Yayoi Kusama Statue at the Veuve Clicquot Exhibition. Courtesy of Veuve Clicquot

Maison Veuve Clicquot has brought its travelling exhibition to London this May. Trudy Ross stepped out to Piccadilly Circus to interview CEO Jean-Marc Gallot amidst sunflowers, paintings, sculptures, and that iconic gleaming yellow 

LUX: Queen Victoria was the first British royal to order a direct shipment of Veuve Clicquot in the 19th century. Now in 2023, with a new monarch having just been crowned, the brand still has this presence in the heart of London. Can you speak to the brand’s long history with the Royal Family?

Jean-Marc Gallot: It is a very, very, long history. I think the first shipment for the royal family was in 1868. In one of the exhibition rooms upstairs we have a menu made especially for Queen Victoria’s son, Edward the 7th Prince of Wales. He gave us the Royal Warrant in 1905, so, I would say, we have a very strong link and history with the UK.

The Maison was created in 1722, so we celebrated 250 years last year. The first shipment to the UK was in 1773, 250 years ago. So there is a long, long story between Veuve Clicquot and the UK. Out of the nine female artists we have here, two are British. We have Cece Philips and Rosie McGuinness, who have created their own portraits and interpretations of Madame Clicquot.

LUX: Throughout these 250 years, what do you think has changed about the brand and what has remained the same?

JMG: What remains today and will continue to remain, is the fact that we have an incredibly inspiring woman at the centre of our history. Madame Clicquot at her time was so courageous, determined, and audacious. She was a widow at 27 years old but her spirit, her audacity, and also this idea of being solaire, being radiant, is what remains in everything we do. It is a state of mind. Everyone from myself, the CEO, to my team, to everyone you will see here today from Maison Veuve Clicquot, works with this state of mind. I think it’s super important to have this spirit of being solaire, audacious and always surprising people. That is not going to change.

Display of Veuve Clicquot’s iconic designs through the years. Courtesy of Veuve Clicquot

What has changed? I would say that when you are so linked with the contemporary and the people around you, you also have to be very curious and try to evolve. So an example is right here: you have the very first ice jacket made by Veuve Clicquot. This first one was made 20 years ago out of diving costumes, but the ones we make now are made by the Saint Martins School of Business of 100% recycled plastic and this mono-material approach uses on average 30% less material than regular production. You can look at things we made 20 years ago and think, yes, this is nice, but we must continue to innovate, to respond to the times and move forward. Every single box that we make now in Veuve Clicquot is made out of 50% recycled paper and 50% hemp (not the hemp that people smoke!).

What we want to show here is that we have some duties to the world we live in. Not everyone is aware of the need for these things, so as a major brand we can help to act as an exemplar. This is what I am hoping to build with my team.

LUX: Your champagnes are offered at a range of price points. How do you balance keeping its luxurious and exclusive reputation whilst also ensuring it is accessible to a wider audience?

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JMG: I have been working for 34 years in the luxury world. I worked at companies like Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Fendi, wonderful luxury names, and I know that luxury, for some people, means something that is not easy to get or seems unapproachable.

I don’t agree with that viewpoint at all. We have a collection of products, starting with the iconic yellow label, Brut, which is the most famous bottle of Veuve Clicquot, then you go to La Grande Dame which is at a much higher price point. Both of them however, embody the spirit of Clicquot, so it’s not a matter of price, it’s a matter of how desirable your brand is and how much you have built around the brand.

Take an exhibition like this, running for 3 weeks in the heart of central London. Some people in this area are on their way to very nice upmarket restaurants, and some are on their way to Tesco. Both will pass the exhibition, they will see these artists and learn about Madam Clicquot’s story, and then they will understand the dream, the spirit and the history of Veuve Clicquot.

Outside the Veuve Clicquot exhibition in Picadilly Square. Courtesy of Veuve Clicquot

LUX: Can you tell us about the importance of art and the art world to Veuve Clicquot?

JMG: Actually, we are not really in the art world; I would say that we are in the design world. Design is not art, it is the way of making a beautiful object which is also functional, or building something beautiful around an object. When you sell bottles of champagne you have to build something really extraordinary. We love the beauty of objects and we believe that in champagne, since you have something precious inside the bottle, you have to make the outside of the bottle exciting as well. So we constantly are looking for the next idea, and there is no set recipe. It has to be a surprise, because more than anything else, we love the element of surprise.

