That morning, Avenue Montaigne was quiet. It’s here, on Paris's most exclusive shopping street, that the Parisian photographer Sylvia Galmot lives. I first met Sylvia as I was leaving a bistro in Paris’ 17th arrondissement. The air was cold and crisp and she sat outside, alone, wrapped in extravagant fur. She held an ultra slim cigarette to her lips, her hazel eyes looking out into the night. Behind her, on the poster affixed to the window, a parisienne with a full red pout also sat at café. We exchanged a few words, “I’m a photographer,” she explained, her eyes beaming. “And this is my new exhibition; a show of my parisiennes,” she pointed to the poster.
Two years on, I was climbing up to her apartment. Bright and elegant, nothing flashy. She has an oversized ‘castle’ for her cats, and of course, her parisiennes. Lots of parisiennes gazing back, their eyes fiery, their postures emanating a sharp, sassy energy.
The perfect parisienne, she’s dressed in a loose midnight blue silk shirt over jeans, her straight light brown hair has a golden caramel shine, her makeup hardly noticeable. Sylvia shows me the booklet for a charity event she participated in. “Every year, I give one of my works to be sold at auction for charities. I have been so lucky, so helping others is really important to me,” she explains.
Sylvia Galmot is a fashion photographer who has snapped a number of celebrities and although her style, one that captures a rare sensuality and an intimacy with her subjects, is recognisable throughout her work, her artistic series of parisiennes is her leading project.
“For me it’s all in the eyes,” says Sylvia, who as a result of a severe scoliosis spent years with her torso locked in a plaster cast from the age of 11 until 15 and then a corset until she was 17. “As I couldn’t move freely, I expressed a lot through my eyes. Sealed off from the world in my shell, I would watch films, read a lot, and dream…I always had big dreams.” Sylvia’s eye was sharp and she became fascinated by beauty “…especially women and their bodies, their beauty. Because I didn’t know if I would ever be normal again.”
When she was free of her corset, she was more than ready to live life to its fullest, and attended the prestigious Cours Florent drama school to become a comedienne. Here, she met her husband who sadly suffered from cancer and came to pass away two years later. “I was broken,” she confides. “And developed a stammer so acute that I was unlikely to make it as an actress.” Desperate to express herself, she bought a Nikon camera on a whim, allowing her to express herself through images. “And the rest was history.”
“Photographing parsiennes happened by accident. The compositions were improvised, like the one at the wine museum, where she’s wearing one of my dresses with a low back. It became a series that allows me to express my fascination with women’s beauty, specifically with the Parisian woman in all her casual sensuality. The parisienne…everyone knows what that means but not everyone knows how to describe it…”
And indeed, the Parisian woman bewitches with her elusive charm and easy allure. But what is it about Parisian women? “It’s the way she holds herself and her effortless chic. It’s personal, it’s sensual, it’s about confidence. And it’s this that I try to capture. For instance, the anti-parisienne would be someone with too much makeup on, someone whose style is too precise, too studied. She thinks about style but never looks like she cares. She’s active and modern. Yes, I’d say a lot is in her allure, and she’s never too neat. In fact, she’s a little rough; beautiful in just jeans and an oversized shirt – and more than anything else, she makes the whole world dream…”