Hero

Treasures of India

“I started with watches. Then it was cars. Now it’s art,” says Nirav Modi. He’s describing his progression as a collector, which has resulted in the superb array of artworks that adorn the Mumbai headquarters of his eponymous jewelry brand. Having recently opened stores in London and Manhattan, Modi has turned the jewelry house he launched in 2010 into a globally recognized contemporary Indian luxury brand. Like his jewelry, which is produced entirely in Mumbai, his art was created almost entirely in India, spanning the century between India’s struggle for independence and its current status as an economic powerhouse.

 

Today, the jeweler owns about 500 pieces of art – some of which are hung in the oceanfront duplex he shares with his wife and three children, and others at their beach house in Alibag, where fashionable Bombayites head for the weekend. Most of the collection, though, is kept at the company’s offices (designed by his mother, an interior designer) and displayed in rotation. Apart, that is, from a few works that never leave his own office: a sculpture of brass cowpats by the contemporary artist Subodh Gupta; Boy With Lemons, a painting by Amrita Sher-Gil, the bold female artist of the Twenties and Thirties sometimes described as India’s Frida Kahlo; and a haunting photographic portrait of Sher-Gil taken by her nephew, Vivan Sundaram.

 

Having grown up in Antwerp, where his family were diamond dealers, and visited the museums of Rome, Paris and Brussels with his mother, Modi says he was attracted to art from a young age. Although at home, “dinner table conversation was all about diamonds: diamonds bought, diamonds sold, diamonds cut”, as a young man he became obsessed with other objects of beauty. His first passion was watches – beginning with one he just had to have. “I spent my first six months’ wages on an IWC perpetual calendar watch,” he recalls, followed by a series of extraordinarily complicated models, from fine watchmakers such as Philippe Dufour. After that, he discovered cars – “mostly British” – although living in Mumbai, he points out with a wry smile, you don’t really get the chance to make the most of a high-performance automobile.

 

It was only in the Nineties that he started to collect art. “As I was living in India,” he says, “I was most influenced by the Indian modern art I was seeing around me.” Today, Indian art from 1850 until 1970 makes up the core of his collection, which now encompasses something close to a complete canon of artists of that period, and some of its greatest masters. Like most serious collectors, though, for Modi there’s always something missing, something more to add – including, he says, “a masterpiece by Tyeb Mehta” (one of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group who gained international recognition in the Sixties and Seventies).

 

According to Mallika Advani, the former head of Christie’s in India who has been Modi’s art adviser for many years, the jeweler is “the dream collector. He knows what he wants and how to work the primary market, but he’s also very good at auction.” He also has, she explains, a passionate desire to acquire key pieces that he believes will enhance his collection, enough knowledge to know when to buy a piece and when to wait, and what he’s missed out on, so he can try and buy it later.

 

The choice to display the collection – and rotate the display – at the semi-public space of his offices rather than at home is a deliberate one, Modi explains. “Art inspires me. There are pieces I’ve had on walls for years and suddenly I notice a nuance, despite having seen the works day in, day out. This quality of art is fascinating. I wanted to create an environment where more people would have the opportunity to be immersed in it.”
niravmodi.com

 

Your address: The St. Regis Mumbai

Princess_1

“Warhol said, ‘Scarlett, would you like to sit for me?’ I called myself that then. I was 16”

A pair of matching Vespas is not the first thing you expect to find at the front door of one of Europe’s leading royal families. But, as the electric gates swing back to let me into the London townhouse of Prince Pavlos and Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece, there, by the chic black-lacquered front door, stand two immaculate burgundy scooters: one for him and one for her.

 

If they were the property of any other young London couple, the bikes wouldn’t be of interest. But Pavlos, the Crown Prince of Greece, has connections to half the royals in Europe, with their golden carriages and bulletproof limousines, and his wife Marie-Chantal, the daughter of the DFS (Duty Free Shops) billionaire Robert Miller, is not unaccustomed to a life of personal chauffeurs and private planes. The fact that they whizz about the British capital on two wheels – posting Instagram photographs of themselves with their children on the back – tells you much of what you need to know about this most independent of royal couples.

 

As she leads me into the drawing room of their capacious Chelsea home, her petite frame clad in black J Brand jeans and a cream lace shirt, with Pierre Hardy pumps on her feet, it’s clear she’s no average princess. “Sorry about the cat,” she apologizes, removing a muddy-nosed creature from a cream chair and calling one of her five children to retrieve it. “It got stuck in a hole, and I haven’t had time to wash it yet.” The cat, though, is the only thing that’s not immaculate in the room. Cushions are artfully arranged on carefully placed sofas. Tight, round “trees” of single-color flowers adorn coffee tables. Photographs of the couple’s wedding – the biggest gathering of royals in London since the nuptials of Princess Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1947 – adorn a polished grand piano. And on three of the walls hang Andy Warhol paintings: one that the artist gave her as a gift on her school graduation, and two which she posed for as a 16-year-old intern at his Factory studio in New York.

 

Working for Warhol was “one of the best experiences I could ever have had”, she says. “It was so much fun. It was the 1980s and the art world was booming, and he’d have me do everything: mix paint, serve lunch, run errands, go with him to openings and exhibits, and hang out with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. I can’t believe my parents let me, to be honest – although I did have a 10pm curfew.”

 

Sitting for Warhol came about by accident. “He said to me one day, ‘Scarlett, would you like to sit for me?’ I called myself Scarlett then – who knows why. I didn’t like Marie-Chantal. I was 16 and trying to invent myself. Maybe it was after Gone with the Wind – I can’t remember. So I sat for him. My father, thankfully, bought the works, which was a good investment.”

 

Three decades later, she not only appreciates the name Marie-Chantal, but has created an eponymous business from it: a luxury children’s clothing range that has grown from a small line in a single London store to an internationally recognizable brand sold in more than 30 countries worldwide. When she launched in 2001 in New York, where she has a home, “friends [including loyal followers such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Brad Pitt, Jessica Alba and Victoria Beckham] were very sweet and bought it. We did 18 options for girls, 12 for boys.” Today, she sells as many items online internationally as she does in her original store in the British capital.

“I think people crave the nostalgia of an old-fashioned childhood,” she says, praising the Duchess of Cambridge, whose wedding she attended, for helping to revive more traditional childrenswear. “They want gingham and stripes, and pretty dresses for girls, and beautifully cut classics for boys, whether they’re in a big city in Asia or on America’s East Coast. And lovely fabrics that aren’t scratchy and itchy.”

 

Her own mother, she says, has “immaculate taste” and bought only classical styles for her and her sisters, Alexandra von Fürstenberg (now a furniture designer) and Pia Getty (a filmmaker). “We lived in Hong Kong and she would take us to Europe to do our shopping for the year: toiles from Liberty,and kilts and cashmere from The Scotch House, in London; the remainder from Cacharel and Daniel Hechter in Paris.”

