In 1571 Queen Elizabeth I of England was given the most advanced timepiece ever created. It was a small clock that could be worn on the wrist. In 2015 Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, presented what he referred to as “the most advanced timepiece ever created” to the world. It was a small clock that could be worn on the wrist.
Both Elizabeth’s “arm watch” and Cook’s Apple Watch are marvels of miniaturization. And yet youngsters of the iPhone generation might take one look at the queen’s mechanical bauble and wonder what the fuss was about. It could not, they might point out, respond to voice commands, measure its wearer’s heart rate, function as a contactless credit card or alert the sovereign to incoming emails – all of which Apple’s state-of-the-art gizmo can do, and more.
“Wearable technology” has come a long way. And the sector is set to go a great deal farther. How big might the boom be? According to Lisa Calhoun, founder of Write2Market, a technology PR firm, “Wearable tech is currently an $8 billion industry, projected to hit $50 billion in the next five years. With a change in image, the industry could accelerate and possibly even surpass that potential for growth.”
The wearables market is dominated by smartwatches and health- and fitness-related devices. At least in the short term these will remain the two biggest categories. When wearable fitness-monitoring devices created by companies such as Nike, Fitbit, Intel and Jawbone emerged a few years ago – measuring steps taken, calories burned, heart rate, skin temperature and sleep quality – they seemed to represent a move towards what has been termed “the quantified self”. In 2015 and beyond, expect to see further moves in the same direction, including motion-tracking socks and underwear, light-reactive jackets that glow in response to exertion, wireless devices for scanning blood-sugar levels, and shoes that can help runners manage their pace and navigate unfamiliar streets.
Meanwhile, other applications are being found for wearable technology. Car-makers are developing apps that will let people unlock and start their cars remotely using their smartwatches and phones. Airlines are investigating how wearable technology might help streamline the check-in process. Anxious parents can attach devices that use GPS technology to curious toddlers with a tendency to wander off. And sun-lovers can avail themselves of bracelets that monitor desired tan levels and swimwear that changes color to warn them when they are in danger of going from tanned to burnt.
Indeed, the point at which technology and fashion intersect is one in particular to keep an eye on. “In five to ten years’ time, all the little gadgets we have to carry around – like mobile phones, cameras or bracelets – will disappear and everything will be integrated into a garment,” speculates Francesca Rosella, creative director of CuteCircuit, which is at the cutting edge of fashionable wearable technology. CuteCircuit made its name with a “hug shirt” that mimics the sensation of being embraced when someone with the corresponding app sends the shirt’s wearer a text message. The brand is also known for its miniskirts and dresses that glow and switch between patterns, which have been shown off to striking effect by celebrity fans such as Katy Perry and Nicole Scherzinger.
But so far the highest-profile mainstream fashion label to express a keen interest in wearable technology is Ralph Lauren. Last year it launched the Polo Tech, a tightly fitted sports shirt that monitors heartbeat, breathing and stress levels. That data gets sent from the shirt to an app via a detachable Bluetooth-enabled box. (The shirt itself is fine in the washing machine; the box loaded with delicate biometric circuitry is not.) “The technology has evolved to a point where it can now be synthesized with clothing,” said David Lauren, Ralph’s son and the brand’s executive vice-president, on the occasion of the launch. “The goal now is to merge it into all kinds of clothing. It will be mind-blowing five years from now.”
Although the number of wearable devices is growing every day, the majority of consumers remain fitness fanatics. Yet studies also show that wearable fitness-trackers are apparently not as compelling as smartphones, with many users admitting to losing interest in and even abandoning their new toys after a short while.
On a technical level, another factor limiting the attractiveness of many wearable devices is their typically short battery life and inability to function unless connected to a nearby smartphone. With so many electronic gadgets to juggle already, why should consumers want to buy more – especially when their phones can already do practically everything wearables can?
Another obstacle is that eternal and, for the manufacturers of consumer goods, maddeningly unpredictable quirk of human nature: the perception of what is and is not cool. The rejection of Google Glass, smartglasses that overlay data and augmented imagery on what the wearer is looking at through their spectacle lenses, is a case in point. In principle, Google Glass is an exciting idea, and it seems likely that the technology will prove useful in industrial settings, making it easier, for example, for warehouse workers to locate and handle stock. But ordinary consumers were allergic to the product, perceiving it as not only creepy and intrusive but also, and most damningly, uncool.
Wearable technology’s true believers predict a future in which electronic devices worn on the wrist or neck will become part of every area of our daily lives, serving as a form of ID, allowing us to shop, navigate and communicate, as well as to gather and interpret data on our personal activity and wellbeing; in short, to provide what technologists call a “persistent digital identity”. We are certainly well on the way. But we have not quite arrived there yet. Elizabeth I’s arm watch is not entirely obsolete, after all.
When Mary Shelley sat down to write her letters home in the early spring of 1819, she had already fallen in love. The author of Frankenstein and the wife of the famous poet had arrived in Rome a few days before, and the city had seduced her. Basking in the warm Roman sun, contemplating countless masterpieces across two and a half millennia of history, she was enthralled. “The delights of Rome have had such an effect on me that my past life appears a blank,” she wrote breathlessly, “and now I begin to live.”
Mary knew well the Piazza del Popolo, the square in which I am sitting at the Caffè Canova, enjoying a croissant and the best coffee in the world. A wide oval, the piazza is framed by curving balustraded roadways and centred on fountains spewing curtains of silver water. To the south, twin churches mark the entrance to the city. On the opposite corner, by the Dal Bolognese restaurant, where film stars dine on Saturday evenings and cardinals have Sunday lunch, two carabinieri pose in uniforms that are more Gilbert & Sullivan than constables on the beat. Two nuns glide by, twins in wimpled black, passing a young couple locked in an embrace on the rim of the central fountain. The shadow of the obelisk that Augustus brought back from Egypt after defeating two of the great lovers of antiquity – Antony and Cleopatra – stretches across the cobblestones to touch my feet.
Cavalcades of ghosts roam this piazza. Before trains and airplanes gave us more mundane backdrops, the square was the grand stage for Roman arrivals. For more than 17 centuries, all those who made the journey to Rome from elsewhere in Europe – kings and popes, armies and emissaries, merchants and pilgrims – entered the city through the great Porta del Popolo opposite. Martin Luther lodged here while formulating ideas that would lead to the great schism of the Protestant Reformation. Queen Christina of Sweden – libertine, libertarian and lesbian – rode through Porta del Popolo opposite, waving to welcoming crowds, believing she was escaping the constraints of a northern throne for the freedoms of southern indulgence. Bonnie Prince Charlie – pretender to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland, and born in this city – paused here to splash his face in the fountains after another drunken night.
But the journeys and the arrivals that fascinate me are those of the early tourists, the travelers on what came to be known as the Grand Tour, a phenomenon of the 18th and 19th centuries in which gentlemen and sometimes ladies of means toured the continent to add some polish and sophistication to their manners and education. With its wealth of artistic treasure, Italy was always the highlight of these European journeys, and Rome, the ‘Great Crown of the Grand Tour’, the ultimate destination.
Among them were famous writers and artists. John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron all hurried across the cobbles of Piazza del Popolo. Stendhal, Algernon Charles Swinburne, William Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens – all went “reeling and moaning about the Roman streets”. Henry James echoed Mary Shelley’s passion for the city. “For the first time,” he wrote to his brother on the evening of his arrival, “I live.”