LUX: Beyond this all female exhibition, Veuve Clicquot has many initiatives supporting gender equality, including supporting women entrepreneurs through your Bold Woman Award. Can you tell us more about this aspect of the brand?

JMG: This is the spirit of Veuve Clicquot. Fifty-one years ago one of my predecessors thought, what can we do for the 200 year anniversary of Maison Clicquot? They had an incredible inspiration and vision and said, why don’t we celebrate the spirit of woman entrepreneurs, why don’t we shine light on some inspiring women?

What we found out through running the Bold Woman Award was that for women there are many social barriers standing in the way of them running their own company or being independent. Veuve Clicquot is trying to fight against this because we believe there should be as many women entrepreneurs as men entrepreneurs.

The statistic is the following: 92% of women entrepreneurs believe and admit that they would love to have a role model, and only 15% of them can name one off the top of their head. We want to change this and help to inspire women. The first very inspiring woman entrepreneur was Madame Clicquot, and for the last 220 or 230 years, there have been many more women entrepreneurs that we want to shine a light on. It’s about sharing, inspiring and making the world more balanced between men and women.

Cece Phillips, Window Clicquot, 2022.Courtesy of Veuve Clicquot

LUX: What is Madame Clicquot’s story and why is it so important to the brand?

JMG: You are in 1805 in France, in a very traditional, even noble family. You have faced a lot of challenges because twenty years ago was the French Revolution. You have a very nice husband who you love and a very severe and traditional father in law. Then you become a window overnight. Imagine: you basically don’t exist anymore. What are your options?

You could find another  husband, but instead you say “no, I’m going to take over the company. I’m going to run the company.” Everyone tells you not to, starting with your father-in-law. He says you are not capable of it, you cannot do it, you will not succeed at it. So, you are stuck.

If I had to describe Madame Clicquot, I would say she was  incredibly courageous, incredibly audacious and took huge risks. She teaches us that if you want to do something, just go for it. Never surrender.

LUX: The artworks that are on show here are reimagined portraits of Madame Clicquot. Can you tell me a little bit more about which ones are your favourite, and which one you think speaks to the values of Veuve Clicquot?

JMG: I have to say that I have a love for the Cece Phillips portrait in particular. You have the whole story there. You have a young woman sitting at her table, you see the vineyards through the window, you see that she is studying, very focussed but also very determined. She was writing a lot at the time, writing ideas, writing about the company. She was not travelling, but she was sending letters to all the customers around the world. This and the light, the vibrant, sunny appearance of it all, this is Clicquot.

I have to say, the portrait we have of Clicquot was taken when she was 84 years old and she looks a little bit severe! With all do respect to 80-year-old women, this was maybe not Madame Clicquot at her strongest period of life. Cece Phillips gets it all in one painting, you have the whole story in one, so it’s better than words.

Ines Longevial, Ghost Guest, 2022. Courtesy of Veuve Clicquot

LUX: Beyond the artworks, what else interests you about the exhibition?

JMG: The statue of Yayoi Kusama is pretty impressive, but my favourite piece today here in London, which is not really in touch with the exhibition itself; it is the Sunny Side Cafe. I love it because this is actually when Clicquot meets British tradition and British culture.

LUX: The exhibition has been in Tokyo, Los Angeles, and now London. Where is next?

JMG: We started in Tokyo in June last year, and then we did three weeks in Los Angeles, and now it’s three weeks in London. Next year, we might go somewhere else, perhaps a continent we have not been to yet, perhaps South Africa.

LUX: What was the decision-making process behind choosing these three cities?

JMG: These are the three most important market places for Veuve Clicquot. I loved the idea of being in Tokyo because Japanese people are so refined. Then we went to the US and we didn’t want to go to New York because we thought we were going to be lost, and we love the vibes of LA so we went there. When we went to Europe we didn’t look for France – can you imagine me, a French guy, saying that! – but we decided to take it to London.

Yayoi Kusama, Twist with Madam Clicquot! Courtesy of Veuve Clicquot

LUX: Would you take it to France and if not why?

JMG: No, for a few reasons, actually. First we love to speak about our brand outside of our own country, and second because the UK is very important to us, and also because there are some legal constraints in France which wouldn’t allow us to make such an impression in an exhibition like we have here.

