I didn’t want the film to be about a girl that young. Her age isn’t defined, but she’s closer to 16.

OLIVIER ZAHM — The girl is young, though. And she’s exploring life.
EVA IONESCO — Yes, it’s her first time, her first love story.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s also the time of her first disillusionments and her encounter with perversity and adult sexuality.
EVA IONESCO — Yes, exactly. For her, the minute the one she loves, that young artist Michel, glances at another woman in the mirror, he has cheated on her. She arrives in that apartment, and there is already a woman’s odor. Lucile has been there, and she’s offered him money. He showed her his paintings. There was an exchange of money, of looks, etc. This adult world is inspired by several different personalities, people I knew at the time, a world that moved fluidly between Paris, New York, and Rome, people who could travel like that from city to city, with a certain nonchalance, people like Thadée Klossowski [de Rola], or like that great designer’s muse.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Innocence was already lost. The theme of innocence is important for you. The title of your first novel was Innocence. Is it so terrible for a teenager to lose her innocence?
EVA IONESCO — I don’t know if it’s such a tragedy. Something becomes perverted. Indeed, the book and the film both address this.

OLIVIER ZAHM — This goes back to your history with your mother, the photographer Irina Ionesco, who made you pose nude in front of her camera when you were still a child. You lost your innocence very early, seeing yourself in these erotic photographs?
EVA IONESCO — I didn’t see myself in them right away, but yes, you could say that. This very early loss of innocence is a part of me. My mother photographed me in the nude from age four to 12, after which she was stripped of maternal rights because of her photographs and the many complaints that had been filed against them, because of the way she treated me. She would put make-up on me when I was a child. I slept very little, didn’t go to school. She took erotic photographs of me and made me act in erotic films, of which I was the subject. It wasn’t just about the photos — her entire approach was abusive. Sometimes she would send me to other photographers. She’d say: “You’re going to see such and such a photographer. It’s not great, but you’re going anyway.” It was becoming very dangerous. I write about this in my book — when I’m talking about the photographer Jacques Bourboulon, for example, an assistant of David Hamilton. Then there was that pseudo-erotic film in Italy, and then Spermula. It’s an erotic science-fiction film, where some girls arrive from planet Mars to suck men’s dicks and drink their blood. It has a 1930s feel, a Mussoliniesque ambiance. That was the kind of movie my mother made me act in.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your mother took some very surprising photos of you, but she went too far. How do you make sense of this abuse?
EVA IONESCO — There was something very perverse about it. She knew she was doing something unique and that it would advance her career and earn her money, but she also knew that it was monstrous. She took on that role, assuming the consequences it would have on our relationship. She knew there was something poisonous about what she was doing that would tear her life apart later on.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Even though, at the time, there was a greater tolerance.
EVA IONESCO — It was already very contested at the time. Granted, it was a more tolerant moment, but not for photographs of women showing their vaginas, with very young children. There was never any tolerance for that. Even though the images are baroque, even if you think they are artistic, these photographs were very controversial. And as soon as something is controversial, there is a risk. She knew full well what she was doing when taking that risk.

OLIVIER ZAHM — The books she made with you were a huge success.
EVA IONESCO — Temple aux Miroirs [Temple of Mirrors], the book with Alain Robbe-Grillet, was successful. The photographs of me were successful because they were so scandalous.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, she lost her parental rights.
EVA IONESCO — She didn’t have custody anymore, and I was placed with the DDASS [the Departmental Directorate of Health and Social Affairs] for many years. The DDASS was hard. I was rejected, I ran away, I was moving from one center to another constantly. At that time, I had a boyfriend, Charles, whom I describe in the film. He was always there. When I was almost 16 years old, he obtained legal guardianship.

OLIVIER ZAHM — He replaced the disappeared father and the abusive mother.
EVA IONESCO — Exactly.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You were thrown into a world of adults, of nightlife, sex, and art very young — from the age of 12 or 13. And in one of the most liberal periods we’ve seen so far in terms of morals.
EVA IONESCO — Yes, but I was completely self-aware. I think there are moments in your life when all of a sudden you have some kind of total knowledge, full understanding, which you lose over time. You have this consciousness very young, and then it can come back. Memory makes us relive certain things through that prism. It’s a lost paradise.