 

Even today, as a 48-year-old mother of five children, aged between nine and 21, Marie-Chantal still takes inspiration from her mother’s wardrobe – and borrows from it regularly. “She has great jackets and accessories, and some very good Chanel pieces. What’s funny is that Olympia [her 21-year-old daughter, currently studying photography in New York] is now borrowing my clothes. Our taste is multi-generational.”

 

Other than her mother, from whom she borrowed a navy Chanel couture suit to wear on the evening she met Prince Pavlos, the icons she was inspired by are all from a previous generation. “I know it’s a cliché, but it was women like Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Jane Birkin, whose style you don’t see so much today. It’s much more diverse and creative now: girls are mixing street style with high fashion, and pieces from Zara or Topshop. They might buy a designer bag, but that’s it, whereas when I was young and living in Paris in the 1980s, you were loyal to one designer. Mine was Karl Lagerfeld, then Valentino, who made my wedding dress [a pearl-encrusted gown that was rumored to have cost $225,000] and who has since become a friend. I love the way they nurture clients. There’s a real friendship there.”

 

If she had to pick two women now whose style she admires, it would be Inès de la Fressange, Lagerfeld’s muse, “who has such classic elegance, she could wear white jeans and a white shirt and look fabulous”, and Lauren Santo Domingo, “who’s great at being experimental and carrying off new brands”, and who carries Marie-Chantal’s line on her Moda Operandi online boutique. And designers? “Peter Pilotto, Erdem, Emilia Wickstead and Michael Kors.”

 

As you might expect from someone who regularly appears on lists of the world’s best-dressed women, attending fashion shows and shopping are a key part of her daily life. “The problem is the internet!” she exclaims, rolling her eyes. “I love shopping online and there are so many great places: Matches, Mytheresa, Shopbop for its jeans and T-shirts, Farfetch, Amazon… I can’t remember the last time I went and browsed in a boutique. It just doesn’t happen any more.”

 

Being much the same size as she was when she married 22 years ago means she can mix classics from the 1980s with new things. She stays trim by going to the gym or cycling. “Plus, I haven’t eaten carbohydrates for years, or sugar. If you add up how much sugar is in a diet, what with fruit and veg, and cookies and desserts, it really adds up, so I stopped completely. I try to stop the kids having sugar, too, but it’s a nightmare. Even juices – you really have to read the labels. It’s all hidden. Everyone should watch Food, Inc. and That Sugar Film. Then they’d cut it out completely.”

 

Two things she believes in, however, are fresh air and a good beauty regime. “My dermatologist advocates a regime of scrub, wash and moisturize, plus vitamin C and glycolic acid,” she says. “And it works.” As for the fresh air, she gets plenty of that on the family estate in Yorkshire, in the north of England, where they go most weekends. “Growing up in Hong Kong, I dreamed of space. Being able to enjoy that now is wonderful. I’m a mix of urban and country, I think.”

 

As are her customers – in her four stores, online shop and sales points around the world. Surprisingly, she says, it’s in Asia that classic dressing has had a particular resurgence. “There, the little girl or boy really represents the family status, so it’s important to dress them well,” she says.

 

Advice to focus her business eastwards has come from a trusted source. Her father grew his DFS and Galleria brands by targeting the Japanese consumer of the 1970s. “Today, it’s the Chinese,” she says, “who love not just luxury but lots of different new brands. It’s growing there like nowhere else.”

 

But really, she says, wherever they are, people of all ages like to look good. “It’s important to make an effort,” she smiles. “People appreciate it. Like manners.” And with that she gets up to make me tea, like the mannerly princess she is.

 

marie-chantal.com

 

House style

Above: Princess Marie-Chantal in the elegant London abode she shares with Prince Pavlos and their family (photo: Julian Broad/Getty Images)

 

 

The art of decor

The couple’s home is filled with art, including paintings of herself by Warhol, and of her children (photo: Julian Broad/Getty Images)

 

 

 

Small wonder

Marie-Chantal’s spring/summer 2017 collection for children includes lightweight suits for boys and cool tweed dresses for girls, each beautifully cut

 

 

 

Royal standard

Princess Marie-Chantal photographed in the garden of her London townhouse with three of her five children, wearing clothes from their mother’s eponymous range

 

FindingElDorado_Hero

Finding El Dorado

From the baking coastal deserts to the fertile terraces of the Sacred Valley, the sun was worshipped by almost all of Peru’s indigenous peoples. And when the Nazca, Salinar, Vicús, Chimú, Moche and Sipán cultures sought a physical expression of this vital power, they turned to their most precious metal: gold.

 

When I first visited Lima’s state-run Museo de Oro and the private Larco museum of Pre-Columbian art in Cuzco, my jaw dropped at the extraordinarily exquisite representations of animals, ceremonial clothing and bags, sculptured hands, ceremonial cups and Tumis (axes with semi-circular blades) and funerary masks. These masterpieces demonstrate how gold, for the nobility, played a role in every aspect of life and death.

 

This story was repeated across the Americas, from the Mayas in Mexico to the Muisca people of Colombia. When the conquistadors came knocking, much of the splendor was scattered. Some traveled to Spain and Europe, some went to the Pope. Many of the extant gold artworks and jewelry are now held in museums or kept in private collections.

 

This is what makes Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas – at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center and then in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art – a unique event. The show will feature more than 300 works rarely or never-before seen in the United States from more than 50 international lenders, including treasures unearthed in recent excavations across the continent.

 

To understand the history of the Americas, you have to understand gold. The Museo de Oro has pieces dating from as early as 100 AD. In Cuzco, the Incas’ “navel of the world”, Atahualpa was said to possess a portable throne of 15-carat gold that weighed 183 pounds. For many of the pre-Incan cultures, gold and silver were the embodiment of a fundamental dualism of light and dark, male and female, night and day.

 

For the Incas, whose empire stretched from Ecuador to northern Argentina, gold was not merely beautiful and rare, it symbolized unearthly and uncanny power. Archaeologists believe the Inca road network served for ritual activities. The famous Machu Picchu citadel had multiple and overlapping functions, sacred and profane. The most stirring place at the site, for me, is a stone pillar known as the Intihuatana. The name, possibly given to it by Hiram Bingham, the American explorer who rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911, means “hitching post of the sun”. The Incas, using the stone as an astronomical clock, held ceremonies on the March and September equinoxes when the sun was directly above the pillar. The Inca knew our closest star provided them with crops, fire, life itself and they believed that gold in some way embodied this cosmic force. Whoever owned gold had harnessed the creative energy of the sun.