LUX: You have a lot of tradition and history behind you. In today’s market, with the younger generation coming up, what do you think are the key changes and the key ways that you’re going to have to adapt as a brand to appeal to these younger consumers?

JMG: We are a luxury maison, and I’m a strong believer that luxury is about what you offer rather than just marketing fast-moving consumer goods. We talked about how to surprise people, how to make people dream and feel that they are getting something that they are really inspired by. My point is that if we keep on being ourselves, being super creative and bringing excitement, I think that we can offer things that people will discover and appreciate, even if they are not tailored to their tastes.

Read more: Visual art and music meet in Shezad Dawood’s latest exhibition

If we start to do it the other way round and try to anticipate what it is that people expect, what they want or think they need, we lose our spirit and our soul. Of course, we need to listen to the younger generation, look at what they do, and how they behave to a certain extent. However, I don’t want to be obsessed with creating something that people will expect.

Find out more: solaireculture.veuveclicquot.com

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Reading time: 10 min
the entrance of a hotel with arched windows and doors and plants
the entrance of a hotel with arched windows and doors and plants

Exterior view of the new Maybourne, Beverly Hills

In the second part of our luxury travel views column from the Spring 2022 issue, LUX’s Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai checks in at The Maybourne, Beverly Hills

The most curious thing about the Maybourne Beverly Hills is its tranquillity. Here you are at the new US flagship of London’s swankiest hotel group (Claridge’s, The Connaught, The Berkeley), in LA, metres from Rodeo Drive, and yet the overarching feeling is one of peace. How does that happen?

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The first impression of a curious quietude was from the hotel’s rooftop pool terrace. In cities, these are often rambunctious things, squeezed in, next to a spa and a restaurant, a few sun loungers and a square of blue with a highway of guests and staff running through. Not so here: rows of loungers, immaculate staff waiting to serve, a big, blue pool, and a view across rooftops to the Hollywood Hills. You could come here for a week and not feel agitated by noise. Sure, there’s a terrace restaurant but the vibe is more Ibiza chill than urban thrill.

a bar with stools

The Maybourne pool

Our suite was all pastel shades and 20th-century modern furniture, rethought for the 21st century. A kind of Hollywood-meets-resort feel, with some gorgeous photography and art. Maybourne’s owners are significant movers in the art scene, and you can tell: even the lift lobby on our floor featured an Idris Khan edition.

Downstairs, the Terrace restaurant seemed to be a breakfast, lunch and dinner hangout for the Beverly Hills crowd and the Beverly Hills chihuahua (along with a nice variety of other breeds). Opening out onto a public garden, it was also very quiet: no fumes, no traffic noise, no honking horns. All the more interesting because the hotel was originally built in the grand style of iconic US palace hotels (think Boca Raton resort): but here, the style is everywhere, and the noise nowhere.

swimming pool

The hotel’s rooftop pool

The food was also consistently brilliant: sunny and fresh, like pan-roasted dayboat scallops with girolles and sunchokes, and an absolutely vivid, meaty whole grilled branzino with Napa cabbage and basil. The Terrace is a people-watching place, and if you want to watch people more closely, and with a slightly different lens, just move to the Maybourne Bar or the Cigar and Whiskey Bar. What’s the difference between the two? Same as the difference between the Blue Bar at the Berkeley and the Fumoir at Claridge’s (with additional cigars in the case of the Cigar and Whiskey Bar).

Read more: Luxury Travel Views: Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid

It was a bit of a mystery to me how Maybourne expected to create a global brand, given that its London hotels are so distinctive, unified by a crossover in clientele and a certain appeal to the fashion crowd through their louche artiness in their public spaces. Here they are in LA, and they have done just that. Quite an achievement.

Find out more: maybournebeverlyhills.com

This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of LUX

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Reading time: 2 min
a red painting in a gallery that says More Joy in blue writing
A man squatting in front of a painting that says Mom

The artist doing a yoga pose in front of one his own recent paintings © Maryam Eisler

Joel Mesler is one of the hottest names on the East Coast art scene right now. LUX’s Chief Contributing Editor, Maryam Eisler, visits the gallerist-turned-artist in the Hamptons to speak with him about the under-layers of his eye candy paintings deeply rooted in childhood trauma, his switch from dealer to artist and his Jewish heritage

Maryam Eisler: You’ve moved from L.A. to the Lower East Side to The Hamptons. You’ve been dealing in art and now you’re producing art. Have both sides of the equation been enjoyable?
Joel Mesler: I am definitely most present and more content now… for sure when I am producing art. I have no regrets and it’s this path that led me here, so it’s all good.