OLIVIER ZAHM — There is certainly this motif of lost innocence, but there is also a quest for being madly in love. We also see this in your film My Little Princess. It seems to me that you’re saying that, in the end, you don’t think your mother loved you, or that she was jealous of you even though you were only a child. She was photographing you like an adult, like an attractive woman. As though there were a kind of mother/daughter rivalry at the bottom of everything.
EVA IONESCO — It’s complicated. I think that when my mother was making her creature — me — with her camera and her studio at home, she did this with a nagging fear that at some point her daughter, her creature, would surpass her, if only in size, in beauty, in blondness, in seduction. At first, she is small, completely under the influence, an innocent child. Then she grows up, becomes blonde, sensuous, while her mother grows old. What’s for sure is that I felt completely betrayed by my mother, as though she had dispossessed me of my virginity. It’s a pretty awful thing.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But you were able to turn this into a personal strength because it’s also what made you such a radiant young woman in the 1980s in Paris, and it became the psychic material of your inspiration.
EVA IONESCO — It wasn’t all my inspiration! In my book Innocence, I also talk about my father, who disappeared — I did research on him. His identity was concealed from me. He supposedly didn’t exist, was described to me as a terrible Nazi, etc. This search for the father, a “horrible” father, forms the thread of the story in my book. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — A father nowhere to be found.
EVA IONESCO — I ended up finding some things. He was Hungarian and enlisted in the Arrow Cross and then, at 18, in the Wehrmacht. Then he fled Germany. He came back to France and enlisted as a volunteer in the Foreign Legion, but I never knew what he did there because the Legion won’t say anything. After the Algerian War, he spent some time in Paris, and that’s where he met my mother, and I was born. After that, he disappeared again. I met him once when I was very small. I saw him very few times, four or five times at most, when I was a child. My mother hid his death from me. She led me to believe he was still alive, when he had, in fact, been dead for a long time.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you very angry at your mother for hiding your father’s death from you, and then just throwing it in your face?
EVA IONESCO — Yes, in a club in Ibiza. It was a great night! [Laughs] This invisible death was even harder for me. I was under the impression that my father was still there, when, in fact, there was nothing. At first, I didn’t want to believe that he was really dead. I didn’t have any immediate proof of his death. And he was a bit of a spy, he was in hiding. He was part of an esoteric group in Nuremberg, where he was practicing magic. His last wife was a mailwoman, and she told me that she spoke to him by making the letters move, telepathically, that he had powers, etc. My father was completely absent, but he was gifted with the capacity to be present without being present.

OLIVIER ZAHM — He’s like a fictional character who, in a certain way, leads you to literature because he is the subject of your first novel. Was writing a kind of therapy for you?
EVA IONESCO — I called upon all the moments when I had thought of my father. I tried to connect them to each other, to link all of these absences, these expectations. That was the thread of the book. I don’t know if it was therapeutic, but it was a good thing to do.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Since I’ve known you, you have really expanded your range through film, novels, writing. Are you still an actress?
EVA IONESCO — Yes.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your first real experience as an actress was with Roman Polanski.
EVA IONESCO — Yes, in The Tenant, I play the young girl who opens the door and who is also in the church.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You started out strong because it’s a really peculiar film. It’s very twisted. It may be the most troubling film Polanski made in terms of split identities, sex change, the passage through death, suicide.
EVA IONESCO — Isabelle Adjani was great. I remember her very well.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You also acted in Patrice Chéreau’s plays.
EVA IONESCO — First, I trained at Antoine Vitez’s school. I lived with Bruno, who was Christian Louboutin’s lover, on Avenue Paul-Doumer, and I was happy because it was so close to school. It was really interesting. After, I tried to enter the Conservatory, but I didn’t get in. Then I worked with Patrice Chéreau. We slept in Nanterre, in his theater, and squatted the dressing rooms.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have good memories of that time? That’s when theater in France was becoming a contemporary art form.
EVA IONESCO — Antoine Vitez taught me a lot. He spoke very well about Molière, Claudel, etc. I liked the way he talked to the actors to include them in the mise-en-scène or get them closer to what he was looking for in their characters. There was a great clarity to it. And there was a filial relationship to the text, which was brilliant. Vitez was really an interesting character — he wore a suit, always looked impeccable. Patrice Chéreau was much more hotheaded. He was less fond of discussing the essence of the play, its state of mind. Instead he focused on the choreographed elements, entrances, exits. There was a kind of modernity of the text that Vitez — who was more classical — didn’t have.

OLIVIER ZAHM — In some ways, you were already a star, a known figure in Paris, without having really acted. At such a young age, you were already being recognized for your mother’s photographs, but you were also seen as someone who goes out, who has a certain style, a liberated and scandalous life.
EVA IONESCO — I also continued to do fashion photography. I was model material! [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — You already had this sort of aura or recognition, which probably made things both easy and difficult for you all at once.
EVA IONESCO — Well, I did get a little bored in Vitez’s school. When I started there, I had already lived through quite a lot. It reassured me to do this, strangely — I wanted to be part of a company. I liked the idea of a company, a family. It wasn’t exactly the kind of family I wanted, but it was one, nonetheless.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But you knew you were different? Because when you look at the photos, it’s incredible. You have a very special kind of aura.
EVA IONESCO — Yes, I knew and still know that I am different. That’s why it’s complicated.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’ve achieved a certain balance today?
EVA IONESCO — Absolutely. I am much calmer now than I was then.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And you found love with Simon. It’s probably a tormented story, like all true love stories. This morning, I was reading Jane Birkin’s memoirs. It was interesting to discover that actually Serge Gainsbourg and she had incredible arguments in public. They’d slap each other, she burned him with a cigarette in a club, she jumped into the Seine so that he’d go after her.
EVA IONESCO — Ah, so it was violent between Jane and Serge…

