Tony Nourmand, The Reel Poster Gallery. Voyager 2005

 

Even seated, Tony Nourmand cuts an imposing figure. Reclining in the understated luxury of his West London gallery, he looks, with his broad frame, deep-set eyes and measured expression, every inch the lynchpin of the art world which, over the last decade, he’s become. But Nourmand is no ordinary art dealer, and this is far from an average art gallery.

 

From the outside it’s another fairly innocuous shop front on Westbourne Grove, the ever congested thoroughfare between Notting Hill Gate and Bayswater. But to step inside – once you’ve rung the bell and been buzzed in – is to swap the hustle, bustle and exhaust fumes, for a cool, calm sanctuary. A minimalist world – sparingly adorned with a designer coffee table and chairs and a tasteful jazz soundtrack –  where Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Michael Caine practice their moodiest poses against spotless white walls. 

 

Here, in The Reel Poster Gallery’s chic and rarefied air, Sean Connery still looms large and suave as Bond, Audrey Hepburn defines style, and the humble film poster, printed and thrown away by the thousand, is elevated to art. Rare and highly sought-after art at that, with a price tag to match. Three and a half thousand pounds for an original poster for Hitchcock’s Vertigo may seem like a lot for a forty seven year-old piece of paper, but it’s a snip compared to some of Nourmand’s inventory. And with its vibrant colour and mesmerising geometric swirls, it instantly inspires irrational thoughts of re-mortgaging to take it home. “I never get bored of that poster,” says Nourmand, swivelling in his chair to take it in properly. “It’s a fantastic piece of graphic design and so atmospheric. And atmosphere is what defines a really good movie poster for me.”

 

Go to any book shop or Google original movie posters and it’s quickly apparent that all roads lead back to Tony Nourmand. In the 10 years since he and business partner Bruce Marchant opened their first gallery above a patisserie in Great Marlborough Street, Soho, the business has grown from serving the needs of a few avid collectors to a client list which includes supremely wealthy business men and un-named “but seriously A-list” Hollywood actors. Nourmand’s written no less than 14 books on the subject, consulted for London auction house Christie’s and advised museums from London to Japan. Indeed, last year when The Design Museum ran their retrospective of legendary designer Saul Bass – responsible for the much revered Vertigo artwork – more than half the film posters on display were either credited to The Reel Poster Gallery or The Tony Nourmand collection.

 

To an outsider such dominance would imply either the work of a gifted strategist or a cutthroat businessman who’s squeezed everyone else out of the market. The truth is far less sinister, if no less incredible.

 

“No one else was doing it when we started. There was certainly nothing like this,” he says motioning to the gallery’s white washed walls and polished wood floor. “There were just a handful of dealers who had stalls at collectors fairs. I used to buy The Italian Job and Steve McQueen posters from them for £25, and they were horrified that I’d pay that much for them, now they sell at Christie’s for hundreds, sometimes thousands. But at the time there were no shops that specialised in movie posters.” 

 

As a mark of how times have changed, London now stands at the forefront of collecting, with a veritable army of dealers. “They all opened after us,” laughs Nourmand. “But the thing is, I know it all looks like some clever plan, the gallery, the books, the exhibitions, but it’s all been accidental really. It’s all just snow balled from my love of cinema.”

 

Nourmand cites Christie’s, the venerable auction house in South Kensington, which has held twice yearly Vintage Film Poster sales since 1996 as key to both the sudden growth in the market and his own good fortune. Not only has their involvement “popularised and legitimised” film poster collecting, it launched his own career. 

 

Having moved to Britain at the age of 11 from Iran – where his uncle would take him to the cinema once a week and the cinema manager would give him a new poster to put up on his wall – Nourmand’s obsession with film led him to study painting and animation at Central St. Martins in London. By 1991 he was making “art house films no-one wanted to watch” and collecting film posters, when he could afford them. Then out of the blue he got a call from Christie’s.