 

Bogotá’s famous Museo de Oro claims to be the largest collection of gold objects in the world. Representations of fishes and sea snails, decorative plates, surreal anthropomorphs and zoomorphs and a dazzling votive raft express the vivid imaginations and demonstrate the artisanal talents of the Muisca culture, which occupied the Andean highlands from as early as the 16th century BC right up to the Spanish conquest.

Europeans were mesmerized by gold, too. If Columbus’s main goal was a fast route to the Indies, this was because he was seeking spices, silks, and precious stones and metals. Hernán Cortés is said to have confessed, “We Spaniards know a sickness of the heart that only gold can cure.”

 

When Aztec ruler Montezuma made an offering of the precious metal to the invaders, believing them to be divine rather than dastardly, Cortés saw his chance. Much of the hoard was shipped to Europe, to become part of Spain’s imperial treasures, to pay debts, to be melted down, to be shipped on as patronage to the Pope. King Ferdinand of Spain required gold in order to fund further expeditions, to spread the word of God and to secure control over the vast new territories. Some was lost en route, plundered by pirates. In 1975, an octopus fisherman spied something glittering in shallow waters off Punta Gorda, near Veracruz on the Mexican Gulf. He dug into the sand with his free hand. The find, now known as the Fisherman’s Treasure, contained beautiful Aztec bracelets, pendants and ornaments, originally destined for Charles V but sunk en route. Some of these will be on show at Golden Kingdoms.

 

The search for gold would lead colonists and conquistadors to take terrible risks. Even in the deserts of Patagonia, Spanish explorers would, on hearing fantastical rumors told by natives, set off on epic, futile – often fatal – expeditions across the arid plains. Imaginary places like the City of the Caesars became the talk of coffee shops in Seville and Genoa, London and Paris.

 

The 20th century was not immune to gold fever. The recent film The Lost City of Z tells of British explorer, Lieutenant Colonel Percy Fawcett, who traveled to Brazil eight times between 1906 and 1925, searching for vestiges of an ancient civilization. Tales of lost Inca gold turn up perennially in newspapers – and, indeed, ancient sites are being discovered all the time (Golden Kingdoms, for instance, will showcase ornaments from Sipán, the richest unlooted tomb in the ancient Americas, found only in 1988).

 

All these possibilities are captured in the notion of El Dorado – the mythic Golden Man that segued from being a tribal chief associated with the Muisca to become a city, a kingdom and, ultimately, a lost empire. A few years ago, traveling through northern Brazil by bus, I woke to find we’d passed through a place called El Dorado during the night. It seemed fitting: to doze while passing through a place that has occupied so many dreams. Like all those conquistadors before me, I had to make do with the fiery glow of the dawn sun. Anyway, I rationalized, it was bound to have disappointed me. It was a small town, a nowhere place. There had to be dozens of humdrum El Dorados named after that futile, crazed illusion.

 

Then again, perhaps, buried a few inches beneath the ground, was a rusting chest containing a stash of gold that once lit up the faces of Incas or Amazonians, and lay waiting, shining in the dark, if only I could find it.

 

Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas is at the Getty Center, Los Angeles (getty.edu) from September 16, 2017, to January 28, 2018, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York metmuseum.org from February 27 to May 28, 2018.

Your address: The St. Regis New York

 

Above: Aztec serpent labret with articulated tongue

 

 

Above: Moche octopus frontlet

 

Above and below: artifacts from the Golden Kingdoms exhibition

 

Rome

No Place Like Rome

Throughout the 1950s and early '60s, Rome was the coolest city on earth, synonymous with fashion, style, design, glamour, a vibrant if sometimes disreputable nightlife – and, of course, movies. The epicenter of all this excitement and frenetic activity was a hitherto-unremarkable 200-yard street named Via Veneto. It was here that international high society would gather: the rich, louche and beautiful. There were movie stars and international financiers; haute couture tycoons and minor noblemen; millionaire playboys and stunning models, dressed to kill. The stories that emerged from this small street made it one of the most famous places on earth.

 

The after-dark activities, and sometimes outlandish behavior, in bars, restaurants and nightclubs on and around Via Veneto were the stuff of worldwide gossip. It looked like one long, wild party to which only the gilded and glittering were invited. All this lasted a decade or more, and from the outside, at least, it looked like a sweet life. No surprise, then, that the greatest film documenting the era was called La Dolce Vita – even if its title was sardonic.

 

What a scene it was. On any day in this feverish period it was hard not to catch sight of people so famous they could be identified by their surnames alone: Bardot. Sinatra. Ekberg. Welles. Lollobrigida. Mastroianni. Loren. You might glimpse Prince Rainier, Aristotle Onassis, the Aga Khan, Jackie Kennedy, King Farouk. Not to mention Burton and Taylor, or Liz and Dick, as the papers called them when they visited Rome to shoot the epic Cleopatra, and carried on an illicit affair that made global headlines for weeks on end.

 

While the film was being shot in 1962, the couple stayed at what was then called the Grand – which has been known as The St. Regis Rome since the turn of the century – and it became one the film’s informal production offices, with ordinary Romans waiting in line to be auditioned for lavish crowd scenes. The gorgeous belle époque palace, founded in 1894 by the legendary hotelier César Ritz, had become a Roman home away from home for dozens of stars, ranging from Kirk Douglas, Jack Lemmon, Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner and her then husband Frank Sinatra (sometimes quarreling furiously) to Fiat’s playboy tycoon Gianni Agnelli, who maintained an apartment there all year round.

 

Jess Walter’s bestselling 2012 novel, Beautiful Ruins, gives a flavor of the place. One of his characters, an Italian man of modest means named Pasquale, enters the hotel to see hundreds of extras for Cleopatra being cast: “The mahogany door opened on to the most ornate lobby he’d ever seen: marble floors, floral frescoes on the ceilings, crystal chandeliers, stained-glass skylights depicting saints and birds and glum lions. It was hard to take it all in, and he had to force himself not to gape like a tourist...”

 

Via Veneto was heaven for the press, even in daylight, with all these famous people strolling and behaving impeccably. After all, they were rich, elegant, fashionably dressed by chic designers – and their images sold newspapers. Journalists and cameramen worked the Via Veneto beat in pairs, nosing out juicy titbits of gossip. Any celebrities behaving in an unseemly manner found their activities captured as they fled from gangs of ruthless cameramen, indifferent to their feelings and privacy. These men – some on Vespas, some simply sprinting – came to be known as paparazzi – after Paparazzo in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, the photographer sidekick to Marcello Mastroianni’s gossip columnist.

 

The paparazzi made the lives of some celebrities sheer hell. One of their favorite targets was Anita Ekberg, famous from La Dolce Vita as the sex-goddess actress who provocatively waded into the Fontana di Trevi and beckoned Mastroianni to join her. She and her husband, English actor Anthony Steel, were often out late on Via Veneto, sometimes openly arguing, with Steel frequently quite tipsy. He would literally fight back at the paparazzi, throwing punches. On one occasion Ekberg felt so persecuted by paparazzi who had tailed her all the way home, she grabbed a bow in her house and fired off arrows at her pursuers.