OLIVIER ZAHM — There is no love story without conflict, but you found love?
EVA IONESCO — Yes. But we fight a lot, too!

OLIVIER ZAHM — What is your idea of love and happiness? Did you dream about this as a young woman? Because you didn’t have a precedent for it in your family life.
EVA IONESCO — No. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t especially believe in love. I was married, I got divorced. I had my son Lukas. I didn’t really care about anyone. This could have gone on for years. And then: I met Simon. What I like the most, maybe, is that we can work together. I also like giving my son opportunities to act. I really love these family relations — they feel good to me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your son, Lukas, is extremely charming on screen.
EVA IONESCO — Yes, he’s handsome! He has a certain poise. He looks a bit like he’s from another time. He has a very particular physique. And he is himself on screen. He is convincing without overdoing it, without acting too much.

OLIVIER ZAHM — He’s been on the Parisian scene like you were, when you were 12 or 15. He played in a Larry Clark film five years ago.
EVA IONESCO — We’re very close. I like working with him. He played in my first film, My Little Princess, which came out seven years ago.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s talk about the 1980s. In your film, you call them “those horrible years.”
EVA IONESCO — The journalist Alain Pacadis said that: “We’re finally going to enter those horrible 1980s!” At a certain point, there were lots of people working in advertising, in PR. It was a strong field at the time, much more than it is now. There was this notion that you could be corrupted. We weren’t a bunch of intellectuals or artists. We were mostly people who dressed up! There was a kind of grace of the present moment, with this group I was part of — with Vincent Darré, Christian Louboutin, Pierre and Gilles, Alain Pacadis, Paquita Paquin, Francis d’Orléans… Some were writers, others designed clothes or took photographs. Philippe Morillon, Simon Bocanegra made beautiful photos. Simon died. He hung himself. It got weird in the end. He made good photos of transvestites in New York.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I published pretty gay black-and-white photos of guys, with interesting lighting. So, you were really aware of the time and period, aware that you embodied that moment and its frivolity or its craziness, and that it could be co-opted by advertising, by fashion?
EVA IONESCO — Yes, and it was terrible. We didn’t like those people. We were stuck in a strange kind of aristocratic thing. We had a collective group awareness. It was important to keep people out of our group and our stories. Charles, my boyfriend, didn’t want to show his paintings because he felt that if he showed them to the wrong person, it would all be over, it would ruin his soul. He made music, but no one was supposed to know about it. Thadée [Klossowski de Rola] wrote but didn’t show his writing to anyone. He might have even torn up his texts.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Wasn’t it also about an overwhelming ambition? It’s the opposite of today: whenever a young artist makes something, they think it’s amazing, even though they haven’t really done anything. Wasn’t it the opposite for you? About an ambition to succeed or an artistic ambition that was a bit excessive, and the fear of its confrontation with reality?
EVA IONESCO — Yes, that was part of it. When I met Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York, I had that feeling, too. For me, what was most frightening was this feeling that advertising and PR were co-opting everything immediately. Taking good clothes and spoiling them. They’d be in bad runway shows, become bad looks, bad ideas. They were twisted and became vulgar. We were arrogant. We didn’t want to be co-opted by the system.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s talk about clothes. You’ve always loved clothes. Where did this taste for style come from, and how would you define your style?
EVA IONESCO — I always loved clothes. I’d go to the Puces [a large flea market] in Paris, and I found the store Biba, a temple of clothes, in London. Biba was extraordinary: there were magnificent things there — evening outfits that looked like silk pajamas, that “cheap and chic” look, that salvaged look, kimonos, afternoon negligées. But there was also wallpaper, food, celebrities, beautiful furniture, faceted mirrors, caryatids. Everyone was beautiful. There were lots of feathers, lots of purple, lots of things that came straight out of 1930s iconography. That New York Dolls thing, but chic, feminine. There was a theatrical, drag look, but well tailored, and it looked good, it was high-waisted. It was new, completely repurposed, but new.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You took the train just for that?
EVA IONESCO — Yes. We’d go shopping at Biba. We stole tons of things. I think the store folded because everyone stole things. We’d leave there with bags full of feathers.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What about the Puces in Paris?
EVA IONESCO — The Puces mostly had ’50s clothes that I liked. Because you wear clothes that look good on you. If Jane Birkin created a Jane Birkin style, that’s because it fit her well — those really tight things, the miniskirt, the low-rise. It’s made for her, it fits her well.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You shared this love of fashion with your friends.
EVA IONESCO — Christian Louboutin and Vincent Darré… We went bargain-hunting often.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You were broke.
EVA IONESCO — Yes, but we still found lots of pieces. Saint Laurent, of course, but also Dior, Balenciaga. We were broke, but we wore beautiful clothes.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you go to the runway shows?
EVA IONESCO — Yes, of course. We went to the Mugler show, the Saint Laurent show. We knew people who could get us in.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And they all went to Le Palace, too.
EVA IONESCO — Yes, they would get us in. Alain Pacadis did a lot of runway shows. We’d steal his invites or follow him in — it wasn’t that hard.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, it wasn’t an industry the way it is now. How do you think fashion, the fashion milieu, has changed today? What I mean to say, in relation to those terrible 1980s — which I also lived through — is that they were rather charming in hindsight, given what is happening in fashion today. All the people who are still here, still making fashion in Paris, they are extremely kind people, very open, with a curiosity that is disappearing today.
EVA IONESCO — It’s hard to say.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But you must see that the craziest, funniest people are still your group.
EVA IONESCO — Well, as it happens, I can’t answer that because I don’t really see the others anymore. You see far more people than I do through your work.