ME: How has sobriety informed your work?
JM: Well, I think that is very much part of that process of change. I have realised that pre -sobriety, I lived in the ego. It was all about me. But I think there’s a process in the act of getting sober, of surrendering, like falling to your knees a little bit and saying ‘Okay, clearly I’m not the captain of this ship’. It was important to realise that I don’t have all the answers, that I don’t know exactly what I’m doing and that I am going to ask for help. But my story is not unique, you know.

Mini posters stuck on a wall

Joel Mesler’s wall of inspiration © Maryam Eisler

I think that that process shifted my mindset to such an extreme that it completely changed my life, like a spiritual awakening. Pre- getting sober, there was always this sense of dread or living on the edge and thinking ‘When will the relief come?’ because there’s this kind of constant anxiety, even pain. But as soon as that epiphany happened, it was almost like ‘Oh my God, I now know’. The difference is living in the present, one day at a time. Now I want even more time. I want to live forever.

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ME: You want more time?
JM: Yes. Time is running out. I need to produce. Everything shifted from that moment onwards. From my artwork to family, to just walking down the street and saying hello to random strangers.

A man reading an orange book

Joel reading his book ‘Jews without money’ by Michael Gold © Maryam Eisler

ME: Speaking of time and cycles, it’s interesting that there’s been a cyclical return to certain important people in your life. So, for instance, you were one of the first commercial supporters of Rashid Johnson’s work and now you’re both here and you’re best friends. You were also at some point David Kordansky’s landlord in Los Angeles and he now represents your work!
JM: You know, I speak to those two guys every day now. It all comes together, the arc of our relationships …

ME: I clearly remember a few years back, during Miami Basel, when you lived a real moment of transition from dealer to artist. As the founder of Rental gallery, you decided to represent yourself and all I could think of at the time was how clever you were! Did you make the switch out of necessity or smarts?
JM: Well, you know, I think a lot of times that the difference between necessity and perception can be so far off. I think that that may also be a great lesson of sobriety. I did it out of necessity, like I always did things. I recall telling Heather Hubbs, the fair Director ‘Well, you know, I’m really trying hard to be an artist now and I feel like if I was an art dealer and did the booth again this year, it might send the wrong signal. So, I was thinking maybe I shouldn’t do it’. To which she then said, ‘I think you should make your work part of it’.

black socks

These are the only socks that Joel wears. His wife Sarah buys him socks that have his name on them and also say artist and dad © Maryam Eisler

And so, I did and sent my deposit in. As a dealer, I always thought that to have a successful fair, you should have a booth of works you’re really passionate about, and at the time, all I could think about was my own work. And Heather said, ‘Cool! Nobody’s done it before. But, you know, if anybody can pull this off, it’s you ! ‘

ME: Did many people question your decision at the time?
JM: Of course. So many people said ‘why is he doing this? And how?’ I didn’t do it as a trickster thing. It was out of necessity and also because nobody else would show my work.

a red painting in a gallery that says More Joy in blue writing

A work in progress at Joel Mesler’s studio © Maryam Eisler

ME: And, most importantly, believing in your own work? A most courageous public act, in my opinion…
JM: An entire body of work actually came out of that. I only brought in a few paintings and my wife’s ceramics. I sold all the paintings and the ceramics on the first day and was thinking ‘What am I going to do?’ So, I started painting people’s portraits and charged them $50 just to pay for my materials. From that moment, I started an entire new body of work, and now I do portraits and I love doing them, it’s like a performative act.

an artwork of a man with a big nose

Joel in the basement of his studio holding up drawings that might one day be made into a very large book that will take multiple people to turn each page © Maryam Eisler

ME:  The New York Times called your work ‘a post- traumatic allegory styled as alphabetical letters.’ I started reading about your childhood in L.A., your relationship with your parents, your father’s drug abuse, your parents’ divorce, and it made me understand your paintings, just a little better. It seems that first ‘eye candy’ attraction is just the surface but then behind the pool parties, the gloss and the glory, there’s a lot more. You have said it before ‘there’s the happiness, the celebration but then there’s also the loneliness’. Talk to me about that dichotomy.
JM: When I was making work while I was drinking, I used to want to kind of push myself onto the audience. I called it my Jewish expressionist phase and I was like, ‘Oh, my trauma’. And I’m going to show you what my father did to me. The thing is, they were very honest, raw and interesting, but there was no real reason why anybody would want to hang them on their walls because they were actually really scary. As I got older, sober and a little more self-reflective, I realised that within my story, there were many dichotomies. For instance, the pool party: when I was young, my mom would throw pool parties for my brother and I, but also for her friends, and I had no idea what was really going on. All I saw were noodles and floats. But really, it was an excuse for my mother to get the parents together and gossip and drink. And there was this kind of underbelly of something else.

