Different Strokes

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.


Your address: The St. Regis New York; The St. Regis Mumbai


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



Flying colors

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 Little Place I Know

A bar for all moods in Singapore by Maria Grachvogel

Kilo Lounge, 66 Kampong Bugis,
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.

Fashion designer Maria Grachvogel’s elegantly draped pieces are sold in boutiques around the world, from Laguna Beach and Dubai to Singapore
Your address: The St. Regis Singapore

A vintage fashion boutique in Los Angeles by Georgina Chapman

LILY et Cie, 9044 Burton Way, Beverly Hills,
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,
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.

Edward Dolman is Chairman and CEO of contemporary art auction house Phillips
Your address: The St. Regis Doha

A modern restaurant in Istanbul by Yotam Ottolenghi

Lokanta Maya, Kemankes Caddesi 35a, Karaköy,
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.

Yotam Ottolenghi is a chef specializing in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.
His latest book, Nopi: The Cookbook, is published in September
Your address: The St. Regis Istanbul

Art’s New Muses

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.”


Your address: The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort; The St. Regis Atlanta; The St. Regis New York; The St. Regis Doha; The St. Regis Moscow Nikolskaya; The St. Regis Singapore

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)


Great Walls of China

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


John Malkovich

1. Schroon Lake, NY, 1970


The first journey you take without your parents is always an important one. When I was 17 I went on a road trip with two friends. We drove from our small town in Illinois to a Baptist Bible camp in Schroon Lake, New York. I’m not sure why my parents let me go – they were pretty much evangelical atheists – but it was decided that I would be a good influence on the other two kids. I don’t remember much about the journey except that I ended up driving for about 24 hours straight. We were such knuckleheads, we didn’t even have a map.


2. New York City, 1974


Even though I grew up in the Midwest, I never really bought the myth of New York being the center of the world. But I guess you have to see it for yourself, so when I was 21, I drove there with two friends. We stayed in a fleabag hotel near Times Square, walked around Greenwich Village, did all the usual things. But I was strangely unimpressed. That trip taught me the importance of traveling without expectation – with an open mind.


3. Chicago, 1976


In 1976 I quit college and moved to Chicago. I had met these kids [Terry Kinney, Jeff Perry and Gary Sinise] while studying drama at Illinois State University. They were starting up the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and they invited me along. So one spring day I packed up my car and drove to Chicago. I knew they were a very talented group of people, but deep down I thought, “This will never work.” Yet somehow it did. I guess we kind of pulled each other along.


4. Thailand, 1983


One of the most influential journeys of my life was going to Thailand for four months to film The Killing Fields. It was so strange and interesting and exotic. I saw the effect it had on people, which was not always for the best. One of the actors was actually carted off in a helicopter wearing a straitjacket. During the shoot I became friends with one of the actors in the film [Julian Sands] and I ended up coming to England to visit him, and then subsequently filming and acting in plays in London. We’re still friends today – he’s in my short film, A Postcard from Istanbul.


5. Peru, 1986


The first movie I directed, The Dancer Upstairs, came about because of a trip I made to Peru with my producing partner Russ [Russell Smith]. Not long before we got there, Sendero Luminoso [“Shining Path”, Peru’s Maoist guerillas] had blown up part of the tourist train to Machu Picchu, so there were soldiers everywhere. Then, while we were in Lima, Sendero caused a blackout across half the city. It made a big impression on me. A few years later I read Nicholas Shakespeare’s book The Dancer Upstairs, which was inspired by Sendero Luminoso, and thought, “This would make a great movie.”


6. Croatia, 1991


My grandfather came from Croatia, but I’ve never felt an urge to trace his roots. I have visited Croatia several times, however, and I strongly recommend it, despite the fact that my first experience of the country was terrible. I’d been invited by a Croatian journalist to attend a film festival in Split, and while I was there, civil war broke out and we had to take off. The only way to get out of the country was to drive through the mountains to Zagreb. The whole experience was really creepy.


7. Istanbul, 2000


The short film I made for St. Regis, A Postcard from Istanbul, is based on an idea I came up with during one of my trips to the city. The first time I went there was in 2000, for a film festival, and I immediately fell in love with it. I’d read a lot about Istanbul and its history fascinated me: that unique mix, or even clash, of cultures. But it’s also astonishing to look at. I always love a city that has a variety of architectural styles. And then there’s this incredible body of water cutting through the middle. At night, it’s like a dream.