 

The standoffs between celebrities and paparazzi, out for scandalous photos that hinted at adultery or inebriation, became an almost nightly melodrama. Scuffles, shouting, chases and recriminations were commonplace. It wasn’t always seemly, yet the whole world seemed to be watching.

 

The phenomenon of La Dolce Vita seemed to emerge from out of nowhere, and several unlikely elements contributed to bring it into being. The most remarkable thing about it was the speed with which it happened and its time-frame: only a few years previously, the Eternal City was a devastated place, having been occupied by invaders – first the Nazis, then the Allies – with large sections of it reduced to ruins. Plus, of course, Italy had been on the losing side in World War II; it was a Fascist nation ruled mercilessly by the tyrannical dictator Benito Mussolini. Yet only five years after hostilities ceased, it felt as if the western world had swiftly forgiven Italy, and Rome re-assumed its place as a friendly international playground.

 

Three great neo-realist Italian films, all shot so cheaply and convincingly they looked like documentaries, helped to sway opinion, especially in America. Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945) and Vittorio de Sica’s Shoeshine (1946) and Bicycle Thieves (1948) convinced the world that Rome’s citizens were mostly poor, decent and struggling to get by in their beautiful but war-ravaged city.

 

It also helped that Italy underwent an economic resurgence in the post-war years: “il boom”, as it became known. This was partly due to generous American aid under the Marshall Plan, but was also thanks to the country’s production of well-designed products for mass consumption: domestic appliances, Fiats and Vespa motor scooters, all of which introduced us to items that were both chic and iconic.

 

After the war, the population around Via Veneto changed. Although once a hangout for artists, writers and intellectuals, after the US Embassy opened for business in 1946 in the old Palazzo Margherita, the street became the heart of an unofficial American colony, which the Yanks nicknamed “the Beach”.

 

Brigitte Bardot is snapped by the paparazzi in Rome, 1970

(AGT/REX/Shutterstock)

 

By the end of the 1950s, it boasted a Harry’s Bar and a Café de Paris, establishments already existing in cities favored by jet-setters, and the airline TWA began operating direct flights between New York and Rome. The city’s status as a glamorous destination was sealed; and Via Veneto was the hub of a neighborhood where visiting Americans, especially wealthy ones staying in luxury hotels, might feel at home.

 

As for movies, the genesis of La Dolce Vita was rooted in a pragmatic business decision. The Italian government, like others in Europe, was alarmed by the overwhelming post-war success of Hollywood films and passed legislation to defend its film industry in a number of ways. These included a strategy known as “blocking” funds earned in Italy by American films, insisting they could only be spent in the country where they were earned.

 

Hollywood studios circumvented this by making films abroad, using blocked funds as their budgets. Italy was a beneficiary of this gambit: it boasted a reliable climate for uninterrupted shooting, and great locations including beaches, coastlines and the glories of Rome. Above all, it had Cinecittà (Cinema City), a world-class film studio conveniently situated on the outskirts of Rome. Opened in 1937, the dream factory was Mussolini’s brainchild (something Italians are still a little sheepish about). Il Duce grasped how potent moving images could be for propaganda, and resolved to make Cinecittà the equal of Hollywood studios. This was a dictator who genuinely loved movies (he founded the Venice Film Festival); with Cinecittà, he effectively created a viable film industry for Italy.

 

So it was that 20th Century Fox shot Prince of Foxes, a medieval adventure story starring Tyrone Power and Orson Welles, wholly in Italy. On its release in 1949, it grossed enough money to make shooting Hollywood movies in Italy seem a shrewd idea. In its wake, MGM upped the ante, announcing an epic production of Quo Vadis, set in ancient Rome and starring Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr. A huge production, even by Hollywood standards, it boasted a then remarkable budget of $7.6 million. Statistics about the film’s scale were bandied about by publicists. Some scenes used 30,000 extras, all of them job-hungry Romans. A record 32,000 costumes were designed for the movie. The production took over Cinecittà for a whole year.

 

Quo Vadis was such a big deal that, in June 1950, Time magazine ran a leading piece about it, and the significance of making American movies abroad (now known as “runaway production”). The piece was titled Hollywood on the Tiber, and the phrase quickly stuck.

 

If it seemed a risky proposition, it paid off. Quo Vadis went on to gross three times its budget in North America, and became the highest-grossing film of 1951. As a place for making Hollywood movies, Rome was suddenly hot.

 

And Hollywood kept on coming. The next big film was wildly different, but also advanced Rome’s credentials as a destination for Hollywood film-makers. Roman Holiday (1953) was a charming romantic comedy starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. She played a princess, in the city on an official visit; she abandons her duties when she falls for Peck, playing a reporter who takes her sightseeing on the back of his Vespa (of course), taking in the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum and the Trevi fountain. Director William Wyler chose to shoot largely out in the streets, aware that the real city looked better than any backdrop the movies could devise. Thus, the film had three stars, Hepburn, Peck – and Rome, at its most ravishing.

 

No-one would argue that Three Coins in the Fountain (1954) was much of a movie. Its premise was paper-thin: three young American women, in town and looking for love, toss their loose change into the Trevi Fountain and make a wish. But it was a huge hit and its title song, crooned by Sinatra, topped the charts and won an Oscar. Rome? It looked as lustrous as ever.

 

Looking back, it feels as if Cleopatra (1963), a film that was a spectacle but failed to justify its absurdly expensive budget, was the high-water mark of the La Dolce Vita era. No bubble suddenly burst, but as the 1960s progressed, it seemed other cities (notably London) had seized Rome’s mantle. The Café de Paris moved out, as did Harry’s Bar.

 

They have since returned, and although Via Veneto is a less frantic street than in its heyday, it still has a real allure. It’s not hard to conjure up images from its illustrious past: a young Sophia Loren striding down the street, heading for the stardom that awaited her; Mastroianni, avoiding the gawping gaze of passers-by, and looking rueful; Ava Gardner, flashing her brilliant smile as she leaves a restaurant. And, of course, the ever-present paparazzi, jostling, shouting and waving, their flash guns popping. Times may change, but good stories never die.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Rome

 

 

Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, 1962

(AP/Topfoto.co.uk)

 

 

7

 

 Scooting through Via Veneto

(Getty Images)

1

Esther Freud

1. Morocco, 1967

 

My first big journey was when I was four, to Morocco, where I lived until I was six, and wrote about [in Hideous Kinky]. For the rest of my childhood I felt I had a secret, exotic, colorful Moroccan life inside me that nobody else in gray, rainy England understood. It affected me in another way: I spoke a muddle of English, French and Arabic, but couldn’t write until I was 10. I thought that stories and tales I’d heard in Morocco were more magical than putting letters in a certain order. I think they politely called me “vague”.