A green, yellow, red and blue painting that says Spiritual Awakening in a gallery

Joel Mesler’s work in progress © Maryam Eisler

There was a darkness there that I sensed intuitively, but I couldn’t define it with words. I didn’t have the language for it. As I grew older, I was able to kind of understand it better and apply and create my own language for it. As I was making work, I still wanted to tap into some of the joy that I experienced as a child too. I also like this idea of service: if I make a painting and I want somebody to hang it on the wall, I’m not going to judge why they’re hanging them on the wall or whether they think it’s beautiful or not. It may mean one thing to them and certainly something else to me.

A man on a chair being def an apple by another man behind him

Joel Mesler and Harper Levine having lunch together © Maryam Eisler

ME: This reminds me of The Eggs Benedict splashed onto the beautiful leafy and lush Beverly Hills Hotel wallpaper. At first, I thought ‘How aesthetically pleasing’, but little did I know about your family feuds related to that exact incident.
JM: Yes, well, that’s the thing. For so long that carried such heaviness, trauma and sadness. I joke about it because if I didn’t, I’d probably still be crying about it. But there is also this sense of emotional, psychological and financial profit from the trauma I was subjected to from my parents. So, I then decided to use those motifs and to reappropriate them for myself and then use them in order to create my own language. I think, it’s not only helped me in my own path, but also in me becoming a better father and gain a better understanding of how to raise my own children. Just being a better person in the world.

ME: Hasn’t this been the case for many creatives throughout history? No creative gain without pain?
JM: For sure and I like the fact that there are many layers to my work. I enjoy knowing that there may be several interpretations of the works- just like the Torah! …many layers of truth and reality.

A man lying on a sofa wearing a blanket with peoples faces on it surrounded by pictures of rabbis

Joel on his napping couch with his Rabbi collection © Maryam Eisler

ME: Your grandfather was a Jewish immigrant who did very well for himself. Can you tell us about how you weave that ethnicity and your Jewish heritage, into your work and your day to day?
JM: I think it’s a very interesting story and Rashid [Johnson] and I speak about this quite often. I think that there’s a really interesting parallel in our lives. I think this idea of the immigrant coming to America and making it through hard work, then the second generation blowing it, and then this third-generation kind of needing to rediscover that identity is really interesting. I’ve been thinking about this a lot: why it matters and how can I psychologically and financially profit from my own trauma? My mother often said, had my father not destroyed our family, I would have probably been a terrible person, but maybe the trauma put me on a very different path that in the end was actually good for me.

A man holding a book with drawings in it

Joel shows a book he is working on. Mesler paints on pre-existing books © Maryam Eisler

ME: You’re here in the heart of East Hampton glitz, and yet you have managed to carve yourself a sanctuary, an oasis of peace ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’. How does space and place influence your work?
JM: It’s amazing because, I had a gallery and that space is now my studio. I just work Monday through Friday. I don’t know how I do it. I just really keep my head down.

Read more: Philanthropy: Nathalie Guiot, The Culture Booster

People really respect the space and the frosted glass helps keep people away! I love being out here. We came out here from the city, and stayed with Rashid at first. I had nowhere else to go. Simple as that.

A rubbish pile in a corner of a room with a book with blue pictures in it

Another book in the corner of Joel Mesler’s studio © Maryam Eisler

ME: There’s also a real creative community of artists and museums out here. It’s equally amazing to witness the proliferation of the bigger brand galleries post- pandemic. Did a lot of people move here during COVID from the city?
JM: Yes, a real creative community formed. It’s also been amazing to have Harper [Levine] out here, even though he initially thought I was foolish to move out here and here we are now, neighbours and friends. said, ‘You know, there are no doctors here. There’s no education here. There are ticks here. There’s Lyme disease…’ But at the end of the day, here we all are!

