30 years, 798, Alaia, Alliance Française de Pékin, Alva Chinn, Arabesque, Azzedine Alaia, Battle of Versailles, Beijing, Beijing Alliance Française, Bonnie Berman, Claude Montana, Dolph Lundgren, Gail Elliott, gallery, Grace Jones, Inter Gallery Art Center, Intergallery, Janice Dickinson, Jean-Luc Tissier, Julia Proust, Karl Lagerfeld, Katoucha, Katoucha Niane, Kong Lingnan, Linda Spierings, Madeleine Robinson, Marpessa, Marpessa Hennink, MedSPA, Montana, Mounia, Nadège le Lan, negatives, Opening Ceremony, Photos, Sophie Theallet, sponsor, Sun Yanmei, Tara Shannon, Tatjana Patitz, Thierry Mugler, vernissage, Vogue China, Yasmine le Bon
En français ce blog est ici.
I never expected to share my images, or at least never outside of this blog. Not really. A few months ago some 30 years-old photos resurfaced in my life and they brought back memories about my days working at Alaïa, Claude Montana, Thierry Mugler or Karl Lagerfeld. Two small images were featured in the Vogue China Sept.13 issue and I expected the story to end there. Looking at them for the first time in 20 years, I realised they were about more than beautiful girls during PFW, they represent a ‘lost era’ and in these over-sharing times, they are somewhat of a time-capsule. So I started looking for the negatives.
Two rolls of black and white negatives were tucked away in my photo album. Luckily they had plenty of great portraits of Bonnie Berman or Linda Spierings, Janice and even Grace Jones chatting with Azzedine Alaïa while getting ready for the ‘purple dress’ shoot.
I remembered that evening and how I cuddled and kept her son quiet while they were shooting. A few feet away her boyfriend at the time Dolph Lundgren was telling a journalist that he’d mastered russian in 3 weeks for Rocky IV. It was 10 pm and it felt like a very long day. I had my camera with me and around the craziness of Grace I was invisible so I took a half a dozen black and white photos while she did her makeup and Azzedine adjusted her on the table of the boutique.
On that same roll, one great serie looked like it was ‘posed’ and in fact it was a very spontaneous moment between Linda Spierings, then Eric Sartori (Azzedine assistant at the time), Gail Elliott, Alva Chinn and Tara Shannon goofing around backstage. This serie of 6 images is a testament of how thrifty I was with my films.
I look at those images like someone else took them and then mentally pat the back of my 19-years old self. 不错 baby! 不错! It was actually a little bittersweet to hear compliments after all this time. Back then, of course, I knew they were good and some models used them in their ‘Book » which is the ultimate validation. I remember hearing from Linda Spierings I think, that Paolo Roversi thought they were very interesting. Another model had shown hers to Helmut Newton and he’d said I was talented. But in the small world of Alaia’s atelier I was an intern. The lowest on the totem pole of power and it never went further than that. I moved to New York, needed to work immediately and because I can sell the Brooklyn Bridge or sands to the arabs, I worked as a sales manager at first then executive etc… It is only recently in Beijing that I picked up my camera again to shoot pretty women and make them beautiful. My « Belle du Jour. But, of course, the models I photographed from 1984 to 1986 were my first.
I couldn’t find the other films. I went back to Paris for fashion week. I looked all over my apartment and the basement and came up empty-handed. Back to Beijing I tried to figure out where they might be and 6 months later when I returned to Paris I went back to the basement. There in a dark corner, I’d missed the first time a damp cardboard suitcase rotting and covered in white fungus. I had a memory flash. I could see myself bring it down 5 years ago, right after the birth of my baby boy to ‘make room’. I should have placed my precious films in a plastic box but I remembered liking the ‘romance’ of the antique suitcase.
Most of the films were destroyed. They were still coiled around the plastic center and in their original white boxes marked with the year ‘Berçot 1983, Alaia 1984, Montana 1985’ but each had sort of ‘melted’ unto itself. Some irremediably so. I immediately tried to ‘clean’ one but the water washed it blank so I brought the lot back home to dry them in the Beijing air and see what could be done when I was less emotional. A few days later my assistant Denise and I started scanning the negatives.
And when the computer churned out the first strip of photos, we looked at each other and I cried.
There, in the tangled and distressed colors, emerged great beauty.
The original pictures were about the intimate moments of beautiful models in the 80s during fashion week, doing their makeup, laughing, napping and occasionally posing briefly for me. These are about something else.
It was as if Time embarrassed to attack such beautiful women decided to stop its work on a few images right where it mattered. Here, the legendary Alva Chinn in one of the few images saved from that roll. That pure profile of hers intact and emerging from the toxic blue fog that devoured the rest of the image.
Sophie and Janice in a picture I adore as it is ‘dated’ on so many levels. The cramped cabin, the cigarette, Sophie holding the bodysuit by the crotch, naked Janice dressing herself after the show. Her thin but buff body… While Denise and I were busy rediscovering each film, I met at my home Ms. Sun YanMei and Julia Proust the passionate and talented cultural attachés of Alliance Française de Pékin to discuss the fashion conferences I am currently giving them. YanMei saw some pictures on the table and asked me if I intended to show them in a gallery. I laughed when she asked me ‘permission’ to explore the option.
Determined and ‘fonceuse’ YanMei arranged for me to meet with the director of Inter Gallery in Beijing. What I did not realise at the time was that it is one of the most respected photography gallery in China. Located in 798 Inter specialises in amazing contemporary Chinese artists such as Liu Bolin or recently Yang Yankang among many others curated by the director Na Risong.
Alliance Française Pékin and the sponsor MEDSpa outdid themselves because they organised two exhibitions to be held simultaneously in Beijing. The bigger lot, ‘Lost Beauties’ was shown until yesterday in 798 Art District while 19 ‘intact images’ are up the walls until the end of the month in Galeries Lafayette Beijing to illustrate their one-year anniversary.
Kids playing with the props below the « Makeup » installation.
China is amazingly efficient sometimes. It took us only 6 intense hours to create a catalog of both exhibitions from scratch while I was battling a nasty bout of flu. 24h before the opening we had it.
Resting between shows…
Tatjana extraordinary beauty after all these years…. burned but intact.
It was an amazing opportunity to introduce some of my work to more people and I want to thank again Mr. Jean-Luc Tissier and Nadège Le Lan of Alliance Française for putting me in their « Romantic » calendar. Of course without Sun YanMei and Julia Proust it would not have happened, so I am very very grateful to both of them. Thanks also to MedSPA for their financial support – and amazing products, Galeries Lafayette and Na Risong for welcoming me in his gallery.
These pictures are unique. They represent youth and great beauty, a bygone era, the privacy of Fashion before it disappeared, the dawn of supermodels and Paris return to the center of Fashion in 1985. They are damaged, survived and are still incredibly beautiful. As far as I am concerned they are very remote from me as I was so young when I took them, but I would love to share them with more people. If you are interested. Contact me.
The catalog of the exhibition.
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