Two artful new arrivals are making their mark in the galleries and streets of Savannah. Summer Teal Simpson follows them home. Photography by Chia Chong.
Smart, stylish and smitten. Those are the adjectives that immediately come to mind upon meeting Isolde Brielmaier and her partner, Mangue Banzima. Their calm self-confidence, palpable personal chemistry and relaxed approachability provide for an intoxicating mix.
While the dynamic duo are somewhat recent arrivals in Savannah—Isolde came aboard as the chief curator of exhibitions at the Savannah College of Art and Design in October 2011—their journey together started five years ago in New York.
“We met in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn,” Isolde recalls.
She was jogging. He took notice.
“I saw her many times doing that,” Mangue sheepishly admits. “I have a quick eye.”
In New York, Mangue worked as a retail operations director at a French-based fashion comfort brand. His days were spent influencing the company’s buying using his keen sense of style and uncanny knack for understanding people.
“Mangue is familiar with the streets,” Isolde explains. “He can permeate and move in these different realms.”
Meanwhile, Isolde was pursuing a multi-faceted art career as a curator, writer and assistant professor. She holds a Ph.D. in art history from Columbia University and her impressive resume includes a stint at the renowned Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Her work curating “Titus Kaphar: Painting Undone” at the SCAD Red Gallery (now Gutstein Gallery) in 2008 marked her first visit to Savannah, where she met Laurie Ann Farrell, executive director of exhibitions at SCAD. The two hit it off personally and professionally, which set the stage for Isolde’s aforementioned return to Savannah in late 2011.
“There was considerable appeal in working with Laurie,” Isolde enthuses. “The SCAD exhibitions team is phenomenal. Not to mention the greatest force: the students.”
As the savvy New Yorkers settle down in the Deep South—along with their 20-month old daughter, Farrah—they find themselves enjoying a different style of life.
“Mangue always reminds me that places are essentially equal,” Isolde confides. “Yet Savannah has a certain ease to it.”
“We had three strollers in New York,” Mangue adds, laughing. “We had one for the streets, one for the subway and one that worked well for the car. Thankfully, life here in Savannah is simplified.”
While Isolde focuses much of her attention on SCAD’s expanded Museum of Art and a multitude of galleries worldwide, Mangue has taken a two-fold approach to life in Savannah: he is taking drawing courses at SCAD and populating his local blog, QuiStyle.com.
“‘Qui’ is French for ‘who,’” he explains, “and QuiStyle is all about the people. Through them, I am able to highlight the cultural aesthetic of Savannah.”
The blog portrays images snapped about town that represent Mangue’s unique perception of style.
“It is not just about your clothes,” he claims. “It is more the confidence, people’s expressions and actions. It’s all in the details.”
For his part, Mangue’s personal style is classic or, as Isolde describes it, “gentlemanly elegant.” Though, he does have an affinity for eclectic conversation pieces, as evidenced by his prized Martin Margiela motorless watch.
Through his interactions producing his blog, their numerous social engagements and their long afternoons spent in Forsyth Park, the pair have become well-acquainted with new neighbors and, now, friends. They’ve already laid claim to their favorite eateries—such as Cha Bella, Local 11 Ten and Leoci’s—and they enjoy the benefits of “living locally,” making the Forsyth Farmer’s Market a weekly priority.
The couple’s transition has been a smooth one, thanks in part to their open embrace of our city, but also to a wise piece of advice received some years ago.
“My mother always said, ‘If you want to grow, you have to change,’” Isolde reflects. “I hope that our experience here in some ways adds to Savannah’s cultural fabric. But, likewise, I hope it bears the mark of exchange…for Savannah to leave its imprint on us.”