The journey to Italy and to Rome started with the Alps, “those uncouth, huge, monstrous excrescences of nature”, according to one 18th-century traveler. Some visitors, like Horace Walpole, whose King Charles spaniel was carried off and promptly eaten by a wolf, rode mules along the snowy precipices. Others, like James Boswell, were carried in palanquins by sure-footed porters. Boswell was said to have crossed the Alps “with mingled feelings of awe and adulterous anticipation”. Italian women were one of the attractions of any journey through Italy.
Boswell was probably anticipating Venice, whose courtesans were famous. The Frenchman Charles de Brosses described them as a cross between fairies and angels; heroically, he tried eight in order to get a decent sampling. But nuns were generally considered to be the most passionate lovers in Venice; there was a famous incident of a nun fighting a duel with an abbess over a mutual lover. Someone should have told Boswell. His adulterous intentions towards a promising Venetian woman “of some social standing” met with a sad rebuff.
Lovers on the Pincio Hill
From Venice our travelers crossed the Apennines to Florence. The journey could be difficult (in one wayside inn William Beckford was offered a dinner of mustard and crow’s gizzards) but everyone loved the city on the Arno. As always, there seemed to be too much to see: one 18th-century guidebook listed 160 public statues, 152 churches, 18 guildhalls, 17 palaces, six columns and two pyramids, without even mentioning the countless paintings. Tired of the sights, Sir Horace Mann was fortunate to catch the Carnival with its masked balls and its bacchanalian amusements. “I have danced,” he cried. “Good Gods! How have I danced!”
As the travelers turned south to Rome they followed the Via Cassia of the Roman legionnaires and the Via Francigena, the centuries-old pilgrim route to Rome. Both led directly to the Porta del Popolo, where, stretching their legs, they marveled at the theatrical entrance to the city. But the piazza was hardly journey’s end. Rome, which Lord Byron called “the city of the soul”, awaited them.
I finish the last of my croissant and coffee and set off to follow the travelers on their ramblings around the city they knew as Caput Mundi, the Capital of the World. A short walk round the corner into the Via del Corso, once the scene of riderless horse races, brings me to the rooms where Goethe lodged. The great German writer came to Rome in search of classical art. But in the humble rooms in Via del Corso, where he once lay writing verses on his lover’s naked back, he found love, passion and erotic emancipation. By his own account, Rome and his love affair with his Italian mistress changed his life. “Eros has arrows of various kinds,” he wrote. “Some seem just to scratch us… others, strong-feathered and freshly pointed and sharpened – right to the marrow they pierce.” His love nest is now a small museum, the Casa di Goethe, and its exhibitions trace the transformations of the man known as the German Shakespeare. Pick up a copy of his Roman Elegies; erotic poetry was never so exquisite.
From Goethe’s apartment I cross to Via del Babuino and the entrance to Via Margutta, one of the most charming streets in Rome. Long associated with visiting writers and artists, it was home to people like Sir Thomas Lawrence, the president of the Royal Academy of Arts, who lived here in the early 19th century. It is the street itself, as well as its associations, that is so seductive. Rising rents have forced most artists to look elsewhere for studios, but this pedestrian backwater, with its small galleries and antique shops, retains the atmosphere of an earlier Rome. The tiny Osteria Margutta at number 82 is my favorite place for romantic candlelit dinners. Bring along a copy of Goethe’s Elegies to read over the dolci.
Back in Via del Babuino I’m on the trail of Keats, the tragic young poet who arrived in Rome in 1820. At the end of the street I emerge in the Piazza di Spagna, where the Spanish Steps, strewn with flowers, rise to the double spires of the church of Trinità dei Monti. In the 18th and 19th centuries the area was known as the English Ghetto. As early as 1740, Horace Walpole was complaining that the English in Rome seemed numberless; the Italians had taken to calling them milordi.
Just to the left of the Spanish Steps is one of their favorite haunts, Babington’s Tea Rooms, still serving English afternoon teas between the beveled mirrors and the palms. Not far away, in fashionable Via Condotti, is another of their haunts, the Caffè Greco. After two and a half centuries, the fittings and the paintings still evoke the long-lost world of the Grand Tour.
Hard by the Spanish Steps is the Keats-Shelley House, now a museum to the two Romantic poets. Already suffering from tuberculosis, a lovelorn Keats came to Rome in the hope that a sunnier climate might provide a cure. With its book-lined rooms, the house is a wonderfully atmospheric place. I climb the stairs to the narrow chamber where Keats lay day and night gazing at the ceiling that his friend, the painter Joseph Severn, had decorated with flowers for him. He died here, on a dark winter day in February 1821, barely 25 years old, still dreaming of his beloved Fanny Brawne, left behind in London. It remains one of the most moving places in Rome.
Back outside I climb the Spanish Steps to the district of the visiting French. Architects routinely praise the way the steps are visible from all angles. But the builder, Francesco de Sanctis, did not have aesthetic considerations in mind. “I will make the steps visible from everywhere,” he sniffed, “because the reverend fathers [of the French church atop the hill] have alerted me to the gross indecencies committed on that shrubbery slope by couples who often hide there.”
The French always have an eye for the best real estate, and the area at the top of the steps enjoys some of the finest views in Rome. I follow the Viale Trinità dei Monti to a wonderful Renaissance creation, the Villa Medici, “acquired” by Napoleon for the French Academy. Visiting artists are still granted studio space here, but for the general traveler there are tours of the apartments and the gardens that feel like a secret retreat. A little farther along the Pincio Hill is the Casina Valadier, named after the man who designed the Piazza del Popolo. Its elegant terraces are the ideal place for lunch with a view over Roman rooftops where domes rise like hot-air balloons.
Away to the left, you can see the white “wedding cake” creation of the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, commonly called the Vittoriano, and just behind it, the Forum of ancient Rome. In the days when Latin and Greek were still part of a normal school curriculum, most travelers on the Grand Tour had read Cicero and Virgil, Ovid and Horace, and were thrilled to be wandering the streets where they had lived and died. Many enlisted the services of guides to show them around ancient sights. The great German guide Johann Joachim Winckelmann, who became the leading 18th-century authority on classical art, was much sought after. He was a man of considerable tact. Showing John Wilkes around the Forum, Winckelmann kindly pretended not to notice when he and his mistress, overcome by lust, disappeared for some moments behind a ruin. All the more obliging, Wilkes commented later, because he had to pass the interval with his mistress’s mother, “who had as little conversation as beauty”.
But no visitor is more closely identified with ancient Rome than Edward Gibbon. I climb the long steps to Michelangelo’s glorious Piazza del Campidoglio, centred on the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. Just beyond the piazza in the far left corner is a balcony overlooking the ruins of the Forum. Gibbon came here one fateful evening in the autumn of 1764 in reflective mood. The sound of the friars chanting litanies in the Church of Santa Maria d’Aracoeli wafted across the piazza. As he looked down on the Forum “where Romulus stood, or Tully spoke, or Caesar fell”, he conceived the idea of writing The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, one of the seminal works of European history.
Keats’ great friend Shelley also found inspiration in Rome’s sprawling ruins. Shelley adored Italy and spent several years here, where his curious domestic arrangements – in addition to his wife Mary he seemed to travel at different times with two mistresses – didn’t seem to raise any eyebrows. The spring of 1819 found him lodged with Mary, Claire the “nanny”, and his son William in the Palazzo Verospi in the Via del Corso, not far from where Goethe had lived some decades earlier.
The Shelleys spent their mornings exploring the ruins and the art collections and their afternoons riding through the gardens of the Quirinale and the Villa Borghese, the latter still Rome’s great green oasis. In the churches, Mary wrote, “we see the divinest of statues and… hear the music of angels”. Shelley loved to wander the city alone by moonlight, when the evening breezes brought sweet aromas from the country. His favorite destination was the vast Baths of Caracalla, the most spectacular of Rome’s ruins. It was here, beneath the arches, that he wrote Prometheus Unbound.