Kitchen Confidential

Austrian-born chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck came to the US in 1973 and has since built an international culinary empire. The Michelin-starred chef, who caters for the Oscars and is the star of TV food shows, is also active in philanthropic endeavors through his charitable foundation.


How did your cookery career begin?


My mother was a professional chef, so from the age of about 13, I used to go with her to work; it was either that or learn to be a bricklayer or a mason with my father, and I hated that! I loved the pastry section at the restaurant my mother worked in. They made incredible Baked Alaska, and it’s where I tasted canned fruit for the first time. I had some pineapple and thought it was just amazing.


What sort of food did you eat as a family back home?


I grew up on a farm, so when my mother made soup, or a salad, she’d just go into the garden and pick what she needed. As soon as the first tomatoes were ripe we used to make delicious sandwiches on dark rye bread with butter, parsley and a little onion. It sounds so simple but when the ingredients are straight from the ground, it’s an amazing thing.


Your first job was working for the legendary chef Raymond Thuilier at his restaurant L’Oustau de Baumanière. What was that like?


Raymond was about 72, and he had this passion and love for ingredients that I’d never seen before. When I met Raymond I just thought, “Wow, I want to be like this guy. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Famous people were coming in all the time, even the Queen of England and Picasso. When Peter O’Toole was making a movie in the area, he always used to eat lamb, well-done, with a Cartagena Pinot Noir, and we’d stay up chatting late into the night. Then I’d take him back to his room on my little motorbike; he used to drink quite a lot of whisky after dinner.


What’s the best meal you’ve ever had cooked for you?


One of the most interesting was recently at the Carolina restaurant at The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort in Mexico. The young local chef there, Jose Mesa Arroyave, cooked my wife and me the most amazing Mexican food ever. It was so beautifully presented and not what you’d expect: charred octopus on a crispy tortilla with a black bean purée, a deconstructed tortilla soup served in a spoon as an amuse-bouche, a quail taco and ceviche… I don’t often get surprised, but this was a revelation to me.


How would you describe your new Spago restaurant in Istanbul?


It’s in one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever been to. Every room has an amazing piece of art in it, and the restaurant itself is on the eighth floor with an incredible view. We have a big, beautiful terrace that takes up almost half the space. It’s not too formal, just cool and relaxed, and in the evenings it’s like one big party. We have a DJ at the bar and everyone goes from table to table. It’s great if you’ve just arrived in the city, because you can still sit by the bar and relax, soaking up the atmosphere.


How have you gone about planning the menu?


The very first thing I always do in a new place is to go to the farmers’ market and the fish market and see what ingredients are best in the area. I love to support the local suppliers and they have amazing fish in Istanbul – turbot, wild sea bass, shrimp – and the lamb is the best that you’ll find anywhere. We do an amazing Chinese-style dish with it where the lamb’s marinated in soy sauce, chilli flakes, mirin and spring onion, and then just grilled over a charcoal fire. Of course, if you still want our signature smoked salmon pizza, you’ll be able to order one here, too.


Any ingredients that you’re particularly fussy about?


I love proper chocolate, and I get that from Jean-Paul Hévin in Paris. I always have some in the freezer. I won’t touch cheap chocolate; it has to be 70 per cent cocoa and it has to have some flavor. And if I’m ever hungover, I have to have proper coffee. I’ve been into the kitchen of one of the fanciest hotels in Paris to show them how to make a cappuccino right. For $800 a room you deserve good coffee.


Who would you love to cook for?


Picasso, because I’d love to talk to him. Mozart, because maybe he could play the piano. And Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, because I love them. They’d have to enjoy food, though; there’s nothing more boring than cooking for somebody who doesn’t really enjoy great food and wine.


Your address: The St. Regis Istanbul


Wolfgang Puck in the kitchen


 Yuzu blueberry Baked Alaska

The terrace at Spago at The St. Regis Istanbul, which
serves Puck’s cutting-edge, farm-to-table cuisine


The House That Jack Built

John Jacob “Jack” Astor IV was the American equivalent of a crown prince. His blue-blooded mother, Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, shaped and ruled the New York social elite in the Gilded Age. From his father’s side, he inherited a legendary name and a vast fortune based on Manhattan real estate. No family has ever owned so much of an American city as the Astors owned of New York: thousands of buildings, miles of riverfront property.


The family fortune – worth about $6 billion in today’s dollars – was split between Jack and his first cousin William Waldorf Astor, who spent it in suitably lavish style. The men lived in a world of dazzling marbled mansions, liveried servants, palatial country estates, summers at Newport, social intrigue, elaborate balls and yachts (Jack’s 230-footer could seat 60 in its dining saloon).


