I 'D NEVER recommend a dress you need a bikini wax to wear,' says Joan Juliet Buck who, as editor-in-chief of French Vogue, now sits in one of the hottest seats in fashion.

We are in Paris, after the Valentino show, where there was no glimpse of knickers. Buck has not seen Chanel at this point, where G- strings and thigh-split skirts must have given her pause for thought.

Doubtless, Buck will find a way of including the advertising-powerful Chanel within the magazine, while sticking to her maxim. Already, she has found ways of pepping up the glossy magazine previously deemed the dullest in the international Vogue stable. Before Buck, even fashion addicts prepared to shell out pounds 12.50 each month for the British, American and Italian editions of Vogue, were able to leave the French version on the shelf.

Buck arrived in May, and her first issues, September and October, look promising. But it is the fourth (in this case December) that in the magazine world is deemed the make-or- break issue; then it is judged whether a new direction will work. The fashion crowd hope it will; for, rare among those in the front seats, Joan Juliet Buck - American-born, with French, English and a dash of Irish breeding - is widely popular.

Those outside the inner circle like the way she does not construct an impenetrable wall around her. She does wear the typical front-row dark glasses (the lights on the front row are searingly harsh) but she doesn't hide behind them. She allows her emotional responses to reach her face while others sit silent, expressionless behind their shades.

Her dress sense, too, is encouraging. Not for her the slavish adherence to one powerful designer. While some editors have found a politically- expedient label and worn it incessantly, Buck wears what she likes.

Not suprising for the most powerful fashion maven in France, she wears Chanel. She and Karl Lagerfeld (who designs not only Chanel, but also Chloe and his signature label Lagerfeld in Paris as well as Fendi in Milan) have been close friends for years. And she adores Manolo Blahnik shoes: with her childhood friend Anjelica Huston, Buck went on a shopping spree to his New York shop when she heard the Vogue news.

Buck's dress sense stands out amid the dark, sharp clothes favoured on the front-row, be it vivid purple by day or a voluptuous corsetted bosom by night. Her responses are more exaggerated, too, whether she is throwing her head back and roaring at Vivienne Westwood's kinky penis shoes, sitting on the edge of her gilded banquette in excitement at John Galliano's ballgowns, or swivelling round to chat to anyone who looks interesting.

Buck is no fashion show virgin, nor is she fashion's fool. While others staggered on stilettos through the gruelling schedule of Paris shows, Buck (who prefers high heels), was in comfy flats by the end of the first week.

She freely admits she is fanatical about clothes. 'I've always loved clothes. I like logical clothes that you can walk in, breathe in.' Saint Laurent velvet jackets, little skirts by Agnes B, and 'those invisible dresses by Prada' are her staples, worn with genuine antique jewellery.

For the past 12 years, her daytime choices were based on comfort. Before the French Vogue job, Buck was a columnist for American Vogue. She has also worked for the French Jardin des Modes and Vingt Ans magazines; and as a stylist for the late photographer Guy Bourdin. 'The only part of a magazine I've never worked on is the cookery page.'

When writing at home, she had a particular brand of comfort dressing which, while working on her novels, became obsessional. 'I wore the same orange Indian dress almost every day to write my first book (The Only Place To Be), a YSL tomato-red 10-ply cashmere cardigan to write the second (Daughter of the Swan), and a striped fisherman's T-shirt to write The White Hotel. I really did wear the same thing and I never wore shoes during the day.

'Dressing up was an end-of-day ritual and I had what I was going to wear all planned out. Anyone who'd seen me at home would have been surprised that I was elected to the Best Dressed Hall of Fame. Now, getting dressed up in the morning is a new experience.'

She believes everyone is enjoying themselves on the recharged French Vogue.

Smiling at the shows, they look as if they are. 'I want it to be je and jeux,' says Buck, meaning relevant to oneself yet also playful.

Buck's appointment corresponds with the return to grown-up glamour. And she's no stranger to that. In the Seventies, as part of the international jet set in Paris, Buck was at all the key parties - including the Venetian Ball at Le Palace where she wore a purple wedding dress designed by Karl Lagerfeld.

So obsessed is Buck by fashion that she has total recall on what she wore for any of her splendid Paris nights two decades ago. 'Saint Laurent by day and Lagerfeld for major events.' Today her mix, from Armani to Westwood, reflects a truly European taste for fashion. And in true European style, she pulls out the stops at night. Even during the frantic Milan- Paris schedule, she managed it. 'I went home after Westwood and combo'ed together a look with a Westwood corset and lots of cleavage, then off to Galliano's show.'

Would she wear his clothes? 'Absolutely]'

What she won't wear are 'badly made clothes, running shoes, or wool next to my skin - I'm allergic to it and have to wear little T-shirts underneath'.

And as soon as the weather in Paris turns cold she'll be wearing her YSL fake astrakhan pill- box hat. 'I've had it for 12 years and it's always a success.'

(Photograph omitted)

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