I hop on the No. 3 tram from Trastevere to the Protestant Cemetery, one of the stops on Shelley’s moonlight rambles, by a southern gate of the city, close to the Pyramid of Cestius. “It might make one in love with death,” he wrote, “to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.” Pines and cypresses separate the rows of tombs. The colony of cats that has lived here for generations has its own charity box just inside the gate. You can find Keats’ grave in the far left corner, shaded by trees, inscribed with a single line: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”
In July 1822 Shelley drowned after his boat capsized in a storm off the coast at Livorno. Mary accompanied his ashes across the Piazza del Popolo and through the city to burial in the cemetery. His gravestone is inscribed with Ariel’s lines from The Tempest: “Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea change/Into something rich and strange.”
It reads like an epithet for the city itself, the Eternal City, still rich and strange, still unfaded after the many sea changes of two millennia. For generations of visitors, Rome has been a revelation. No city in the world has been the destination of so many journeys, or has transformed the lives of so many travelers.
Your address: The St. Regis Rome
Catching up with the news outside the Pantheon
Bangkok has long been a compelling place to visit, a culturally rich Southeast Asian capital that has managed to retain a strong national identity despite rapid development. What has given the city an additional edge for luxury travelers today is that, as well as being home to gilded Thai temples, craft emporiums and markets rich in color and culture, it has developed a booming urban arts scene and remarkably sophisticated eating and drinking venues.
When exactly Bangkok changed from being a hedonistic backpacker paradise and temple city into a budding food and shopping destination is difficult to pinpoint. Some argue that it was the arrival of designers such as Ashley Sutton, who created the iconic Bangkok bars Maggie Choo’s and Iron Fairies, that has propelled the city into the future far faster than other tourist favorites such as Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Pen. Others believe Bangkok’s rise to fame as the cool kid in Southeast Asia arrived when locals started to merge hip Western trends with local culture. “All the successful launches in the last five years have been of lifestyle establishments that have involved something else,” says Daniel Fraser, co-founder of luxury tour group Smiling Albino. “For instance, open art forums at night that also work as bars, restaurants that operate as art galleries and bars that double as performance theaters.”
The food, too, has evolved enormously in the city, he adds. “People always came for the street food, and still do. But now they might have street food at a market one night and a five-star dinner by a Michelin-starred chef like Joël Robuchon the next.”
As in many cities, some of the richest experiences, both contemporary and historical, are best accessed with the help of knowledgeable local guides or insider information. Here we offer a handful to make the best of your stay.
Design a custom suit
A trip to a tailor is now as synonymous with Bangkok as a dizzying ride in a tuk-tuk. Just like the tuk-tuks, tailors occupy practically every corner, jockeying for business from passing pedestrians. Enter Tailor on Ten, the antithesis of the typically crowded shop lined with fake designer fabrics. Run by Canadian brothers Ben and Alex Cole, the spacious store features private fitting rooms, on-site master tailors and fine Italian fabrics by manufacturers such as Loro Piana. What keeps international businessmen and ambassadors alike returning to Tailor on Ten is the attention to detail. Customers come for three fittings during a week and the Coles’ team personally selects every shoulder pad, interlining, button and thread used in the making of the shirts and suits. For men, sipping beer and crafting a new wardrobe or tuxedo gives them the ultimate kid-in-a-candy-shop feeling.
Suits from $400; tailoronten.com
Fresh fruit and flowers en route to the market (Photo: Corbis)
Train with a martial arts star
On the outskirts of Bangkok, hard-bodied Thai men in brightly colored satin shorts enter the black-and-red-checkered ring at Luktupfah Muay Thai Academy for a full day of classic Muay Thai lessons with world-renowned trainer, Chinawut Sirisompan (known as Grand Master Woody). Spending the day with the Muay Thai pioneer, who was among the first to bring the sport to the West and is the founder of the Amateur Muay Thai World Championships, is equal parts history lesson and intense physical training. A day camp starts with a brief history of the sport and a breakdown of the rules and techniques before a warm-up run through nearby rice fields and villages. Back at the gym, there’s time to spar in the ring while a videographer captures the moves. When the grunting and combat is over, students can enjoy a Thai massage, time in the sauna and lunch before returning to Bangkok in a private car – with a few bruises and a new-found respect for the ancient Thai martial arts.
From $12 a session; luktupfah-muaythai.com
Fly over the city in a helicopter
The noise from the churning rotors quickly rises as the helicopter lifts above Bangkok’s crowded streets. The most shocking discovery of this 50-minute aerial trek is just how disorganized the Thai capital is, lacking the city planning, wide sidewalks and defined downtown areas of many major cities. But that lack of polish and orderly chaos is exactly what gives Bangkok its buzz, its magnetism, its charm. Whizzing above the Chao Phraya River, it’s possible to get a bird’s-eye view of the most iconic sights in town: the intricate canal systems, and the ancient Wat Arun and Grand Palace. Back on land, the journey ends with a private car back into the city.
About $1,600 for two, eastmeetswesttravel.com
Take Thai cooking lessons
Blue Elephant restaurant has long been Thailand’s unofficial culinary ambassador, showcasing the beauty and diversity of Royal Thai cuisine. Lessons are led by the restaurant’s leading chefs or, on request, the founder and executive head chef, Nooror Somany Steppe. Each student has a cooking station and wok, and time is spent both in the classroom and in the kitchen. A single morning’s lesson might involve taking an hour-long trip to the nearby Bangrak Market to shop for such typical Thai ingredients as bird’s eye chili and dried shrimp, then learning to cook four authentic dishes such as massaman curry with beef, pomelo salad, Thai fishcakes and a hot and sour soup. Lessons are in a beautiful colonial-style mansion, and at the end of the lesson students can feast in the elegant living room filled with dark rattan furniture and Asian artefacts.
From about $150, blueelephant.com
Tour the flower market
Pak Khlong Talat, Bangkok’s 24-hour flower market, is a place in which almost every visitor experiences a slight sensory overload. Exotic fragrances fill the air as fast-speaking Thais quickly exchange their crumpled baht bills for bushels of flowers. An astounding number of blooms come to the market daily from around Thailand, including orchids in myriad colors, roses, lotus buds sold chilled on ice and marigold blossoms strung into garlands. Navigating the maze of passageways and warehouse rooms is best done with a guide and, better yet, a botanist. The most renowned is Sakul Intakul, the director and creator of the Museum of Floral Culture in Bangkok, who specializes in flower art and installations. A tip: it’s worth buying not just flowers but a vase to create an arrangement for your hotel room.
From $800 for two; smilingalbino.com
Hunt for Asian antiques
House of Chao, a slightly dusty three-story antique house, is decked out with antiques and curiosities from Thailand and neighboring Asian countries including Myanmar, China and India. Known mostly to antique collectors and aficionados of teak furniture, the emporium harbors an assortment of genuine curiosities, ancient treasures, pseudo-antiques and impressive-looking replicas sourced by its charming owner, Khun Chaovanee, who also attends to their restoration. Among the ornaments, carpets, textiles, Thai silk and artwork there are some serious collectibles and one of Thailand’s largest selections of traditional Burmese furniture. Chaovanee is authoritative (and honest) on the provenance of her wares, and can happily arrange for goods to be shipped all over the world.
