CR Muse: Annabel Buffet, More Than a Wife


This is CR Muse, a series dedicated to the remembrance of important artists and idea-makers from our past who have shaped culture as we know it today. From traditional creators to those of conceptual thought, we celebrate these women known not only for their work but their confident, eccentric style as well.

Annabel and Bernard Buffet were something of an It couple in their day. Her, a model/writer/singer, and he, a famous painter, the duo lived a legendary bohemian mid-century life. But while Bernard (who notably had a relationship with Pierre Bergé before the latter left him for Yves Saint Laurent) continues to have clout, finding information on Annabel is a difficult task, even though her career featured multiple albums, collaborations, and books. So who was this woman who captured not only the artist’s eye, but an audience of her own?

Born in 1928, Buffet’s early life was marked with tragedy when her mother committed suicide. A few years later, her father took his own life as well. On her own and out of school, she became a model. Her appearance was the very definition of “gamine.” With her short hair, large eyes, and long, lean figure (accentuated by the menswear-inspired clothes she wore), Buffet embodied androgyny with a sense of style that had the same effortless chicness usually attributed to French women now, but that was arguably transgressive in her time.

Buffet released her first album in 1956 with her good friend (and fellow writer) Françoise Sagan. The collaboration featured Sagan reading her own texts on the first side, and Buffet singing them on the second. Her next record was released in 1969, but it wasn’t until her album Annabel 71 in 1971 that Buffet began writing her own songs. With her deep alto voice and steady delivery, her singing style was notably more mature than that of young rock stars like Françoise Hardy or Jane Birkin.

When she wasn’t recording, Buffet was busy writing books. In the 13-year gap between her first and second albums, she published seven tomes and continued writing up until 2004 (the year before her death). Perhaps as a testament to the way their relationship was a larger collaboration than simply artist/muse, Bernard provided the art for some of her novels.

What is unfortunate is that despite such a prolific output, Buffet is best remembered (at least, outside of France) by her husband’s paintings. Their legacies are so intertwined that not only does her history live in the shadow of his, but as the memory of Bernard fades, hers does as well. For a woman whose life was as bohemian, creative, and intriguing as Bernard’s was, she should be every bit the icon that Hardy, Birkin, and Sagan are. Luckily it’s never too late to find inspiration in figures from the past.


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