COLLECTING
Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
“Who’s That Girl?”

Courtesy of Georges Dambier Archives

“Who’s That Girl? Georges Dambier: Fashioning the Fifties” Bonni Benrubi Gallery, March 24- May 27, 2011

I could not help but think of Tommy Hilfiger when I visited the Bonni Benrubi Gallery on Manhattan’s East 57th Street yesterday. Facing a delightful selection of works by the French photo-reporter Georges Dambier assembled for the exhibition “Who’s That Girl? Georges Dambier: Fashioning the Fifties,” I vividly recalled Tommy Hilfiger’s keynote address during the Harvard Business School  “Retail and Luxury Goods Annual Conference”  (April 9-10, 2011).

As the conference was coming to a close that Sunday afternoon, and after an impressive presentation of the Tommy Hilfiger brand, Mr. Hilfiger mused on what it takes to create a lasting brand today. According to the successful entrepreneur, timelessness is achieved when fashion, art, media, and entertainment are all meshed organically into one powerful presence that resonates with the spirit of the times. This means preserving one fundamental message that defines the brand but adjusting the brand’s manifestations (think of products) to express the particular era’s zeitgeist. I think the French are pretty good at that.

Georges Dambier, who was born in 1925 and began practicing photography immediately after the Second World War, had been trained in design and fell into fashion photography by happenstance. As Parisian life boomed in glamour and excess to counteract the recent past of austerity under German occupation, Dambier found himself in the trendiest nightclubs of Saint Germain des Prés where he captured international stars immersed in local gaiety. (For Georges Dambier’s full bio visit his official website:http://www.georges.dambier.fr/)

The pictures exhibited at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery are stunning. (See the entire collection here: http://www.bonnibenrubi.com/exhibition_110.html) While the space is limited and most of the black and white pictures have been grouped together, each frame allows the visitor to focus on one story at a time.  This is key: as simple as it could have been for Dambier to take a picture of the outfit featured in his pictures, outfits are just part of the story. Equally important are the “girl” (Fionna Campbell Walter, Marie Hélène Arnaud, Ghislaine Arsac, Gigi, Simone d’Aillencourt, Dorian Leigh, Suzy Parker), the location (a Parisian monument or landmark, a museum, a destination spot), the styling and the composition. They are all part of a story Dambier had in mind, one that would resonate the certainty of that particular moment with the viewer. Think of a contemporary “reality show” in snapshots.

Dambier captures the conviction that elegant passerby do exist. He confirms that any woman can look equally beautiful in her fleeting moment in front of the familiar movie theater on Champs Elysées or as she settles her account at the gas station. In effect, Dambier stages his stories with such great compositional precision that they become familiar, intimate, and individual. This is how a brand can communicate “the” dream.  And this is how Dambier created timeless pictures. Honestly, who has not looked at her little pocket mirror when hastily crossing Place de la Concorde on her way to a meeting?

© Thomaï Serdari