9/1 Decho Road, Silom; +662 635 7188
Meditate with a yoga teacher
With American founder Adrian Cox at the helm, Yoga Elements Studio has garnered a reputation for being not just the best yoga center in Bangkok, but one of the best in the world. Situated on the 23rd floor of a high-rise near to Chit Lom BTS skytrain station, the studio’s teachers instruct in vinyasa and ashtanga yoga in classes that run through the day from 7am until 9.15pm. Cox, a yoga teacher for more than 15 years, has devoted himself to the study of meditation, philosophy, Ayurveda and linguistics, and trained with gurus in New York City and India. In addition to taking yoga classes, he offers a meditation session to those who want to chill out completely on Saturday afternoons. For those who want to take the discipline further, he also offers a 200-hour teaching training course.
From about $15 for a drop-in class; yogaelements.com
Commission a bespoke table
Belgian former antique dealers, Pieter Compernol and Stephanie Grusenmeyer, set out to create a line of bespoke, hand-crafted tables after unearthing large antique wooden boards in a remote Asian village and deciding to remodel them. The result of their creative efforts is P Tendercool, a chic studio-cum-showroom near the Chao Phraya river that sells the sort of bespoke contemporary pieces that are snapped up by top interior designers around the world. Tabletops are made from antique wooden slabs salvaged from Asian homes or kiln-dried reclaimed beams from colonial buildings. Bases and legs are hand-cast from bronze, aluminum or brass and forged by expert Thai craftsmen. Those who don’t want to design their own furniture can choose from ready-made pieces ranging from dining sets and desks to stools, benches and consoles. International shipping can be arranged.
Your address: The St. Regis Bangkok
Learn to make a traditional curry at one of the city’s cookery schools
Thai martial arts
Buying flowers at the market
Bangkok is famed for its many bespoke tailors
During fashion’s flirtation with Surrealism in the late 1940s, Carmen Dell’Orefice, still in her teens, found herself at The St. Regis New York on a wildly extravagant set designed by the self-anointed high priest of the movement, Salvador Dalí. Cecil Beaton, a friend of Dalí’s, who was working at the Condé Nast studio on Lexington Avenue that day, dropped by to check on proceedings (the photographer was the matinee-idol-handsome Horst P. Horst).
Beaton had returned to New York after a tour of duty as a war photographer and was staying at The St. Regis New York, where his neighbors were Dalí, his wife Gala and their pet ocelot, Babou. Knowing that the artist was on the lookout for a model and that Carmen could use the extra money, Beaton had introduced the two over lunch at Le Pavillon – later La Côte Basque – and Carmen had agreed to pose. It’s the way things happened back then. “He was a showman,” says Carmen of Dalí. “It was all a performance, but one he very much enjoyed. He pretended he couldn’t speak English, but that was just part of the ruse.”
Carmen was supposed to represent La Primavera – a painting by Botticelli also known as The Allegory of Spring – and to be naked to the waist. “That didn’t bother me,” she says nonchalantly, “and it didn’t bother him.” Of much more interest were the charcoal drawings of horses that littered the floor of Dalí’s suite. One day he offered her one in lieu of payment. “I was getting my regular $12.50 an hour, so I said I’d have to go home and ask my mother about it. Now, my mother wasn’t stupid, but we needed the money so badly. She said no.”
Carmen Dell’Orefice has dozens of extraordinary tales to tell, and since she is celebrating 70 years working as a professional model, this would seem to be the perfect time to share them. Born in New York in 1931 to an Italian concert violinist and a Hungarian dancer, she began modeling at the age of 13 after a bout of rheumatic fever and a preternatural growth spurt left her too weak (and too tall) to pursue her early passion for ballet. Deemed to be “too mature-looking” for Seventeen and Junior Bazaar magazines, she began her career as a high-fashion model under exclusive contract to Vogue. Within weeks Carmen was working with the defining photographers of the era: Irving Penn, Erwin Blumenfeld, John Rawlings and Horst. “They were mentors who provided a gateway to the rest of my life and the world,” she says.
While Carmen spent her days modeling designs by Charles James and Mainbocher, life at home was somewhat different; with her father absent, she assumed the role of breadwinner and was soon paying the rent on the fourth-floor walk-up apartment she shared with her mother on Third Avenue. There was no telephone (until Horst eventually insisted she get one), so Vogue would dispatch a runner whenever her presence was required.
Photographs taken in the 1950s show Carmen variously as a blonde bombshell à la Monroe (with whom she modeled hats for society milliner Mr. John), a raven-haired society swan, and everything in between. “I was a chameleon, a silent actress. I was never an ‘It girl’,” she says. Her career reached a high-water mark in 1957 when she shot the Paris collections for Harper’s Bazaar with Richard Avedon, under the fashion direction of Diana Vreeland and the all-seeing eye of graphic genius Alexey Brodovitch.
David Downton’s first drawing of Carmen Dell’Orefice, wearing Thierry Mugler, which he drew in her Park Avenue apartment in April 2000
Although Carmen never officially retired from modeling, in the mid-1960s she scaled back her work to concentrate on family life. She had married for a third time and had a daughter, Laura (today a psychotherapist), by her first husband. When that marriage ended in divorce a decade or so later she found herself in need of a job and made tentative steps back into the industry.
At a party she ran into her old friend Norman Parkinson, who declared that she “didn’t look bad for an old bag”, and flew her to Paris for French Vogue, relaunching her career. The resulting pictures were a sensation and revealed a new Carmen: sexy, silver-haired and on the brink of 50. Her old agency, Ford, opened a new division specifically to handle her, and once again she was working with the greatest photographers: Helmut Newton, Patrick Demarchelier, Arthur Elgort, Peter Lindbergh and Steven Meisel.
Things had changed radically since her heyday, with models now expected to be personalities as well as faces. Carmen quickly adapted. She wrote a beauty book, hit the chat-show circuit, took cameo roles in movies by Woody Allen and Michael Cimino, and appeared on the catwalk in earnest for the first time in her sixties. Along the way she made it into the Guinness Book of World Records (as the oldest professional model).
I first met Carmen in April 2000 after pestering her agents to see if she would consider sitting for me. She eventually agreed, and we arranged to meet at her apartment on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. When I arrived she was whipping her hair into its trademark white squall, “to give you something to draw”. She posed all afternoon with Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald on the sound system, changing clothes, thinking things through, finding the line, and paying me the compliment of taking things seriously.
The drawings turned out well, and since then we have worked together whenever time and tide have permitted: in London, on the catwalk for Hardy Amies; in Paris, backstage at Dior; in Florence, in a deconsecrated church for Alberta Ferretti; and, coming full circle, last year at The St. Regis New York, almost 70 years after she posed for Dalí. For the occasion we hung one of Carmen’s own paintings by the artist on the wall, and felt the magic still.
What makes Carmen so inspiring to draw is that she has such an innate understanding of image-making. She has developed a sixth sense – or is it a third eye? – so that she sees what you see and “edits” herself accordingly for the page. There’s her beauty, of course, but that is just her opening play; she is also riotously funny, ribald when the mood takes her, and has the discipline instilled by decades on fashion’s front line.
Carmen has learned to be a gracious receiver of compliments, which is just as well, since they are the white noise of her life. “I know you hear this all the time,” gushed one lady of a certain age, when we were having dinner in New York recently. “I’ve never heard it from you,” was Carmen’s consummate reply.
And so she goes on. Standing sentinel at the age of 84 and staying true to her aim of representing her generation as positively as she is able. And although she is happy to talk about the past, she will not be pitching her tent there any time soon. There is a book to be getting on with, a documentary which is in the process of being edited, and the offers of work that keep on coming. “I am amazed by everything that is happening in my older old age,” she mused recently. “Perhaps today I am an It girl after all.”