OLIVIER ZAHM — In any case, when I think about the ’80s, I feel like they are much more charming than the world we live in now. There was a real pleasure in being together. Parties today are harsher, acerbic, violent. You’re a prisoner to your own ego.
EVA IONESCO — It’s true that then our group was sort of easygoing. But we were also mean. We were coming out of the punk period, things were black and white, we did a lot of heroin. Everyone said the worst things about everyone else just for a laugh. That’s what we did to light up the evening.

OLIVIER ZAHM — The ’80s were also less ruthless than today in terms of competition. It might be hard to tell, but we’re in a very competitive milieu today. Everything is very calculated. Innocence has really been lost.
EVA IONESCO — It’s true that in the ’70s and ’80s, if you wanted to find money for your project, you simply went to an opening and said: “We’re going to do it — it’s going to be great. I have a project. Follow me.” Like a poetic ballad, it entered the realm of possibility.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What I meant about Lukas was that he was in the same situation as you, when you were young. He was a light in the night, very graceful, blonde, young. He has that same charm you have. Because you are so close, it’s interesting to see that your son is connected to a generation that, compared to what I think you experienced, is much harsher. I don’t know if he would describe it like that to you. Maybe he’s above all of that. Maybe he’s still innocent himself.
EVA IONESCO — I don’t know. He makes music. He’s a good actor. He lives with me every now and then. I’d like to work with him again — that’s for sure.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you think about Paris today?
EVA IONESCO — You can’t work in Paris. There’s far too much noise. In Paris, you’re two people, crammed into a 700-square-foot apartment. There are clothes everywhere, dogs barking downstairs. In Paris, you run one errand, and then what’s left of the day? You have to lock yourself up to work. I live with Simon in a country house he bought one hour outside of Paris, where we shot the photographs for your magazine. He has his own floor, and I have mine. It’s next to an 11th-century abbey. It’s very pretty. My office looks onto the abbey. The view is splendid. It’s very romantic, very beautiful.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How would you define your personality?
EVA IONESCO — Polymorphous perversity! That’s what my psychiatrist says. I used to tell him I was schizophrenic, and he replied, “No, you just have polymorphous perversity.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — You have a taste for seduction, that’s for sure. You’re always performing.
EVA IONESCO — Yes.

OLIVIER ZAHM — At the same time, you are often guarded.
EVA IONESCO — That’s my decisive, harsh personality. I say what I think.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s your artistic nature. You don’t compromise. You have a taste for the baroque, for the multiplicity of truth, which can sometimes be a bit magical, mysterious. You’re not afraid of remaining within the realm of fiction. You don’t need to anchor yourself in raw reality to let us know that what you’re saying is true.
EVA IONESCO — In any case, when I write, I aim for a kind of truth. And you’re right — truth isn’t necessarily anchored in reality. But you never know when and how it will emerge from you.

END

Delphine Danhier, style — Louis Ghewy at MANAGEMENT+ARTISTS using HAIR BY SAM MCKNIGHT, hair — Karin Westerlund at ARTLIST using M.A.C COSMETICS, make-up — Willy Cuylits, photographer’s assistant — Céline Duong, stylist’s assistant — Eva Ionesco and Lukas Ionesco, talents

[Table of contents]

Purple #31 The Paris issue

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