Friday, July 20, 2012

50 years of Phoenicia: a tribute to a landmark

Last week, a "series of unfortunate events" started with me over-reading an email and ended with me being severely impressed by the professionalism of one of the most respected entities this nation has ever harbored, namely the "Phoenicia" hotel. This has also lead to me being in possession of the hotel's 50 year-extravaganza of a book which was published by Tamyras, "Phoenicia un hotel dans l'histoire" written by Tania Hadjithomas Mehanna and art directed by Franck-Alexandre Mandon which is is true heavyweight of a publication - and I don't just mean that it weights several kilos.
As someone who has worked in the communication industry for a number of years, perhaps doing corporate books is one of my nightmares - you start off with the most beautiful concept, fititng for the client, tailor-made to the event - and gradually go downhill to end up with a diluted, hybrid version of the original which you would be ashamed to include in your porfolio. As they say "a horse drawn by a committee is a camel" which is why it is a pleasure to see such a masterpeice (and I am measuring my words) of sleek design, flowing text (we owe the English to Karine Baroudi), and most importantly a treasure trove of photos and mementos.
Working with archive is exceptionally difficult, I do it all the time and I know, because not only it entails having access to the material, but most importantly, it is about judging what is worth including, curating the photos and the information in a way that would make them coherent rather than sparse, and - to be honest - it requires culture and education. Just by including the photo of the Piano player by Hary Koundakjian on Page 90, the researchers and makers of the book deserve all the praise and Kudos (the photo is both one of the most iconic photos of the war, yet also one of the least published).
If the book slumbers at times into a historical timeline, at least it does so with panache and glamour. And the sleek, retro modernist art direction is a joy to the eye. The typography might seem a strange choice, but as one delves into the book it becomes apparent that everything is so fitting and that the whole exercise was choreographed to near-perfection.
However, and this also the insider's point of view, I feel I need to praise the "client" for giving Tamyras the leeway to do what they did. Once the customer starts meddling into the creative territory, the result can be at times a volatile mixture. On a personal level I am indebted specifically to Ms. Peggy Khoury the Social Media Senior Executive and Mr. Georg Weinlaender Area General Manager of the hotel for providing me with the complementary copy of the book, which actually retails at 125 USD and is worth every penny spent on it simply as an investment in memory.
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