David Downton: Portraits of the World’s Most Stylish Women is published in September by Laurence King
Your address: The St. Regis New York
One of Downton’s favorite drawings, made at
a rehearsal for a Hardy Amies couture show in 2003
A sketch made in London in 2011, with Carmen
wearing a print dress by Jackie Rogers
Singer-songwriter Jamie Cullum’s obsession with jazz began when he saw The Fabulous Baker Boys. He was a 15-year-old piano prodigy at the time and had just started to get paid gigs in hotels. It didn’t matter that they were in Swindon, a small English town not noted for its rich jazz heritage. Teenage Jamie was just like his hero in the movie, the brilliant jazz pianist Jack Baker, though considerably less tortured.
Now 36, Cullum laughs this off as youthful folly. “When you’re a teenager, you grab on to certain icons to help you through the crippling nature of what it is actually to be a teenager,” he says. But in many ways he is still living the teenage dream. An acclaimed jazz pianist, he has released six albums and tours the world with his band. And this spring, he began a series of gigs Baker would have killed for: The Jazz Legends at St. Regis Series, an intimate set of live performances at St. Regis hotels around the world. Throughout the Jazz Age, the rooftop ballroom at The St. Regis New York played host to many of the jazz world’s biggest names, from Count Basie to Buddy Rich. Cullum has curated playlists and booked local acts to play alongside him as he celebrates St. Regis’ musical legacy.
Much of Cullum’s encyclopedic knowledge of jazz comes from his compulsive record-buying habit. “I’m almost permanently on the lookout for new sounds,” he says. As a teenager he dug everything from grunge to hip hop, but also loved to mine charity shops for old records. “I started picking up jazz albums by artists like Herbie Hancock, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk almost by accident. If there was a hip-looking dude in a kaftan holding a saxophone on the cover, that usually worked for me!”
This is how he acquired many of his favorite albums, such as Duke Ellington’s Money Jungle, which has “the rawness of a punk record”. He now owns somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 records, as well as about 5,000 CDs. “I’ve cut it down a little bit, but it’s actually quite a modest amount,” he says. “I know people with 15,000 vinyls, easily.”
He is not one to pay hundreds of dollars for rarities – if you know where to look, you don’t have to. And thanks to all the touring, Cullum has gotten to know many of the world’s best record shops. So where’s good? “In Paris, there’s a place called Oldies but Goodies. It’s the best store for old records in the world: a floor-to-ceiling library. America has a lot of good ones, too. Like Joe’s Record Paradise in Washington – for rock, rockabilly, jazz, hip hop… all the good stuff. When I’m in New York, I spend the most at Colony Records in Midtown, not too far from The St. Regis New York. Or Bleecker Street Records, another amazing one for collectors.”
One question remains. How much does his habit cost him a month? “Mmmmm, that’s a hard one!” he laughs. “I couldn’t even guess.”
One of the world’s greatest living painters, Sir Howard Hodgkin, is sitting in his wheelchair in his vast London studio. “Forgive me if I don’t get up,” he says. At 83 years old he can be forgiven for needing a little help to get around these days, yet his compulsion to paint and to travel the world remains indefatigable. In the first three months of this year he painted six new works in Mumbai, the city he first visited in 1964 and which he calls home for several months of the year. Since his return to London he has continued with his painting, standing painfully at an easel, for a major new show of works at the Gagosian Gallery in New York in 2016.
India has been a recurring theme in Hodgkin’s work throughout his life. The most recent exhibition of his works, at the Gagosian Gallery in London, was of his Indian Waves series, created in 1990 and 1991 and rediscovered last year in an attic. Each of the 30 works was painted on handmade Indian khadi paper, a fluid wave of ultramarine at the bottom of each sheet representing water, an emerald arch above representing hills, and vivid impressions painted over the top reflecting places and events in India.
The colors he uses capture the light and vibrancy of the country in big bold strokes. In Mumbai Wedding, joyful explosions of crimson, orange and yellow implode like fireworks in the sky. In Storm in Goa yellow lightning flashes over an electric green sky with a sultry, inky dark sea surging below. At the time he painted the series, Hodgkin admits he wasn’t sure about it, but today he confesses to being pleasantly surprised – a reaction which his patrons clearly felt, too; each of the paintings sold on the opening night for $90,000.
Although knighted in 1992, the London-born painter – who was evacuated aged eight during the Second World War to Long Island, represented Britain at the Venice Biennal in 1984 and has exhibited in leading museums including the San Diego Museum of Art and the Metropolitan in New York – never uses the title ‘Sir’. “It’s not relevant,” he quips, “unless it’s to try to get an upgrade on an airplane.”
But then, not much about Hodgkin could be described as straightforward. He doesn’t like to talk about his paintings, insisting, “It’s not the way I work.” And he particularly dislikes the label “abstract artist”, preferring to use the term “representational painter”.
While there are clues in their titles as to what each painting might represent, knowing that gets the viewer only so far. Hodgkin’s paintings are not true to life, being rather pictorial equivalents of their subjects, or what the director of London’s Tate Modern, Sir Nicholas Serota, describes as artworks that capture “both the tangible and intangible sensations that we retain from a fleeting experience”.
Hodgkin’s visual recollection is so strong that he rarely uses sketchbooks, painting instead from memory. Describing a trip he made with his partner, Antony Peattie, in 2014 to a Sufi music festival in Rajasthan, hosted by the Maharajah of Jodhpur, Hodgkin recalls “breakfasting on the hotel terrace, a flautist improvising and posing with a peacock, dour Uzbekistani musicians the picture of grimness and, in the distance, a white marble bench”. There you have the scene, better than Instagram because you can read into his word picture what you see in your mind’s eye: a reminder that his paintings are not snapshots.
New York’s Gagosian Gallery will display a selection of Howard Hodgkin’s latest works between March 4 and April 30, 2016.
Images by: All artworks © Howard Hodgkin. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery, except ‘Tea Party in America’. Portrait by Robin Friend; © Howard Hodgkin. Image courtesy Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Howard Hodgkin in front of his painting Border, 1990-91. Left: Hello, 2004-2008. As in so many of Hodgkin’s paintings, the brushstrokes spill over on to the frame, suggesting an exuberance without boundaries. Although this small work measures just 11½ inches x 13½ inches, it dominated the walls of the gallery in which it was first shown.
Tea Party in America, 1948
Hodgkin was just 16 years old when he painted this tea party on his first return visit to Long Island, where he had lived for three years during the Second World War with his mother and sister. Using a sable brush, he experimented with different techniques. The hand holding a jug is executed in a wash, the grey and white striped tablecloth appears combed, and white spotted beads on blouses and on wrists evoke pearls and diamonds. Enormous hands in the foreground place the painter (and spectator) at the head of the table, as a participant in the tea party, while the background recedes in a swirl of white and grey with mauve.
© Howard Hodgkin. Image courtesy Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Where Seldom Is Heard a Discouraging Word, 2007-2008
One of 20 works completed in 2007 and 2008 when Hodgkin explored themes of American freedom and erotic intimacy – “the facts of life as visual art”, as the art historian Robert Rosenblum once described them – this boldly vibrant landscape is one of the largest in the series, measuring 80 1/8 inches x 105 inches. Three horizontal fields are dominated by a polka-dotted sky with a single, smudged cloud on the horizon above a sunny yellow wave anchored upon a burnt orange ground. The viewer is drawn into a landscape that reaches out beyond the physical limits of the painting, surging with optimism for the future.
Letters from Bombay, 2014-2015
For more than 50 years Hodgkin has been inspired by India, its landscapes and its people. Even India’s monsoons sweep through his visceral canvases. Every year he escapes the British winter to spend three months in Mumbai with his partner, Antony Peattie. “I am a representational painter but not a painter of appearances,” Hodgkin explains. “I paint representational pictures of emotional situations.” Thus the viewer can be led by this missive from Bombay in whichever emotional direction it takes him or her. Emphatic dark brushstrokes, like slashes, rupture the painting; a crimson fringe surrounds the blue bay, while a golden sunrise offers new horizons.