 

“They’d been consigned an estate which contained 10,000 posters and lobby cards which they had no idea what to do with,” he says, laughing at the randomness of the call. “Christie’s in New York had put them in touch with a dealer I sometimes bought posters mail-order from. They asked if he knew any dealers in London. He didn’t, but gave them my number.” 

 

From then Nourmand consulted as and when posters came up in general auctions, and in 1995 was instrumental in organising Christie’s first dedicated sale of film posters, based around the collection of singer Mel Torme. “The sale was an amazing success,” confirms Sarah Hodgson, Christie’s Director Of Popular Arts & Entertainment. “It’s usual for sales to be over 80% sold. For the first film poster sale it was 95%. We’ve had two sales a year ever since. We just realised that there was a really solid market there that was obviously going to grow.” So did Nourmand, and by the time of Christie’s second sale of 1996 he’d opened The Reel Poster Gallery.

 

While obvious factors such as aging and the increased interest created by Christie’s may have seen estimates for a James Bond, From Russia With Love poster rise from £250-£450 to £1500-£2500, for his part, Nourmand has spent the last decade seizing every opportunity, however accidental, to reinvent the poster market. Yet his motivation hasn’t been so much to increase sales, as to have the posters he speaks about with infectious enthusiasm recognised as legitimate art.

 

Although partly necessitated by the fact that their original first floor site was all he and business partner Marchant could afford at the time, he insists that he always wanted a gallery not a shop. “A lot of things are about presentation,” he says of the need to shake the image of musty collectors rummaging through market stalls. “If I don’t have respect for what I’m selling, the person who’s buying it won’t either. You can look at it that I’m selling a piece of paper or a piece of history. So from the start we decided to print catalogues and run it like a gallery. And it’s worked, we’ve got clients all over the world who regularly spend 30 or 40 thousand pounds with us.”

 

Similarly, his dedication and obsession – and a chance meeting with designer Graham Marsh who’d previously published books on the cover art of Blue Note Records – has lead to a series of hugely successful books, which have doubled as an invaluable marketing tool. Including the decade series, Film Posters Of…, as well as volumes on horror, science-fiction, Hitchcock, X-rated posters and the official James Bond poster collection (which has sold in excess of 200,000 copies), they’ve been pivotal in defining genres of collecting, while raising the profile of the art form and the gallery.

 

Next he’s hoping to define an new area of collecting with a book on the controversy-baiting posters of Exploitation films, which is followed by a sale of the posters from the book at Christie’s in December. Then, next year, he’s hoping to stage an exhibition of French New Wave posters at a major American Institution. “If we could get film posters into somewhere like the Museum Of Modern Art, it would take them to a whole new level.”

 

Just how much further film posters can go, is open to debate. While Sarah Hodgson from Christie’s cautiously predicts a slower rise in prices, she worries that a shortage of good modern-day posters -actors’ contracts now stipulate the exact size their mug-shot – could mean that it’ll soon be a dead art. She also reasons that, at the top end of the market, there are only so many people with £30,000 to spend on a King Kong poster.

 

Yet Nourmand remains ever enthusiastic. In reply to the lack of future classics, he pulls out his Film Posters Of The ’90s book and feverishly points out stylish and striking images promoting independent releases and cult directors such as Quentin Tarantino. And the shortage of customers for a King Kong? “I agree to a point, but that’s assuming the number of collectors stays the same. If you increase the interest in posters, you increase the number of people collecting. I really think film poster collecting is still in its infancy. Every day someone new comes into the gallery and is blown away by them. And that, for me, is the real buzz.”

 

 

For more information on film posters and The Reel Poster Gallery visit http://www.reelposter.com.


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Dan Gennoe

Dan Gennoe is a London based freelance journalist & author. He's written features, interviews and reviews for the likes of Esquire, GQ, Arena, FHM, Q Magazine, Mojo, Red, Time Out, The Independent and The Mail On Sunday. Dan also writes books, both fiction and non-fiction, and has ghost written the odd celebrity biography.

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