Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Feel like a star! Have your portrait taken at the legendary Studio Harcourt in Paris.


What do Marlene Dietrich, Edith Piaf, Barbie, Salvador Dali, Judy Garland, Brigitte Bardot, Arnold Schwarzenegger, French soccer star Zinedine Zidan, race car driver Michael Schumacher and Minnie Mouse have in common? They've all had their portraits taken at the world renowned Studio Harcourt in Paris.

Located in a magnificent limestone mansion on a quiet side street near the Champs-Élysées, Studio Harcourt attracts legendary movie stars, members of the French elite and regular people, like me, who are curious to know what lies behind the massive wooden doors with the over-sized brass knockers on rue Jean Goujon. After peeking into the quiet courtyard that shelters visiting celebrities from prying eyes, I momentarily paused to pay homage to all of the illustrious people who had proceeded me up the grand red-carpeted stairway.

Studio Harcourt was established by Cosette Harcourt, the Lacroix brothers and Robert Ricci, Nina Ricci's son, in 1934. Wanting to modernize the portrait tradition of the nineteenth century, Cosette Harcourt recruited the best photographers of the day, those who were involved with cinematography. The first photographs were taken on a stage using continuous lighting that allowed photographers to play with light, just as musicians play with notes. Harcourt has used the same artistic process for the past eighty years to create its legendary black and white portraits.


Even though Harcourt remained open during World War II, the studio experienced difficulties. Colette's parents, who were Jewish, fled France in 1943. After the French Liberation, American soldiers flocked to Studio Harcourt to have their images immortalized by the same studio as Clark Gable and Cary Grant. Young men from Kansas, California and Mississippi posed under a dozen lights carefully positioned to give their features a chiseled appearance. When they returned home bearing portraits with the distinctive logo blazoned across the lower right corner, word of Studio Harcourt spread across the United States.

With the advent of color photography, Studio Harcourt nearly foundered but was saved when former  Culture Minister Jack Lang bought Harcourt's collection of photos taken between 1934 and 1991. As part of the country's cultural heritage, the archive of 5 million negatives of 550,000 people and 1,500 celebrities is stored at the National Archives of France.


If you would like a very special memento from Paris but are looking for something more original than an Hermès bag or a pair of Louboutin shoes, make an appointment to have your portrait taken at Studio Harcourt. It's a luxury item and expensive, but it's timeless.


The experience starts with a glass of champagne (bien sûr!) and a professional makeup session in the Studio Jean Cocteau. Like Barbie, who arrived with her own hairdresser, jewels from the Place Vendôme and specially made haute couture gowns to fit her curvaceous figure, you'll look like a star when they call you to the stage.


Surrounded by cameras, you'll be enveloped in a cocoon of light as one of the ten Harcourt photographers from around the world snap your photo in a variety of poses. Most interesting for me was watching how lights were positioned around our "model", Commercial Director George Hayter, to achieve the iconic Harcourt look.

In addition to one and two hour portraiture sessions (900 € and 1,900 € respectively), Studio Harcourt also offers makeup workshops in the Studio Jean Cocteau (135 € per person) and photography workshops. Although they're most famous for their portraits of individuals, Studio Harcourt also photographs couples, families, groups and products.  Please refer to their website for additional information.

Studio Harcourt
10 rue Jean Goujon
75008 Paris
Tel: 01 42 56 67 67

Many thanks to Véronique Kurtz of WICE for organizing this special behind-the-scenes visit of Studio Harcourt.

10 comments:

  1. Nice. What a wonderful experience, even just the tour. Nadal looks terrific, of course, but I'm not so sure about the lighting on your Mr Hayter--strange shadows.

    Also, is it Cosette or Colette Harcourt?

    And I wonder if the Baccarat pattern Harcourt (my favorite) is somehow related to the family, although it's older than this studio.

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    1. There's also a Harcourt portrait of a young Federer. I almost didn't recognize him with his long hair! The strange shadows on Mr Hayter are my fault because I was standing too far back. The Harcourt photographers stand much closer to their subjects but I didn't want to get in the way of the rest of our group.

      It's Cosette Harcourt, although her real name was Germaine Hirschefeld.

      We should have gone to the Baccarat Museum when you were in Paris! There was a connection between Cosette and the Harcourt publishing company but I didn't get the exact details.

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  2. Hello Mary Kay! I loved this post yesterday, and then saw this (http://bit.ly/157looB) today... I think the universe is telling me to go get some pics taken..?
    xx

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    1. Two posts about Harcourt in two days - I think that it's a definite sign! Now, the question is if you're going to go to the Harcourt photo booth or the studio?!

      Many thanks for including the link for the article about the Harcourt photo booth!

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  3. How many wonderful places you keep discovering in Paris. Thanks for sharing.

    I don't think I'd ever spend that much money on having my portrait taken, but, there is obviously a clientele for it.

    That building's facade reminds me of the one I was born in Barcelona, especially the doors.

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    1. Discovering new things in Paris is what makes living here so exciting. Just when I think that I've seen almost everything there is to see, I'm proven wrong!

      Massive doors always capture my imagination. It must have been very special to walk through such a grand entrance as a child!

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  4. This is very special Mary Kay! A wonderful post and a wonderful shot of the red carpeted stairs leading to the perfectly lit portrait. I can almost believe I was there with you. From the way you have described the experience, I believe this was a very special occasion for you!

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    1. You are a very intuitive man, Baron! It was a special occasion, mainly because I was so excited to see how they place the lights to create the shadows in their iconic portraits. One young woman in our group, who was a self-taught photographer, said that she would empty garbage cans, sweep the floors or do anything to be able to work there. I was tempted to make the same offer!

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  5. I think I too would have been a bit starstruck, walking in so many famous peoples shoes!

    Very interesting post.

    Love Denise

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    1. If the walls at Studio Harcourt could talk, think of the tales they would tell! Mr. Hayter told us that they even photographed a horse (!!) in the studio!

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