Although the two cousins had grown up in neighboring mansions on Fifth Avenue, they did not like each other. William, 16 years older, believed in high moral seriousness and looked down on his younger cousin as a dilettante who frittered away his time on thoroughbreds, motor cars, parties and other idle amusements. When their fathers died in the early 1890s, and the two young men took over management of their fathers’ business empires, each immediately tried to outshine the other by building competing luxury hotels.


William landed the first blow with the Waldorf. After his mother’s death, he knocked down the family mansion and started building the grandest hotel the world had ever seen – right next door to the home occupied by his cousin Jack and his aunt Caroline. Caroline was a small, plump, regal woman who hosted the city’s most exclusive parties and cotillions in the mansion’s magnificent ballroom. Eighteen household servants, in blue uniforms modeled on royal livery, served ten-course French dinners on solid-gold plates. Caroline wore so many diamonds that one guest described her as “a human chandelier” and another as “a dozen Tiffany cases personified”.


When William’s engineers and construction workers started to build the hotel, she was, naturally, furious, and moved out. The situation was little better when the hotel was completed in 1893. Not only did it dwarf her mansion and cast her garden into shade, but it gave her a view of a 13-story brick wall.


Jack was enraged. He was devoted to his domineering mother, who had pampered him thoroughly, aided by her four daughters. He commissioned an architect to build her a four-story French Renaissance chateau with the largest ballroom in the city, 30 blocks uptown on Fifth Avenue, then announced plans to demolish her former mansion and build a row of stables there, so the Waldorf would have horse dung to contend with.


When his advisers cooled him down, Jack came up with a more ambitious scheme: to build a much bigger hotel next door. Teams of lawyers and accountants went back and forth, and eventually a truce was inked, allowing the two hotels to be connected by corridors. The double-hotel was named the Waldorf-Astoria, and a provision in the contract allowed corridors to be sealed off if the truce collapsed.


With 1,000 rooms and a ballroom that could seat 1,500 people for a dinner dance, the Waldorf-Astoria was bigger than any royal palace in Europe. The central corridor was 300ft long, marbled and mirrored, and lined with glittering displays. It was known as Peacock Alley, and 25,000 people promenaded through it on a typical day. The novelist Henry James, not an easy man to impress, described the hotel as “a gorgeous golden blur… one of my few glimpses of perfect human felicity”.


The desire to build luxury hotels wasn’t anything new for the Astors. The founder of the dynasty, John Jacob Astor I, had erected the family’s first in 1836 to commemorate his name and his extraordinary wealth, which he had created from absolutely nothing.


The semi-literate butcher’s son from Germany had crossed the Atlantic in 1783, at the age of 20, and found a job cleaning rabbit and beaver pelts on the New York waterfront. By 1830 he had made so much money in the fur trade that he began to buy land on Manhattan Island, and when New York boomed into a world capital, Astor became the richest man in America and the nation’s first multi-millionaire.


Astutely, he never sold any of his land, but instead leased it to developers and collected rents from tenement buildings. The only thing he built with his own money was his grand luxury hotel, Astor House on Broadway. Hailed as “a marvel of the age”, it contained such wondrous innovations as indoor plumbing and running water, pumped around the building by a great steam engine in the basement. There was a French chef with 12 cooks and 60 waiters, and a new menu printed every day on an in-house printing press. When Astor died in 1848, his hotel was widely acknowledged as the best in the world (although at the close of the century it was on its last legs, and was demolished soon afterwards).


Jack Astor was the founder’s great-grandson, and he called himself Colonel Astor after commanding his own artillery regiment in the Spanish-American War. Tall, thin and debonair, if slightly gangling and awkward, he married one of the great beauties of the American aristocracy, Ava Lowle Willing of Philadelphia. But it was an arranged marriage, and it turned out unhappily. Jack took refuge in his yacht, as his father had done before him, the many gentlemen’s clubs he belonged to, the corporate boards he sat on almost by birthright, his collection of 60 motor cars and, increasingly, his laboratory.



