In an ever-rarer display of transatlantic solidarity, both the American and French postal services announced the selection of Édith Piaf and Miles Davis as subjects for 2012 stamps this week, with each country to release their own incarnations for posterity. As icons of style, the two performers left an indelible mark on the 20th century– perhaps more for their storied insouciance than any specific sartorial genre. Piaf dressed almost infallibly in black, creating a bridge to her audience with her graceful, expressive hands. There was also that high hairline and those dramatic drawn-on brows, often furrowed in anguish on stage and, one imagines, in her troubled personal life- incarnated so poignantly by Marion Cotillard in the 2007 film La Môme, known to Anglo-Saxon audiences as La Vie en Rose.
Davis’ classic dress shirts, unbuttoned just so, and sunglasses lent a fresh air of mid-century cool to the developing jazz scene of the 50s, a genre that had been historically linked to the full-suited look. There was a regrettable phase later in the 80s involving a mullet and flashier apparel, but thankfully for Miles’ legacy the grand public tends to focus on the Kind of Blue era. Edith has already graced many a French envelope- the postal service released a stamp dedicated to her as part of a series on infamous French singers in 1990- but this will mark the first dedicated to La Môme (The Sparrow, her nickname in the French press) since the turnover to the Euro, and purportedly Davis’ first-ever appearance on both sides of the Atlantic.
Édith Piaf with close friend Marlene Dietrich circa late 40s-early 50s; Miles Davis with Jeanne Moreau at a soundtrack recording session for the film Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, to which Davis contributed a wholly improvised piece