Generally the sleeves for French chanson Mireille Mathieu’s albums featured elegant photographic portraits, as indeed was generally the case for all female pop singers of the sixties. It was only later with the rise of the female singer / songwriters in America, people like Joni Mitchell and Melanie, that this practise began to change to any degree. Generally though it was unusual to go for an illustration, even if it was by the French artist, Aslan – real name Alain Gourdon (born 1930).
Though originally a sculptor he is most famous, especially in France, for his immaculate pin-up illustrations, done in gouache. His work in this area began in earnest with the arrival of a French men’s magazine called L’ui in 1963, for which he did a pin-up painting every issue through to 1981s (Playboy later published this in America as Oui from 1972 on). I first saw his work when the English fashion magazine Nova commissioned him to do a glossy fashion spread in the 70s, a change from the usual photographic coverage of new designs. I’ve never seen a record sleeve done by him before though.
Mireille Mathieu was an enormous star in France during the late sixties and into the seventies, so the fact that Aslan should be chosen for the cover is fairly logical. The work appears to be in crayons and pastels, rather than his trademark guoache, but the exceptional eye for detail and the realistic execution are all there. A second similar illustration adorns the back sleeve, which is otherwse devoid of information – no track listing, no catalogue number, nothing.
The inner gatefold has a number of monochrome drawings, again free of text. Instead all the track details are printed on an extra flap which opens out to allow the removal of the record. You do wonder if the original idea was to try and forsake even the front cover title originally. EMI in the UK even agreed to have their normally bold black logo printed in a more discreet grey. Even the original french issue on Barclay hadn’t thought to do that. The design in America (on Capitol) was changed totally, with the illustration cropped inside a brown border and regular titles above.
Later Mathieu was chosen to model for a statue to represent Marianne, a national emblem of the French state, and Aslan was also chosen to do this work (Brigitte Bardot had been the first such female celebrity to be honoured in 1969, and Mathieu was followed by Catherine Deneuve in 1985). A number of books of his work have been published in France nedless to say. It would be interesting to know if he did any more record covers.
Mathieu’s career began in the mid-sixties with a TV talent contest, and she cut her first album En Direct de L’Olympia in 1966, followed it up with another from the venue in 1967, and this, the third live album, in 1969. You could perhaps liken Mireille Mathieu to Petula Clarke, as they both adopted a more conservative approach yet also broke through into the trendier areas of the pop scene for a time. She was popular enough to tour all over the world, and is still performing, especially in Germany where her career blossomed later on.
Thanks to V&A for the album. There is a gallery of Alsan’s L’ui images here.