 

2. New York, 1979

 

When I was 16 I went to visit an American friend who lived in New York for Christmas. I couldn’t believe there was a city like it. They were a wonderful arty Jewish family on the Upper East Side; for Christmas morning we went to a diner for pancakes. It seemed so exotic. I took my sister Susie once, when our plane made an emergency landing; we ended up at a place called The Happy Donut. We still talk about it.

 

3. Italy, 1980

I’d just spent a year in London, at 17, getting to know my dad [the painter Lucian Freud], as I’d never lived in the same city before, and he invited me to go to Italy by train. We spent two weeks together, which was so precious. In Florence, he was wonderfully playful and badly behaved. Then there was the unbelievable beauty of Italy. And I fell in love. So it was a blissful adventure
 

4. India, 1984

 
In my early twenties, with tips I’d made from waitressing in a pizza restaurant, I went to India for three months with a friend and her father. We were naive and ill-prepared, so it was terrifying. My friend’s father was appalled by the rats and beggars; to him we’d entered a Bruegel painting of hell. It got better when we went south to Kerala and Kochi beach, which was paradise, and Jaipur and Rajasthan, where we had a magical time. I’ve been back often; it’s become an important part of my life.
 

5. Suffolk, England, 1985

 

Because I missed the English countryside, my father suggested I rented an old family cottage by the sea. Often seaside towns are barren, and the countryside overly cute, but Walberswick is so gentle that I immediately felt I belonged. The house was cold and bare, with terribly uncomfortable beds. But my architect grandfather lived there after they left Germany, and he renovated many of the houses in the village, so even now it feels like part of who I am.

 

6. South Africa, 1995

 

Three months after our son was born, my husband [actor David Morrissey] got a job in a tiny town called Upington, several hours from Johannesburg, in the desert, and persuaded me to come with Albie. It was dismal; really lonely and dreadful. But the director’s wife had a small child too, and she and her friends, and now their children, have become my most important of friends.

 

7. Germany, 2000

 

I knew, for my book The Sea House, that I needed to go back to a house in Hiddensee, off the Baltic coast, where my grandparents had taken my father and his brothers for their summer holidays. It was lovely: a sandy flat island with a lovely cold sea, beautiful old houses and bicycles, but no cars. A fishing family who remembered my grandfather invited me in, and cooked me eels: oily and pretty disgusting.

Esther Freud's latest novel, Mr Mac and Me, set in Walberswick, is published by Bloomsbury

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‘We want to encourage a woman to dream. We’re playful, fun and unexpected’

The typical super-busy, fashion-savvy woman from New York, what does she do when it comes to buying clothes?” asks Lauren Santo Domingo. “Is she going to walk around Bergdorf Goodman and throw things over her arm, then drag them to a fitting room? This woman doesn’t go to the supermarket, so why would she be expected to do the same thing at a department store?” Why indeed? If anyone knows about shopping, it’s Santo Domingo. The perfectly polished brains behind the luxury shopping e-tailer Moda Operandi is very good at it, too. So good, in fact, she has perfected the experience to a fine art. Her latest boutique opened on Madison Avenue and 64th Street in 2016, an appointment-only, luxury-shopping experience that is entirely tailored around each individual woman who shops there. And trust her, there will be no carrying clothes over your arm as you peruse the rails. Your every wish will be taken care of, before you’ve even made the wish.

 

Santo Domingo calls it “hi-tech, high touch”. Before a client even walks through the door, her personal shopping advisor will know her shopping habits: what she likes, what she’s returned, her size, her wish list, what she’s put in her shopping cart and taken out. “We cater the experience around her,” says Santo Domingo. “So when she comes in and says, ‘I’m looking for an evening gown for my son’s bar mitzvah,’ we say OK. Then we put in a pair of earrings or a jacket in the changing room when she arrives, so although she’s there for the dress, the coat she’s been looking at for two weeks is there too.”

 

Although around 80 per cent of Moda Operandi’s business is done online (the average transaction is $1,200, with customers ordering an average of seven to eight times a year), the experience of actually touching the clothes, trying them on, and interacting with a salesperson is still important. Santo Domingo set up her new model of shopping in 2010 to allow members of the public to shop the runways as soon as the fashion show was over (a privilege open only to the elite fashion insiders who were allowed to pre-order items at showroom appointments the day after the show). “When we shop online, clothes are laid out as still life images; you are seeing it from the front, and when you’re in a shop, all you are seeing is the arm. Shops haven’t evolved or changed the way women buy.” The experience at Moda Operandi is much more intimate. The clothes all hang face-out like they do when you view them online. “If we can figure out a way to get all the most perfect things you can get online – and you can touch and feel it – that’s the perfect shopping experience. That’s our goal.”

 

The first MO boutique opened in London, tucked away in a mews at the back of Hyde Park Corner. But in New York, Santo Domingo says, there is a lot more snobbery about location. “We opened in London first because it just felt right, but in New York it can’t just feel right, it has to be right. You can’t expect a woman who lives in the perfect building on 5th avenue to come to 73rd between 2nd and 3rd. It’s just not going to work. So we are East 64th right off Madison, between Madison and 5th. It took us a little longer to find the perfect spot.”

 

And while the London mews attracts a lot of foreigners, VIPs and Middle Eastern royalty, New York is much more local. As well as the women who live and shop the city, Santo Domingo is keen to attract women traveling through – other Americans, as well as foreign visitors. “When a woman comes to New York, what’s she doing? She’s shopping, looking in museums, and going out to dinners.” What the private Madison Avenue salon can offer is hand-picked eveningwear, a real insider’s edit of high-end fashion (and not just the usual suspects; Santo Domingo has a keen eye for the up-and-coming designers), exquisite jewelry, together with an entrée into the often impenetrable world of fashion that she so loves.

 

Clients are invited to meet the designers at trunk shows (Santo Domingo’s star trunk-show host is Giambattista Valli, who she says can read a woman immediately and knows exactly what she wants out of life and her clothes – and, she adds, he’s always right). “There are a lot of women who are creative and want a creative outlet and are drawn to fashion.” With Moda Operandi it’s possible for them to gain access to that world, to sit front row at a show, to be immersed as well as to shop.

 

Santo Domingo, 40, grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, in the 1980s. Her father, Ronald V Davis, was CEO of Perrier in America, so he traveled to France a lot. “As I got older, my father started to take me and I’d see glimpses of what life could be. Then we’d go back to Greenwich. It was such a small, conservative, don’t-raise-any-eyebrows place. Everything had to be perfect. I’d do all my back-to-school shopping in Paris with my father. You’d get the little French notebooks and pens and that would be as crazy as you could be.” Her mother, Judy Davis, is a mosaic artist and visually very creative. Her father was, she says, the complete opposite: “Very business oriented. I got a bit of both of them, which is quite lucky.”