A postcard of The St. Regis New York,
then the tallest hotel in the world 




He was fascinated by machines, electricity and the future, and he invented a new brake for bicycles, a marine turbine engine and a “pneumatic road-improver” that removed dirt from road surfaces and won first prize at the Chicago World’s Fair. He also wrote a science fiction novel called A Journey in Other Worlds, which predicted space travel, global warming, melting polar ice caps, television and genetic engineering. “He had imagination and a mystical side, but he was engineering-orientated really, and a damn good inventor,” says his 90-year-old grandson Ivan Obolensky, whose father, Serge Obolensky, a White Russian prince, married Ava Astor, Jack’s daughter, and was appointed to the board of The St. Regis New York. “He was the richest man on the Titanic, and if he’d have lived longer, he’d have died even richer. He was getting into torpedo designs and some really advanced stuff. The air conditioning system he designed for The St. Regis was a brilliant scheme.”


Having built the Waldorf-Astoria, the cousins continued to expand their hotel empire by constructing dueling hotels on opposite sides of Times Square. William had started with the 17-story New Netherland. When Jack started designing the $6 million St. Regis, he decided it would be 18 stories high: the tallest in the world.


Named after a vacation resort in upstate New York popular with Manhattan’s power elite, The St. Regis was his masterpiece, reflecting both his love of splendor and his passion for innovation. The limestone exterior featured decorative wrought-iron balconies and elaborately carved garlands, in the fashionable Beaux Arts Parisian style. The interiors, of creamy Caen stone and Istrian marble, were designed in a style inspired by the palace of Versailles, with ornate woodcarvings, antique furniture and Flemish tapestries.


But hidden inside the bowels of the building was a labyrinthine network of ducts, channels, tubes, wires and pipes that Astor designed himself. There were mail chutes on every floor, telephones in every room, and outlets for dust-sucking machines connected to a big central vacuum. Adjustable thermostats in every room accessed his novel heating, cooling and ventilation system that “purified” the air by forcing it into the rooms through cheesecloth filters, and cooled it with fans blowing over melting, evaporating ice. It combined American invention and European opulence, making it, as Astor had hoped, the finest hotel of its age.


Like his first hotel, this one, on Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, caused Astor big trouble with the neighbors. This was a very exclusive residential area known as Vanderbilt Row, and its tycoons and socialites did not want their mansions towered over by an 18-story skyscraper. Led by William Rockefeller, they blocked the hotel’s application for a bar licence, on the grounds that it lay within 200 feet of a church and so violated the state liquor law, and boycotted any events held there. The battle went on for two years, until an Astor-friendly senator changed the law to exempt large hotels.


When Prince Sadanaru Fashimi of Japan stayed at The St. Regis for two weeks, Vanderbilt Row was impressed and opposition started to fade. Soon after, Mr. and Mrs. William Vanderbilt announced that they would move into the hotel for the winter, and in the following years, Marlene Dietrich and Salvador Dalí would live at The St. Regis on a seasonal basis. Of all the hotel buildings commissioned by the Astors in New York, only The St. Regis still remains. Now modernized and refurbished, but fully in keeping with its original style and splendor, it is Jack Astor’s greatest legacy and the cornerstone of the St. Regis group.


Although Astor’s hotel empire was flourishing, his personal life was less successful. A year after his mother, Caroline, died in 1908, his wife, Ava, divorced him on grounds of adultery – to the horror of the high Episcopalian ministers in his family church. With his unhappy marriage finally behind him, though, Jack gained a new lease on life. He started to entertain lavishly, and accepted more invitations to society weddings and costume balls. In the summer of 1910, he met an attractive 17-year-old debutante called Madeleine Talmage Force, at Bar Harbor, Maine, and they fell madly in love.


The entire nation was shocked when their marriage was announced. No Episcopalian clergyman would perform the service and, after a frantic search, Astor found a Congregationalist minister who was willing to do it for $1,000 cash. The couple exchanged vows at Beechwood, the Astors’ summer mansion in Newport, and many guests showed their disapproval by staying away. “I’m afraid Madeleine was the Scarlet Letter in our family,” says Obolensky. “She came right out of the blue.”


The newlyweds spent the winter of 1911-12 in Europe and Egypt, but when Madeleine discovered she was pregnant, they decided to travel home in grand style. They booked a luxury suite for the maiden voyage of the biggest, most impressive ocean liner that had ever been built. With Jack’s valet, Madeleine’s lady maid and private nurse, and an Airedale terrier named Kitty, they boarded RMS Titanic at Cherbourg as the sun set on April 10, 1912.


Four nights later, after feasting on caviar, lobster, Egyptian quail and plovers’ eggs, as the string orchestra played Puccini and Tchaikovsky, the gentlemen in first class escorted their ladies down the grand staircase to their suites. At 11.40pm, there was a sudden violent shaking that lasted no longer than a minute. As the iceberg floated away, the ship sailed smoothly again, but fatal damage had been done, and Captain Edward Smith ordered the lifeboats to be prepared and all passengers on deck.