Old Money, 1987-1989
Old Money appears to be a comment on the tyranny of money in the consumer society of the late Eighties: awash with coins, a lottery of numbers and expectations, fruit machines and even an ATM, it features a hand reaching out among the green wads of notes. In conversation with Antony Peattie, Howard Hodgkin says that nobody seems able to respond to art “without a gush of words… I am happy for people to talk about my pictures but I wish devoutly that I wasn’t expected to talk about them myself. The more an artist talks about his work, the more his words become attached to it. I want people to look at my pictures as pictures, as things.”
A bar for all moods in Singapore by Maria Grachvogel
Kilo Lounge, 66 Kampong Bugis, kilokitchen.com
Because I now have a shop in Singapore, I’m there quite often, and this bar is my favorite. It’s in a little backwater called Kallang, close to the river in an old storage warehouse, so it’s very much off the beaten track and not easy to find. I only discovered it because a couple of years ago a friend suggested we meet there one evening. To be honest, when the taxi dropped me off, I wondered if I had come to the right place. It was only when I heard noise coming from the minimalist warehouse ahead that I ventured in. The room has a raw, industrial look with polished concrete floors and relaxed seating that give it the feel of a homely loft. It’s also open on two sides, which allows a cooling breeze to waft through. Although they cook great Eastern food here, it’s the cocktails that my friends and I enjoy most. I usually have a spicy margarita with jalapeño-infused tequila and citrus salt, or the fresh but complex mojito, which is infused with coriander, basil and mint. As well as friendly and attentive staff, Kilo Lounge has a lovely atmosphere. In the early evening it’s very relaxed, an ideal place to meet friends for a cocktail. Later, they have amazing music, and sometimes club nights, which are great fun for people like me who love to dance. What makes it special is that it offers so many different experiences in one place, so there’s something to do whatever mood you’re in.
Your address: The St. Regis Singapore
A vintage fashion boutique in Los Angeles by Georgina Chapman
LILY et Cie, 9044 Burton Way, Beverly Hills, lilyetcie.com
Burton Way, the boulevard on which this beautiful vintage shop is situated, is the Park Avenue of Beverly Hills. The building itself dates back to 1923 and has wide windows that are known for their creative displays. Beneath 18ft-high ceilings are stunning architectural columns and wonderful Art Deco details, such as 1920s lanterns from I. Magnin. But of course it is the inventory that makes this shop remarkable. The racks are filled with important pieces from every great label and brand, all in immaculate condition. The owner, Rita Watnick, worked for Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier as well as for prestigious fashion houses, so the store’s jewelry is equally fabulous. Watnick works alongside her husband Michael Stoyla, and the seven-strong staff have been together for a very long time. The collection of haute couture is unparalleled. They currently own one of the only two Alexander McQueen Oyster gowns (the other is at the Met in New York), the Black Swan dress worn by Nicole Kidman for the cover of Vogue in 2003, and the amazing YSL cheongsam shown in the Through the Looking Glass exhibition at the Met. But not everything in the shop is as precious; there is lots of fabulous daywear and eveningwear at very approachable prices, as well as bathing suits, sunglasses, shoes and bags. I once bought a pair of beautiful 1950s DeLillo earrings here which I wore to the Oscars. There is really no store like it anywhere.
Georgina Chapman is co-founder of the fashion label Marchesa
A marvelous museum in Doha by Edward Dolman
The Museum of Islamic Art, Waterfront, Doha, mia.org.qa
This museum isn’t really a “little place” since it’s not diminutive in any shape or form. But it is full of so many little treasures that anyone visiting Doha just has to go and visit it. The building is on an island in the bay; you get to it via a long bridge from the corniche, through an avenue of palm trees. From afar, it looks like a medieval fortress. But get up close and you recognize the genius of I. M. Pei, who has designed the building so that light and shade play constantly against its many planes, making its architecture appear timeless. The inside is equally impressive. The entrance hall is a giant domed atrium, with vast windows on all five floors that give spectacular views over the Gulf and West Bay area of Doha. Set around the atrium, in galleries of porphyry and Brazilian lacewood, are masterpieces of Islamic art from the 7th to the 19th centuries. The museum also hosts several exceptional exhibitions each year, of rare and priceless loans as well as pieces from its own treasures, of which there are many including a fabulous collection of Iznik ceramics, whose colors are so vibrant it is hard to believe that many were created more than 500 years ago. It’s not just the exhibitions that attract: the members of staff, drawn from many nationalities and cultures, are highly knowledgeable, gracious and welcoming. Plus, there’s a shop that sells high-quality replicas of some of the treasures on display, and around it a park, which is a lovely environment in which to relax. What’s really unique about this building, though, is its architecture; there is no other structure like it in the world. Just strolling up the palm-lined promenade at dusk is a wonderful experience, and being able to access its world-class collections at midnight during Ramadan is magical.
Your address: The St. Regis Doha
A modern restaurant in Istanbul by Yotam Ottolenghi
Lokanta Maya, Kemankes Caddesi 35a, Karaköy, lokantamaya.com
This little restaurant looks like a smart French bistro, but it’s actually quite a relaxed Turkish spot in the historic district of Beyoglu. This area of Istanbul is a wonderful mix of the old and the new: although it’s steeped in tradition and quite conservative in some ways, there are pockets of creativity. So, alongside meyhaneler – the little drinking houses that serve classic mezze well into the early hours – there are fashion boutiques, hotels, galleries and, in among them, this gorgeous restaurant, owned by the chef Didem Senol. Didem studied at the French Culinary Institute and spent time working in the kitchens of Eleven Madison Park and Le Cirque, both in New York, which is why her food, although Turkish, feels like it’s had a blast of New York energy. All the ingredients Turkish people love – such as stuffed vine leaves, thick yoghurt sauces, grape molasses, olive oil, slow-roasted meats – are there, but in exciting, original small dishes. She makes the type of food I really love, such as herb-packed fritters, cauliflower soup with caramelized pear, slow-cooked lamb with burnt aubergine purée, and tahini ice cream with puréed pumpkin. The decor, which is modern and light, is also great, as is the service: attentive and slick, but relaxed. So it feels chilled but confident at the same time, and modern with a hint of tradition. But then, so much of this city is like that. It’s particularly great to discover on foot, whether you’re strolling along the river or exploring the food market. It’s a city that’s full of good times.
His latest book, Nopi: The Cookbook, is published in September
Your address: The St. Regis Istanbul
On a spring evening earlier this year, a group of women gathered in a stunning apartment just seconds from London’s Kensington Palace. As the uniformed maid opened the door, it seemed as if we were being ushered into an über-exclusive cocktail party, a sensation boosted by the glamour of the guests, many of whom were dressed by the likes of Prada, Issey Miyake and Armani.
In reality, a far more interesting event was taking place. Among these women were the crème de la crème of the international art world. There was Julia Peyton-Jones, co-director of London’s Serpentine Gallery; Iwona Blazwick, who curates exhibitions for The Gallery at Windsor in Florida; our Italian hostess Valeria Napoleone, a committed collector of art by women; the artist Cornelia Parker; and Candida Gertler and Yana Peel, who set up Outset, an art fund which raises money to buy contemporary works for public collections all over the world.
The women had come to support Women for Women International, an NGO that has helped more than 400,000 women affected by war and conflict. The support here is not only a sign of how many women are willing to help to rebuild other women’s lives around the world, but of how women are becoming increasingly influential in the art world, with dozens of members keen to employ their skills, privilege and experience to help others.
