Cacharel and the city
Among all of Jack Burlot's entrancing photographs of everyday life Abu Dhabi in the 1970s, a fashion shoot featuring a French model, posing on the waterfront and in Qasr Al Hosn, stands out as an anomaly.
The shoot, which ran in a few now-forgotten European magazines, came to us as part of a collection of photos taken by Burlot in 1974 as, in his 20s, he documented the oil boom for Gamma, a French agency.
Burlot, who visited us in Abu Dhabi last week, recalls that he met a woman, possibly named Cathy, who was staying at his hotel with a group from Cacharel, the French fashion label that made its mark on the 70s with flowing bohemian dresses and colourful floral Liberty fabrics. "She was coming back from another place, I don't remember where," Burlot says.
He had the idea of taking her out on an impromptu fashion shoot in the local surroundings. "At this time it was a little bit difficult to do this sort of thing," he says.
Difficult, but not impossible. Burlot's temporary press card from the Ministry of Information, dated November 28-December 8, 1974, reads "kindly extend all facilities to the Bearer."
They managed to shoot among fishermen at the port and smiling onlookers at Qasr Al Hosn, the fortified palace that at the time was being used for government offices and was to be renovated two years later.
"People were surprised but really nice with us," Burlot says. "I asked them to be in the photographs. It was very strange for them ... but they played the game."
The National's fashion director, Katie Trotter, notes that it was unusual at the time to shoot models alongside real people, even in far-off lands. "It's more like a daily life and she's popping up in the middle of it," she says. "Everyone seems to be joining in - that's the lovely part of it."
When asked how the model changed her outfits, Burlot laughs. "Very good question. Maybe we came back to the hotel to change."
Burlot had been staying at the newly built Abu Dhabi Hilton, the city's only big hotel at the time, but was moved to a smaller one to make room for some VIP guests. Driving around the area last week, he was astonished at how much had changed. "There was no trees, greens, nothing," he says. "Now it's fantastic. It's like Miami."
The next part of our mystery is what Cacharel was doing here. Its archivist, Jessica Bousquet, was able to identify one of the model's dresses from the 1975 spring/summer collection, but she found no record of a fashion show by Cacharel, founded by her father, Jean Bousquet, in 1962.
Then we managed to track down the artist Gérard Economos, whose website had a passing reference to a fashion show in Abu Dhabi in 1974. From his location in Mexico, he sent us evidence: an invitation to a gala dinner and fashion show of Cacharel's spring/summer collection at the Abu Dhabi Hilton on November 28 of that year.
"It's been a long time," he wrote in French. "I met some 'notables' in Abu Dhabi but I can't remember their names. It was my first trip to the Emirates. I have excellent memories."
Featuring models from Paris, the show was accompanied by Economos's paintings as part of French Week, sponsored by Air France. They followed it up with a show in Beirut.
"Why Abu Dhabi?" asked the writer of one of the stories that Economos still has about the show. "For the exoticism, in part, and for expansion."
Or, as Monsieur Burlot puts it today: "Why not?"
For a video on Burlot's return to Abu Dhabi, go to thenational.ae/nationalday
Updated: December 2, 2012 04:00 AM