 

While she says she wasn’t interested in clothes as a child, Santo Domingo started her career as a fashion assistant at Vogue in New York. “I learned to have this confidence. You have all these importantly connected women in the office and we were expected to come up with ideas and pitch things and I was shy and embarrassed to speak up. Someone told me once, ‘Don’t overthink things so much. You’re out and about; if you’re interested in it and think it’s cool, then maybe everyone else will too.’ ” Now she doesn’t question her instincts. New finds like the Colombian designer Johanna Ortiz (a family friend of her Colombian husband, Andrés Santo Domingo) have been a runaway success. “It’s about confidence to go, ‘This is how women want to shop. If they don’t today, they will tomorrow.’ ”

 

Moda Operandi has ambitious plans. While building the exclusivity and choice of the online experience, the salons will continue to open around the world. As well as San Francisco, LA and Miami, there will be openings in the Middle East and Asia. “If you stay in one place, your mindset and business will stay local. The more you move, the more you spread it,” she says. Her belief that fashion and the right accessory can change your outlook is infectious. “Sometimes I’ll go to a party and see someone buttoned up in the perfect dress and barely holding it together. You just want to go up to them and mess up their hair and trade bags and say, ‘I know if you were carrying this crazy Inés Figaredo clutch, you’d have so much more fun tonight.’ We’d have a dance. Come on! It can be life-changing if you just let it.’ ”

 

Fashion should be fun, she says. “We want to encourage a woman to dream. We try to take a conservative approach to the most far-fetched fashion and that strikes the right balance. Our point of view is playful and fun and unexpected. But it’s considered.”

 

Santo Domingo understands well the life of her wealthy clients. She lives with her husband and their children, Nicholas, 5, and Beatrice, 4, in Gramercy Park, her favorite New York neighborhood. She has great teams supporting her both at work and at home, where she loves to entertain – usually with an informal buffet. But she also loves being out and about in her city. She and her husband are regulars on Citi Bikes. If it’s a day out with the kids, she’ll go to the High Line, the Whitney, the park in Tribeca, and for lunch at Balthazar or Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. “The Children’s Museum of New York on the Upper West Side is probably the greatest place for children in the world – more of a playhouse.”

 

If she had a day without kids, she says, it would begin with coffee at Via Quadronno on the Upper East Side. Then the bookshop at the Met. She would then go to Moda to look at the jewelry. Lunch would be at Sant Ambroeus in SoHo, followed by a visit to the new Whitney. Then a beauty treatment (“I have a whole list of facials; it depends on my mood, but maybe a Georgia Louise facial”). Then a snack of grilled corn at Café Habana and a browse around De Vera gallery and Opening Ceremony. Cocktails would be on the back terrace of the Bowery Hotel, with dinner at Momofuku Ko. A late night with friends would involve the new Socialista at Cipriani. “I’d go home at 4am and sleep until 3!” she says, with a mischievous laugh.

 

It really does sound perfect (and perhaps not so far from her own life). “I always wanted my own business, to travel, to make my place in the world,” she says. “I wanted a family, so this is the life I always dreamed of. It would be ridiculous to complain for a second, for even a moment.”

 

 

Lauren Santo Domingo is co-founder and creative director of Moda Operandi: modaoperandi.com.
Your address: The St. Regis New York

 

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Your wish list is her command

Lauren Santo Domingo: “I learned to have this confidence. Someone once told me, ‘If you’re interested in something, and think it’s cool, then maybe everyone else will too."

 

 

 

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Heeling power

A display at Lauren’s new Madison Avenue boutique –
where an appointment-only luxury-shopping experience awaits 

(photo: Matthew Williams)

 

 

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Life in the Fast Lane

Whisper it, but while Richard Mille founded the most revolutionary watch brand of recent years – with boutiques near numerous St. Regis hotels in cities from Jakarta to Beijing – his first passion has always been cars, as the extraordinary garage at his French château attests.

 

Crunching up the driveway towards Mille’s private residence near Rennes in France, I’m reminded of a scene from the pages of a Tintin comic book: in particular, Marlinspike Hall, home of the doughty Captain Haddock.

 

Like Marlinspike, perfect symmetry, manicured grandiosity and Louis XIII style are all present and correct at Monsieur Mille’s own château in northern France – right down to the surrounding lawns and sprawling parkland. The only difference between my cartoon fantasy and real life seems to be the owners themselves: one, a cartoon seadog; the other, a swarthy, urbane genius of modern watchmaking, who single-handedly breathed hi-tech life into a fusty old craft at the turn of the millennium.

 

On this visit, though, it isn’t the house I’ve come to see, nor the mind-bendingly complex tourbillon ticking away on his wrist; it’s the building just to the right of the sweeping driveway, just within the moat (yes, there’s a moat). Outwardly, it’s built in keeping with the château’s light brickwork and slate tiles. Inwardly, it’s packed to the brim with pure motorsport nirvana, with a few classic coupés thrown in for good measure.

 

When we enter, the first car crouched by our feet is Bruce McLaren’s original Formula One car of 1966 – one of only three “M2B” chassis models ever built. “If, when I created the company 15 years ago,” Mille says, “someone had told me that my watch brand would one day partner with McLaren, I wouldn’t have believed it. This car paved the way for 50 years of racing. I’m used to saying my main business is automobiles, and watchmaking is to help me pass the time!” he chuckles, as we venture inside, classic racer after classic racer revealing itself beneath the low oak beams – a Lotus 49B here, Matra MS5 there, a BRM P115 next to that. “For me, the racing machines always came first,” Mille explains.

 

But which car came first? When did his collection start to snowball? “My first-ever car was a rusty old Peugeot,” he says, with trademark gusto. “I was a student at the time, full of dreams and testosterone. The car didn’t really fit my ideals nor my lifestyle! But a ‘collection’? Does it start when you have two or three cars?” he ponders out loud. “I really don’t know, to be honest. I suppose it became serious when I started paying big money for some cars, like my ’67 BRM.”

 

His collection is not all F1, though. Picking our way around the heart of his artfully cluttered man-cave, it’s clear that Mille’s favorite era is what he refers to as the “golden period” of Le Mans: the heyday of the 24-hour endurance race, from the mid-1960s to ’70s. (A preference underscored by his Porsche 907 and 908/3, not to mention an original Ford GT40 – the famed American “Ferrari Killer” that occupies every petrolhead’s fantasy collection – all squeezed into his garage’s workshop area.)

 

“Squeezed” being the operative word. Without building another annex and further upsetting Marlinspike’s symmetry, surely something has to give? “I wouldn’t sell anything in my collection now,” he says. “I’d rather perform hara-kiri!”

