Here at Leclaireur, we enjoy meeting new people and everlasting friendships.
In 2016, we met Julien Benhamou, the Parisian Opera official photographer and movement expert. From that confluence, were born three spectacular collaborations.
In one single jeté, he took us from lead dancer to lead figure, with the young piano playing prodigy Simon Graichy. The latest unleashed his talent and slender musically-inhabited body in an exclusive photoshoot. Entirely dressed by Leclaireur’s team, in signature brands such as Yohji Yamamoto and Uma Wang. Simon played, the piano obviously but the game as well by answering a few questions.
L: Simon Ghraichy, where are you from?
SG: I was born in Lebanon, my mom is Mexican and my dad Lebanese. I was mostly raised in France, but we still have so family abroad so we kept strong connections with Lebanon and Mexico, where I lived for two years. Today I feel a hundred percent Parisian, but kept those three cultures that have made my family so unique close to my heart.
L: What artistic encounters helped shaping you?
SG: There’s a lot of them. Firstly, my teachers from the Parisian Conservatoire, and from abroad, who pushed me to be the person I am today. Also, my close friends and family. They are the essential human warmth to any artist exposing himself on stage, the perfect anchor.
I also admire a lot of pop and classical artists.
But there is this one in particular that takes the crown for me: Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) a Russian pianist who lived a major part of his life in the United States. I identify a lot with him, with the way he plays on one hand, but also with his character and sense of style on the other. He was a “fashion victim” before there were any. A tidy grand-pa with a chaotic crazy life: he could be seen – a 80 year old man in a suit and a bowtie – in night clubs after his concerts. He always knew how to bring his eccentricity to the most classical pieces, from Litz to Schumann, including Beethoven. With a peculiar hint of acidity, as cheeky as he was.
L: How did you get into classical music as a child? Was it a sudden revelation?
SG: I did not wake up one day knowing I wanted to be a classical musician, it was a gradual thing. My dad is a lawyer, my mom a psychiatrist, but growing up there was always some music around. Even though nobody played it, we would listen to it. A lot of classical music, we went to concerts together, it was a music-loving kind of home. A lot of Mozart… And I mean a LOT! I always knew I liked music and, as an only child, I had a lot of time to myself.
We did have a piano at home, when I was 3 or 4 I used to tap the keyboard and try to figure a melody out of it. My parent got hold of it and decided to get me lessons. Of course at the time I didn’t know it could be a job at all, I was fueling on passion. Until I gave my first concert at 12 or 13. It was just… exhilarating. There was my revelation. I spent the following years playing in public as much as I could, without stressing it, just because I liked it. When I graduated from high school, my friends were wondering what to do with their life, but I knew that whatever I did, I would be cheating on my true calling if I did anything but music.
L: Was there a performance that stood out these few years, where you felt something magical happening?
SG: There was some truly incredible moments, two in particular, so emotionally charged. The first was in one of the the Carnegie Hall’s small venues in New York. I was both tensed and happy, putting a lot of pressure on myself, and I gave it my all. Maybe it was because it was the first time I played there, the feeling of “I did it, I’m here” even in the small hall. Walking through the hallways and seeing pictures of Ella Fitzgerald, Horowitz, the New-York philharmonic’s managers, Rostropovich… all those who walked up on that stage, and me, the latest addition to that big family. It was such a strong moment. This year, I played there again, in the big hall this time, but the emotion was not the same.
And then there was Berlin. End of 2016, I played at the Berlin Philharmonic Society, and something happened. As soon as my finger pressed the first key, I felt connected to the whole audience. The place itself is special, with its futuristic look. It was built when Berlin was split, to show how much of a forerunner West-Berlin was. The stage stands in the center of the room, and once you step on it, you feel like the center of the world. The sound is so beautiful that the minute I started playing I felt like the whole place was taken by a storm.
L: Third album, but the first one with Universal…
SG: The title might be “Héritages” channeling everything that made me, and of course the hispanic legacy so dear to my heart, and also very present in classical music. There is more to classical music than Schumann, Debussy, Schubert, or Mozart.
Everything started with a trip to Latin America, and Villalobos a Brazilian, Arturo Màrquez a Mexican and Ernesto Lecuona a Cuban. I ultimately linked them to european composers, French or Spanish, like Debussy who imagined and dreamed Spain in his compositions to best hear it and transcribe it in the impressionist music of his time. I wanted to create a bridge between European and Latin-American cultures, including Andalusia, to feature my Middle Eastern Lebanese roots. It’s my musical ID.
L: How do you choose the photographer in charge of an album? How did you meet Julien?
SG: From Julien, I only knew his work with the Opera’s dancers. I love what he does, and how he works with movement. When I signed with Universal and we started working on the album, we quickly wondered who would take care of the sleeve. They immediately thought of Julien, and I agreed that the end-result could be amazing. We took a drink together and clicked instantly. We both knew that the issue would meet our respective standards.
Styling remained. I knew about Leclaireur without being a client, so when Julien told me about the team, it seemed like the perfect choice. I already have stage costumes, but nothing new or visually striking. Julien and Leclaireur perfectly got me, and succeeded on putting their own spin to what I wanted to do. It came out beautifully.
L: How did you come up with that selection?
SG: Universal and Deutsche Gramophone now backing me, it seems more legitimate for me to be dressed by renowned designers, and come up with a new image for myself. Leclaireur’s selection is unique, unconventional, just like that Comme des Garcons jacket which made me feel at ease as soon as I tried it on.
I adored a lot of the things I wore during the fittings and the photoshoot. We wanted to fit to Julien’s hunger for movement. While looking for colors, the album being built around hispanic composers and musics, it called for colors. And the Comme des Garçons – it’s building up to be an obsession at that point – was truly an epiphany. It is filled with everything I put into my music: it’s both classical and flamboyant, unique in every way. The jackets body is quite restrained, your usual dark suit jacket with light thin stripes, but the sleeves are breathtaking, and versatile. It’s adjustable fashion. It’s exactly what I was looking for.
L: An ultimate fashion statement?
SG: Let’s see… You do not have to go on stage with a full on glitter and feather look like Dalida to set yourself appart. But I don’t have to wear a tailcoat and a bowtie to sit behind a piano either. I built my artistic image around a mix of eccentricity and sobriety. For example, I love Kris Van Assche and Dries Van Noten, two designers that have found the perfect balance between those two concepts, and that I enjoy wearing on stage. And that”s what I found at Leclaireur too. So I succumbed to that gorgeous Comme des Garcons jacket we used for the photoshoot, and that I will gladly wear on stage March 4th at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées to celebrate the release of this upcoming album.
L: Like a rockstar?
SG: Definitely like a rockstar.
“Héritages” by Simon Ghraichy (Deutsche Grammophon) available February 17.
Photographer: Julien Benhamou
Hair & Make-up: Lola Herbiniere Seve