Such a gathering of powerful women in art would have been impossible in 1971, when the feminist art historian Linda Nochlin wrote a seminal essay entitled, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”. Drawing attention to the lack of “women equivalents for Michelangelo or Rembrandt, Delacroix or Cézanne, Picasso or Matisse, or even in recent times, for Willem de Kooning or Warhol”, Nochlin pinpointed the social mechanisms that had kept women from the studio. Culprits included institutional sexism – men controlled the academies and women were not accepted into the Paris Salon for example, a crucial showcase for 19th-century French painters. More importantly, however, for centuries women had been primarily lauded for being mothers and castigated for traits such as creativity that were seen as masculine.
Today, the situation is different. Female artists are so ubiquitous that their presence no longer raises eyebrows. This year, for example, MoMA has hosted exhibitions devoted to Yoko Ono and Björk; Atlanta’s High Museum of Art has featured ceramicist Molly Hatch and photographer Helen Levitt; the Perez Art Museum in Miami showcased Brazil’s most expensive living artist, Beatriz Milhazes; major shows at London’s Tate Modern were devoted to Sonia Delaunay and Marlene Dumas, while the Museum of Fine Art in Houston showcased the collection of art historian Alice C. Simkins. Although still less expensive than their male counterparts, works by female artists are also selling for sky-high sums. In 2014, for example, a group of 21 black and white photographs by Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Stills 1977-1980, sold at auction for $6,773,000. The conceptual sculptor Cady Noland’s Oozewald (1989) fetched a similar figure at Sotheby’s New York in 2011.
Across the world, female curators, gallerists and collectors are stamping art with their imprint. There are nine women in the Top 20 of Art Review’s Power List 100 for 2014. At number 13 stands Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, chairperson of Qatar Museums, who has presided over the construction of a new cultural hub in the Gulf state. Also prominent are Beatrix Ruf, director of the Stedelijk, Amsterdam’s leading contemporary art museum; Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, director of this year’s Istanbul Biennial and recently appointed director of two of Turin’s major institutions, the Castello di Rivoli and GAM (Civic Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art); and Marian Goodman, New York’s most respected gallerist.
Other women to have made their mark include Dasha Zhukova, who founded the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow (which recently reopened in a new building designed by Rem Koolhaas), and Donna De Salvo, the chief curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. To inaugurate the Whitney’s new Renzo Piano-designed home, De Salvo unveiled her show America Is Hard to See, and succeeded in putting an expression of “stupid bliss” on the face of the renowned critic Simon Schama.
The surge in women’s influence is fuelled by myriad factors. Iwona Blazwick believes the empowerment of women in culture reflects their disenchantment with the political realm in the latter part of the last century. “The really radical stuff was happening in theatre, literature, media and art,” says Blazwick. “Only later did it percolate into the wider culture.”
Opportunities for women differ from country to country. In Singapore, Emi Eu is director of the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, a non-profit organization that runs exhibitions and residencies for artists working with print-making techniques. While Singapore’s art scene is less developed than that of New York, she says, both the Singapore Art Museum and the National Museum of Singapore have female directors – Susie Lingham and Angelita Teo. This, she suggests, perhaps indicates that opportunities might occur more readily when a cultural scene is still emerging.
Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #21, 1978,
courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, Michael Leckie
It is also possible that women’s strengths – their capacity for working together instead of competing, and working as a community rather than in a competitive way – make them ideal candidates for operating within arts organizations. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, who was director of dOCUMENTA (13), the 2012 German exhibition that was arguably contemporary art’s most radical and important showcase, believes women’s history of caring for things helps, too. “After all they have spent thousands of years managing domestic relations!”
The approach women take, it is widely agreed, is different, too, with female patrons taking a more sensitive approach. Valeria Napoleone, who has gathered around 300 works by female artists, from New York-based Tauba Auerbach to sculpture by the acclaimed Polish artist Goshka Macuga, says she believes she takes more time than many men. “I stop and think. It’s different from a competitive, rushing, speculative attitude.”
Napoleone also believes that to support artists, you have to do more than buy their work, which is why she regularly hosts dinners for leading emerging talents. “Artists need time to grow, to experiment,” she says. “They need to have the self-confidence to make mistakes. In that sense, they are like children.”
In spite of the rising prominence of women in the art world, the majority of the top jobs in the most prestigious institutions – the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Prado Museum in Madrid – are still held by men. “I think it has to do with tradition,” observes Emi Eu. “When the museums were set up [in 18th and 19th centuries], it was mostly men in the workforce. When women started to contribute, they took up more curatorial roles.”
Slowly, however, the situation is changing. “There was a glass ceiling,” admits Beatrix Ruf. “But in the last few years things have changed a lot. There’s a much more equal playing field. The last director of the Stedelijk was also a woman,” she points out, referring to her predecessor, Ann Goldstein. Another top museum, the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna, also boasts a female general director, Sabine Haag.
Nevertheless, there is still work to be done. Christov-Bakargiev observes that we are still living in a world where men inspire more confidence when business relationships and money are at stake. “Prejudice still exists,” she continues, before confessing that she has often asked male colleagues to accompany her to important meetings, “because that presence is comforting to the people I am meeting”.
Such challenges partly explain why women have made their biggest strides beyond the walls of institutions. A rollcall of the world’s leading private galleries would not be complete without, for example, Barbara Gladstone, who has outposts in New York and Brussels and represents the likes of Anish Kapoor and Elizabeth Peyton; Marian Goodman, who presides over spaces in Paris, New York and London and represents Gerhard Richter and Steve McQueen; and Victoria Miro, who represents Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, the world’s most expensive living female artist. Women also shine when they choose to start their own non-profit organizations. Just consider Dasha Zhukova, or Maja Hoffmann, founder of the LUMA Foundation in Arles in the south of France, or Marina Abramovic, the legendary performance artist who has now started her own American institute.
Flexibility is another factor that attracts high-achieving women to being their own boss. “I thought it would be more manageable to be a mother and work in the private sector,” recalls the gallerist Daniella Luxembourg, who co-founded Luxembourg & Dayan in a Manhattan townhouse in 2009, and this year has shown the Korean artist Minjung Kim and figure drawings by Richard Prince.
Born in Israel, Luxembourg started out at the age of 23 as a curator at an ethnographic museum in Jerusalem, before establishing her own art empire in New York. “It was a pioneering culture in Israel,” she recalls, highlighting how important cultural attitudes are to the status of women in society. “Everything was new. The Prime Minister was a woman. Women participated in the army.”
If the women who are shaping this world have one thing in common, it’s a profound passion for art. Iwona Blazwick recalls the first show she ever saw at the Whitechapel Gallery in East London, where she is now director. “It was by Eva Hesse,” she says, naming the celebrated German-born American sculptor whose emotional brand of Minimalism revolutionized the movement. “It changed everything I knew about art,” she continues, adding that she loves her role because “the excitement of looking and learning is extraordinary. Just when you think it’s gone as far as it can go [it goes further].”
When I talk to Blazwick, she is at the inauguration of the Venice Biennal. “I’ve just seen artists from Haiti staging an opera!” she enthuses. “The ability, as a curator, to provide a platform for those kind of expressions is a huge privilege. Being an artist is a very hard path. But as a curator you can define a zeitgeist and make an impact on social change.”
For Valeria Napoleone, the discovery of artists such as Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger in the late 1990s proved a turning point. “Women’s art offers so much potential to contemporary culture,” she declares. “These were artists who truly spoke to me. I felt a very strong sense of connection.”