 

And his next purchase? “I’d rather not say,” he grins, sliding the doors home emphatically, “because if I do, and you publish it, the price will be even higher when I find it!”

 

richardmille.com

 

Wedding

Wedding Belles

Nobody wants a bare hall in a country club any more,” says Sylvia Weinstock, the cake-maker of choice for three presidential clans (the Trumps, Kennedys and Clintons). No, rather than standard décor, staid group photos, cookie-cutter sponges and restrained bouquets of roses, she says today her clients want to make a “standout visual statement” with unusual touches that capture the imagination and provide guests with that all-important “wow” factor. All four wedding tastemakers Beyond talked to agreed that modern couples want a personalized occasion that takes into account their style, quirks, dreams and tastes to create something truly unique.

 

If it all feels less formal, stiff and regimented than in previous eras, there’s a reason. “Most brides are not 18 years old any more,” says Weinstock. “They are career women and some are paying their way.” Which means greater bridal autonomy? “Yes,” says Sydney-based super-florist Saskia Havekes, adding that directives “rarely come from the family any more”.

 

Which may also be why weddings have become smaller and more intimate, offering the few guests who are invited a higher-quality experience. “I’m from Texas,” laughs Rebecca Gardner, go-to wedding planner for Hollywood and fashion royalty, “so I know all about huge blow-out receptions, but it definitely feels like they’re on their way out of style.” Yet some things remain the same. “The bride wants to look beautiful,” says Christian Oth, the No 1 lensman for the style cognoscenti. “The guests need a drink!” adds Rebecca. “And the cake needs to taste delicious!” laughs Sylvia. No change there, then.

 

The Next Gen Photographer

 

“So much has changed in wedding photography,” says Christian Oth. The globetrotting lensman, who started photographing brides 15 years ago and counts Sean Parker and Alexandra Lenas and Amanda Peet and David Benioff as clients, laughs when he says, “It used to be so bad. It was full of formal, staged line-ups that felt stiff and self-conscious.”

 

Oth was at the forefront of a new style of nuptials photography, more candid pictures with a photojournalism feel. But there was a problem. “The bride still wanted to look beautiful,” smiles Oth, “and lots of photographers doing this new style didn’t know how to photograph a woman so she’d look good. How she should cross her legs, how to get a bride into a pose without her looking stiff.”

 

So his style was born. Authentic, but still flattering, softer without being syrupy. And Oth sees it as his mission to “add to the energy of the wedding, not disrupt it”. So what are his tried-and-tested tricks for loosening up a nervous bride? “I’ll always ask her to twirl around once or twice.”

 

What’s changed? In the past few years, says Oth, “brides have become much more visually savvy; they’re really into the photos.” To that end, “they’re all in search of the next beautiful venue. Now I’m doing a lot more destination weddings.”

 

And with that, Oth heads off to catch his flight to the Maldives…

 

christianothstudio.com

 

The Coveted Cake Maker

 

Sylvia Weinstock’s cakes have a fairytale quality that elicits an involuntary intake of breath from even the most hardened wedding-goers. All her creations showcase impeccable taste and artistry, which is surely what attracts her star-studded clientele (she counts heavyweights Oprah, Robert De Niro, Ralph Lauren and Jennifer Lopez among them).

 

What’s her trademark? Spellbinding sugar flowers, from blowsy roses to whimsical lilacs to heart-stoppingly gorgeous peonies. Perhaps the ultimate example of her talent was the 10ft-tall, 13-layer cake (it had different-flavored sponges and fillings) for Ivanka Trump’s marriage to Jared Kushner, which had cascades of handcrafted lisianthus, roses, lily of the valley and baby’s breath in beautiful creams and white.

 

Sylvia doesn’t just decorate with flowers, though; she can create galloping horses, dogs, shoes and houses from her ingredients, adapting her cakes to suit each culture: “In Japan they want more fruit, in the Middle East they like sugar. The English like fruit cake, Americans prefer sponges, often chocolate.” So popular are her cakes that Sylvia has been traveling the world, teaching cooks how to recreate her masterpieces. Her brand is now licensed in countries like Japan and Kuwait, with more collaborations planned. Which means soon brides all over the world will be able to enjoy a slice of heaven.

 

sylviaweinstock.com

 

The Star Scene Setter

 

“All brides I know want a non-wedding,” laughs Rebecca Gardner, the go-to event/wedding planner for ultra-chic It Girls like Margherita Missoni and Lauren Santo Domingo. “They all want a great party with a jolt of whimsy and delight.”

 

And providing this is Gardner’s specialty. “Brides have seen everything now,” she smiles, so she goes the extra mile to conjure up breathtaking “visual installations” that create a memorable talking point. Examples? She has suspended hand-painted butterflies over tables, constructed magical woodland scenes under centuries-old oak trees and delivered Bacchanalian tablescapes with an excess of sugared fruits (“so outdated, they’re funky”).

 

There’s always something magical, ethereal and irreverent underpinning her work. And all her weddings are highly personalized. “You want to reflect the bride’s style,” she says. Gardner is adamant that guests’ enjoyment should be key. Hence, she’s a stickler for maintaining a free flow of drink, and for flattering lighting (often provided by hundreds of twinkling candles) because “that way everyone feels pretty”.

 

So what’s the secret to her success? “For me, it’s about making the whole process joyous.” she laughs. “After all, it’s often a year-long relationship with the bride.” Anything else? “I never say no,” she adds with pride. “My job is to create a dream!”

 

rebecca-gardner.com

 

The Fantasy Florist

 

“Luxurious blooms in large quantities,” says Grandiflora’s Saskia Havekes when asked to describe her company’s signature wedding style. The Sydney-based florist, who works for clients such as Elle Macpherson, Cate Blanchett and Miranda Kerr, adds that her arrangements are “less structured, more as if they were just picked from the garden”.

 

Her flowers are luscious, sensuously full and gloriously real. And often her arrangements are given “an elegant twist with fresh greens, berries and herbs” to create a “rustic earthy feel”.

 

After years of minimalist white, Saskia’s love of riotous colors feels modern and refreshing. “Color is huge,” she says, adding that “jewel-toned” blooms create a “lovely party atmosphere”. And for the ceremony and bride’s bouquet, where white or pale is often a requirement, Saskia introduces a sophisticated “dusty nude tone”.

 

Riotous colors? Loose, thrown-together arrangements? Do such looks rattle family members who might be footing the bill? “Traditionally, the groom’s family would pay for the flowers,” says Saskia, “but now most bride and grooms pay the bill together. This means there’s a much stronger sense of style and personality coming from the bride.”

 

What’s the bride’s No 1 request? “There’s a strong desire for the flowers to be a conversation piece,” she says. And in this Instagram age, who would expect less?

