In 1989, Swiss interior designer-turned-photography collector Susanne von Meiss stumbled upon two photographs taken by Richard Avedon: In one, a smiling blond woman emerges from a cab, flaunting her sweeping satin gown. In another, a woman laughs, hand on hip, framed by the decadent doors of a small french cafe. There was something about their demeanor, their poise and their address that created a kind of magnetic draw—something von Meiss could only describe as “Allure.”

“It’s a special aura, which has no age and no social boundaries,” says Switzerland based art historian Birgit Filzmaier. “It’s a fleeting moment or a certain pose, an elegant turn of the head or the silk folds of a dress. And if you walk along the street with open eyes you can spot it still today.”

Since he met von Meiss in 1997, Filzmaier has helped her build up this collection, becoming its curator and supervisor. “It is a truly personal collection,” she says. “In the past years Ms. von Meiss developed an interest in sharing her passion and pleasure with a wider audience.”

The photographs—part of an upcoming exhibition in Berlin, titled Allure [Fr. style, elegance]were the first of more than 200 photographs von Meiss collected over the course of 25 years. Divided into three chapters—“pose”, “experiment” and “staging the situative”—the collection transcends genres, styles and artists to explore one common element: allure.

From unknown treasures to iconic classics, the works capture the “who is who” in the 20th Century History of Photograph up to the present, including photographers such as Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon and Henri Cartier-Bresson through Horst P. Horst and August Sander to contemporary artists including Tracey Emin and Juergen Teller.

Allure is best captured through a broad array of images that go beyond defined measurements, says former Elle magazine art director and photographer Peter Knapp, whose work is in the exhibit. “I was told by Hélène Lazareff, editor in chief, that the behavior and visual aspect of the woman was just as important as the clothes themselves.”

Allure [Fr. style, elegance] will be on view at C/O Berlin from May 27 to September 4. A publication will be issued by Kehrer Verlag to accompany the exhibition.

Rachel Lowry is a writer and contributor for TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


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