A tendency to be more empathetic than men is another reason women are so valuable as curators, gallerists and patrons. It means they are able to turn their gaze outward beyond the art world to help others, as Napoleone did when she hosted the Women for Women International event. “Women take joy in nurturing and giving,” she says. “We enjoy the journey together.”
Valeria Napoleone, one of the world’s leading collectors of art by women
Dasha Zhukova, founder of Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art
(Nikolay Zverkov © Garage Museum of Contemporary Art)
Peeking through a door into a warehouse in the ancient city of Wuxi on the coast of central China, the scene within could be one from the 19th century. In a large, light-filled room, dozens of artists are bent over rows of long white tables, each slowly and methodically dipping long, slender brushes into small porcelain dishes of gouache paint and then carefully applying it to a flat panel of silk.
The workers – some of the most accomplished painters in China – are creating hand-made silk wallpaper. Theirs is a highly skilled and painstaking craft, and with their heads bent and brows furrowed in concentration, they will employ as many as 100 brush strokes to create one leaf and spend up to an hour delicately shading the wings of a bird.
To create enough wallpaper to cover the walls of a single room will take them many hundreds of hours. But in a week they will have created something that is spectacular and utterly unique: a grand hand-painted mural, some 100ft wide, featuring the most dazzling backdrop of swooping birds, gnarled trees and vibrantly colored flowers.
In painting these eye-catching designs the artists are following an ancient tradition, for it is in Wuxi, and also the neighboring city of Suzhou, that the heart of China’s hand-painted silk industry has been based for the past 1,500 years. Once this artform meant scrolls and screens for China’s wealthy governing Mandarin class and its richer merchants, their designs symbolic displays of rank; a blazing dragon denoted power, a flowering peony wealth and beauty. But in the 18th century, these beautifully detailed designs of birds, flowers, trees and pastoral scenes were discovered by Western merchants, who ordered them to be painted on to silk to create wallpaper for export to Europe and America. In the midst of the craze in Europe for chinoiserie (from chinois, the French word for Chinese), the paper quickly became fashionable. It was transported on the ships of the East India Company and formed a significant part of China’s export trade to the West. Today, visit any number of historic stately homes in Europe or North America, and it’s likely that you will come across at least one wall in each that’s embellished with this fine Chinese art.
The Chinese company Griffin & Wong, established in 2007 as a collaboration with the descendants of the original Suzhou Silk-Workers Craftsman Guild, often refers back to homes of America’s Gilded Age for inspiration: mansions such as Marble House and Rough Point in Newport, Rhode Island, both owned by the Vanderbilts, Villa Vizcaya in Miami and the Winterthur Mansion in Delaware.
“The chinoiserie in these buildings is an interesting reflection of the stylish decades either side of the turn of the century,” says Douglas Bray, MD for Griffin & Wong in the Americas. “This was the Art Nouveau era when the wealthy lived in the grand hotels of New York and Florida for parts of the season, and then had the ambition and wealth to try to recreate the fantasy of a dramatic hotel lobby in their own homes. For the interior design world it was a golden time, and chinoiserie was a great part of the Gilded Age.”
Although in the latter part of the 20th century China’s Communist revolution, combined with the rise of Minimalism in the West, put a dampener on this exuberant form of decoration, it is now enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Chinoiserie is newly popular not only in fashionable circles, reflecting a trend in pattern and design, but in architectural practices, too, which appreciate the intrinsic value of historic artisanal craft and the bespoke element it contributes.
Left: Handsome pheasants inhabit an idyllic Chinese landscape on this
hand-painted mural. Right: Porcelain cachepots and ginger jars embellish
a classic chinoiserie garden (both by Paul Montgomery)
“While hand-painted wallpaper used to be very much a limited, high-society product for the Manhattan and London crowds, it is more widespread now,” says Bray. “The oligarchs in Russia love it, as do the upper echelons in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Even in places like South and North Carolina it has become very popular.”
Ironically, although produced in China for the West, it was almost unknown across wider China until about a decade ago. That, though, says Bray, is also changing fast. “The arc has been first for the hotels and high-end restaurants to commission and show the wallpapers, and then recently for the ultra-wealthy – a class that’s growing – to install it in their own villas and residences.”
The corresponding increase in demand for the skills of hand-painting has revitalized a craft that had been in danger of dying in a rapidly industrialized China. “Studios are popping up all the time and this is making it harder to find good artists,” says Tim Butcher from Fromental, a wallpaper company which has a large atelier in Wuxi with about 50 artists working in it. “All Fromental staff are skilled before they begin, but they start as apprentices and work their way up.”
It can take years to reach the top of their profession. Hand-painted wallpaper is still produced in much the same way as it has been for centuries. Unlike printed paper, which usually features one pattern that is repeated, chinoiserie typically consists of a single mural on a series of panels, presenting a panorama of Chinese flora and fauna. Each element is chosen for its symbolic meaning in the relationship between the concepts of Harmony and Nature.
Manufacture is a time-consuming process. First, the silk is treated with a hardening glue before it is stretched on a frame, ready for the design to be sketched by hand with a fine pencil. Then the painting begins. “Four or five artists work on each set,” explains Butcher, whose clients include Chanel and the entrepreneur David Tang, and who for The St. Regis Jakarta, which opens in spring 2016, is creating chinoiserie panels for the bedrooms. “Within any team there is a lead artist and usually an apprentice. The junior artists will paint in the first flat layer of color. The more experienced ones will then start adding in more detail such as shading, the veins on leaves or the petals of a flower. Finally, the finer details of shading will be added on to the birds and the tips of the flowers.”
The supreme expression of the craft is “unconscious painting”, a more spontaneous style of artistry in which a tree trunk is created with a single brush stroke. “It requires speed so that the end result looks natural,” says Butcher. “It is a given that an artist can produce fine, controlled brushwork, but the ability to create balance and form with loose and free strokes of the brush is a skill that’s harder to achieve.”
It is the painstaking building up, layer by layer, of pattern and color that gives painted silk wallpaper its exceptional depth and texture. On close inspection, the artist’s skill is revealed in the play of light and shade against the lustre of the silk, and the intricacies of the individual elements, from the folds of a dress to a bird’s multicolored tailfeathers.
This precision and detail is reflected in the cost. According to Virginia-based Paul Montgomery, who has 35 artists in China creating finely painted backdrops for clients who range from Hollywood celebrities to Middle Eastern royalty, hand-painted wallpaper starts at about $500 for a square yard. And yet considering the paper is unique, it can be thought of as an investment, he says, because it is also surprisingly practical. Not only does silk wallpaper make a room warmer and more personal, it also softens the acoustics.
While painted panels are the most popular with clients, Fromental has recently pioneered the complex skill of embroidering on paper, to create a striking three-dimensional look. “If it takes 30 hours to paint one panel, to fully embroider the same panel takes 300 hours,” says Butcher. “It needs a remarkable level of skill because the tension has to be completely even.” This can be embellished further with the addition of gems, crystals and precious metals.
Although technology has enabled murals to be as lavishly decorative as any client might want, a trend is emerging for hand-painted wallpaper whereby texture, rather than elaborate pattern, is the key attraction. “People still value the hand-painted and artisanal, but they want something that is simpler,” says Butcher. “So we created papers that are done with layered brush strokes for a gradation of pattern and deep color.” Often resembling an abstract painting, these hand-painted wallpapers are a superb fusion of old and new, and work even in the sharpest of contemporary interiors – gratifying evidence that there is still a place for time-honored craft in today’s design universe.
Your address: The St. Regis Jakarta, opening spring 2016
Paul Montgomery’s Hemmerling design in porcelain blue on white
pearlized silk works to stunning effect in this elegant foyer
Layer upon layer of pattern and color give this
Fromental wallpaper exceptional depth and texture