 

grandiflora.net

 

 

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Snappy days

Leading lensman Christian Oth has introduced a more candid, spontaneous feel to wedding photography

 

 

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Immaculate confections

Sylvia Weinstock (top) is a cake designer to the stars, including Robert De Niro and J-Lo. She adapts her extravagant creations to suit each culture; some cakes are 10ft tall

 

 

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Dream big

The wedding planner Rebecca Gardner is a stickler for free-flowing drink and flattering lighting. “That way everyone feels pretty,” she says

 

 

 

 

East-Meet

East Meets Best

At last year’s Salone del Mobile, the highly influential design fair in Milan, one of the star attractions was an exhibition that showcased Asian design. Walking through a series of coolly chic white rooms, the world’s designerati gazed upon some of the most exciting work coming out of Asia today. However, there were no glossy lacquered pots or bamboo screens, no metal teapots or hand-painted wallpaper. Instead, Chinese designer Naihan Li displayed her striking wardrobe made from rosewood and steel, its angular shape resembling two skyscrapers fused together. Gunjan Gupta from New Delhi presented her Gada Cycle Throne, a beautiful armchair with a seat made from bicycle saddles, the back of a series of rolled-up silk mattresses held in place by leather straps. And hanging sculpturally from the ceiling was the work of Filipino designer Gabriel Lichauco, who took oyster shell and scorched it to make a set of pendant lights that are as unusual as they are lovely.

 

The exhibition, called alamak!, has big ambitions. At a time when Asia is turning itself into an economic powerhouse, alamak!, which after Venice and Berlin can be seen in New York and LA, aims to be a driving force for innovative modern Asian design. “Alamak! is a southeast Asian expression that means ‘Surprise!’, and that underlines the spirit of the exhibition,” says Yoichi Nakamuta, the Japanese-born, Singapore-based co-curator. “Through the show we hope to change the perception of what design in Asia is, when seen from the West. Its ambition is to be the creative movement from Asia, much like Memphis and post-modernism were creative movements of ’80s Italy, and Droog was of ’90s Holland.”

 

The exhibition features the work of ten designers from across the region, and while the products are wide-ranging. there’s a common theme: the exploration of traditional craftsmanship. However, it’s no longer just about replicating what has been done for thousands of years, but applying these ideas to create objects that are very much of the 21st century. “Traditions are what have informed the here and now, and have shaped the artists and designers working in these regions. But the designers have given them a new twist,” says Nakamuta. For instance, Jo Nagasaka has taken a traditional Japanese idea of repairing broken porcelain but used 3D printing not only to repair the break, but also to give birth to two vessels from one broken one.

 

Award-winning Filipino designer Kenneth Cobonpue is not featured in alamak!, but he, too, champions this new thinking. The clientele for his elegantly curving pieces of furniture, made mainly from rattan and palm, includes royalty (Queen Sofia of Spain, Queen Rania of Jordan) and celebrity (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie bought Cobonpue’s Voyage Bed for their son Maddox). “Today, designers like myself are using modern forms, traditional craftsmanship and natural materials to reshape and change the definition of Asian design,” he says. While Cobonpue made his name with natural materials – Time magazine called him “rattan’s first virtuoso” – he has begun working with carbon fiber and resins, and these modern materials are coming into play across Asia. “The fusion of natural materials and synthetics, and the fusion of the machine-made and the handmade, is the future,” he says. “Natural materials have issues regarding strength and durability, and these issues can be offset with synthetics.”

 

Coponpue’s change in direction has in part been inspired by his work with some of the West’s most on-trend designers, such as Britain’s Tom Dixon and The Netherlands’ Marcel Wanders. For Wanders, Cobonpue helped produce the Carbon chair, the seat and frame hand-woven using black strands of epoxy-soaked carbon fiber around a mold to create a design that’s both visually and physically light. “When it comes to weaving, we’re second-to-none,” says Coponpue. “We’ve been doing it for a long time, and have experience in weaving almost anything from bamboo to carbon fiber and composite materials.”

 

Like Coponpue, who studied in New York and worked in Europe before returning to the Philippines, André Fu, one of the region’s most celebrated designers, was born in Hong Kong and schooled in the UK. The pair’s fusion of East and West is another component of contemporary Asian design. Fu’s work is pared back; wood and polished stone are teamed with a palette of quietly rich shades, such as warm gray, green tea and deep purple. “An appreciation of the different cultures remains core to what I do,” he says. “It’s not so much the stylistic adaptation of things that are visually Asian that speaks to my heritage, but of giving a space a sense of balance and calm. Key to this is the sense of relaxed luxury that’s effortless and solid, not superficial and driven by style or a high level of ornateness.”

 

Fu believes that the surge in hotels in the East – St. Regis will open an additional ten hotels in this part of the world in the next few years – is seeing a commensurate burst of creativity in interior design. “The volume of hotels, combined with increasingly sophisticated global travelers, means designers are doing things differently, experimenting with stronger personalities to create better and more interesting products,” he says.

 

Bensley, the Bangkok-based design studio behind the landscape architecture of The St. Regis Bali, certainly took an unusual approach, using the famous Japanese-American designer Isamu Noguchi as their inspiration. “We designed 300-plus original pieces of art, many carved from black marble, while some were cast in bronze,” says founder Bill Bensley. “All the sculpture has one underlying DNA that helps keeps unity among the tropical garden ‘rooms’, and that is. ‘What if Isamu Noguchi had lived in Bali in the 1950s? How would things Bali have influenced him?’ Noguchi has a pared-down, Japanese way of creating modern forms – I thought if I used his way of looking at Balinese forms, we might be able to create a fresh body of work.”

 

Similarly, the penthouse of The St. Regis Bangkok contains a mix of old and new Thai design. Along with a striking glass wall of beautifully colored traditional Benjarong pottery are a number of modern pieces that include a sculpture of stylized lotus leaves by the artist Mongkol, and, on the balcony with stunning city views, a 5ft elephant, painted with Thai letters and numbers and symbols in an abstract pattern by Manop Suwanpinta. “Modern Thai design is coming out of the box,” says Kathy Heinecke – the wife of William Heinecke, CEO of Minor International, which owns the St. Regis Bangkok – who designed the luxe penthouse interior. “It’s embracing its heritage, but also expanding on it with a fresh aspect.” In Thailand, and across Asia, it makes for exciting times.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Bangkok;  The St. Regis Bali

 

High life

The penthouse at The St. Regis Bangkok (above) contains a stunning mix of old and new styles

 

 

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Lights fantastic

Pescador pendant lights, made from oyster shells, by Gabriel Lichauco (above left); detail of an ornament in The St. Regis Bangkok penthouse (above right)

 

 

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All in the detail

A door handle by André Fu (above left); a Nebbia Interactive wall light, made by nbt.Studio from recycled electronic waste (above right)