Jack Astor helped Madeleine into a cork lifejacket, showed her to a lifeboat, and inquired if he might join her since she was in “a delicate condition”. The lifeboats were for women and children only, he was told, and he accepted it gracefully. “The sea is calm,” he told her. “You’ll be alright. You’re in good hands. I’ll see you in the morning.”


Madeleine survived and gave birth to a son, but Jack Astor died: probably killed by a falling smokestack as the Titanic went down nose-first with her stern in the air. His body, clad in a lifejacket and a blue serge suit, with $2,500 in cash and a gold watch in the pockets, was found floating a week later by a passing steamer.


Thousands of people mourned the colonel as his coffin passed through the streets of New York, and songs were composed about him and legends multiplied. He sank with the ship while waving farewell to his bride, people said.


In the film Titanic, he drowns clutching on to his money like a miser, an inaccurate and unfair portrayal of a generous soul, says Ivan Obolensky, who was born three years after his grandfather’s death. “He was only 47 and really coming into himself. It was a terrible loss to our family, although we were too stoic to talk about it. He was a good, steady human being, benign and honorable, and disappeared in his prime.”


Carousel images courtesy of Mary Evans Picture Library, Getty Images, Corbis


Behind the wheel of one of his 60-strong
collection of cars in 1903 (Photo: Corbis)



The opulent Louis XVI-style foyer in 1904,
the year of The St. Regis’ opening



John Jacob Astor IV dressed as Henry IV of France for the lavish
Bradley-Martin Ball, held on February 10, 1897 at the Waldorf Hotel,
which had been built by his cousin William (Photo: Corbis)


The Flat Shoe

When officials turned away women who weren’t wearing high heels at a gala screening of Todd Haynes’ Carol at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the organizers were woefully arrière-garde – because in recent seasons there has been a noticeable return to flats. On the catwalks, designers from Prada to Louis Vuitton have embraced flats, from wedges and ballet pumps to the edgy green point-toe Nicholas Kirkwood shoe photographed here. Catherine Deneuve became the Queen of Flats after wearing a pair of Roger Vivier pumps in the 1967 movie Belle de Jour. They became a huge hit, and Vivier sold 200,000 pairs in one year. Such shoes are popular, says the label’s designer Bruno Frisoni, because “they are like jewels for the feet: subtle and powerful, sexy but never garish”. But then, as Deneuve herself pointed out, women of her class and era would never have dreamed of wearing heels. “One cannot walk properly in very high heels,” she said. “But also, we believed that having a natural allure was the most important thing.” Cannes, take note.


The Nature Book

Ask the international book dealer Bernard Shapero why there’s such a demand for rare old natural history books and he’s quick to answer. “People love to be surrounded by things they know, and everyone knows what a bird looks like, or a plant or an animal,” he says. “In addition, they’re also usually extremely beautiful.” They certainly are. When large-scale natural history books, such as Daniel Giraud Elliot’s The New and Heretofore Unfigured Species of the Birds of North America shown here, were printed in the 1800s, each illustration was hand-painted. The time invested in creating the books, says Shapero, “made them extremely expensive”. One of the most valuable books ever sold, The Birds of America by John James Audubon (1785-1851), fetched $12 million at auction, and contained 500 hand-tinted watercolors. Those interested in dipping a toe into the rare book market should look to dealers, who have hundreds of books for sale about natural history. The website of the International League of Antiquarian Bookseller lists dealers and fairs around the world.;


The Hot Potato

The potato is often referred to as “humble”, a support act rather than a star. But there’s something cooking in carbohydrate land, and the potato is climbing the ladder of gastro success, as chefs focus on the right kind of potato for each dish. For, like people, potatoes differ: some are smooth and waxy, others fluffy and floury. They also come in many colors, including red, like the Burgundy Highland Reds pictured here, and blue varieties believed to closely resemble their Andean forebears. Much of the new interest in potatoes is driven by farmers’ markets and experimentation by artisanal growers. There are now about 200 different types of potato available, and savvy diners are starting to understand the difference. Andrew Roche, executive chef of The St. Regis Washington, D.C., has noticed the emergence of potato connoisseurs in the past few years. “People enjoy the meal, then ask questions – and it’s about the potatoes, not the lamb or the sea bass. And if it’s a purple potato, it’s a novelty.”