All photographs were taken by Maryam Eisler

Joel Mesler will be showing at Frieze Seoul with LGDR from September 2- September 5 2022. He will be holding a solo show at the Long Museum in Shanghai, opening in February 2023

 

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Reading time: 10 min
Dining room
dining room

Chelsea Barracks, with spatial layout and interior design by Elicyon. Photo Michael Sinclair

An architect by training and an interior designer by trade, Charu Gandhi cites her multicultural upbringing as the source of her fascination with people and how they occupy space. To translate her design language to others, she founded design studio Elicyon in 2014, and has since completed super prime luxury residential projects in New York, Dubai, Shanghai, and London  to name just a few. Here, Gandhi speaks to LUX Contributing Editor, Samantha Welsh, about the importance of finding fluidity between disciplines and cultures, and her optimism about the future of women in design

A woman sitting on a sofa with flowers on a table in front of her

Charu Gandhi

1. What are Elicyon’s chief design principles?

At Elicyon, we are led both by how space is used and a fine attention to detail. We also focus on how those can be executed differently for each project. Often you can walk into a project and know how the home would work best for the client. I have a strong spatial understanding that helps to guide the design scheme. What we aim to do is to make our clients fall in love with design, and embark on the journey of learning about materiality and craftsmanship when they work with us.

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2. What questions do you ask when considering the design brief for a super prime residential scheme?

We have an extensive briefing process that’s about getting to know the client. We ask how each room is used differently by family members and at what times of the day. Designing a home is often about evoking a feeling: I always ask clients to think about a time they really enjoyed themselves – be it an experience in a restaurant or a holiday destination – and what they loved about it. They might remember that they loved the linen on a hotel bed, the details of a ceiling in their favourite restaurant or even the size of the bedside tables in a hotel room.

luxurious interiors of private residence

41-43 Beaufort Gardens, designed by Elicyon. Photo Michael Sinclair

3. How does Elicyon deliver projects globally?

We’ve delivered projects in every continent, and what it really comes down to is great planning. It’s paramount to understand the logistics of a project thoroughly, and often working with a strong local team has proved invaluable. They act as our eyes and ears on the ground. For each new location, we do a recce to understand the particularities, culture and to be familiar with the buildability (seeing what is physically possible to build locally).

Having worked internationally for many years, we have built up a solid black book of partners that we can rely on, from transport companies to logistics managers, the majority of which are based in London but have global reach.

Read more: Molori Designs Founder Kirk Lazarus on Ultra Bespoke Luxury

4. How did this cross-cultural appeal come about?

Having an international client base naturally means we are asked to help on projects in many different continents – we might start with their London home, and end up designing their homes in Dubai, LA and Shanghai too. It’s a reflection of how multicultural London is as a design centre.

Ultimately, however, it comes down to my upbringing. I have travelled extensively since an early age and was educated at an international school, so my school friends live in all parts of the world. I also have an innate interest in people and how they live and occupy spaces.

A living room with fireplace and armchairs

Chelsea Barracks, with spatial layout and interior design by Elicyon. Photo Michael Sinclair

5. What during your training most inspired your vision as an architect and designer?

My first year at the Architectural Association was my most formative year, led by a brilliant teacher, Julia Wood, who passed away too young some years after. She turned the notion of architecture on its head – and we explored concepts through dance, through sculpture and the human body, and she introduced us to a myriad of conceptual artists of the time. I remember being particularly struck by Rachel Whiteread’s work.

6. What do you think has changed for women in architecture in recent years?

There is no better time to be a woman in architecture: the playing field, from a London-centric view, is full of great women designers, thanks to groundbreakers like Zaha Hadid who cracked the mould. Nevertheless, there are worrying statistics of those who graduate as architects versus those still in the role 10 years on. In my mind, the UK needs to fix its childcare challenges, and only then will the female-led architecture and design ecosystem thrive.

I know the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Architects Registration Board (ARB) have task forces working on it, and that I too have a responsibility as a leader to grow and build female teams.  I am proud to say that at Elicyon our senior leadership team is entirely female. As an industry, however, we must endeavour to always do better.

Find out more: Elicyon.com

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Reading time: 4 min
Artist installation in the desert
abstract artwork installation

Construction view of Los Angeles Water School (LAWS) (2018) by Oscar Tuazon

Artists have long explored themes of environmental sustainability in Southern California, but a recent series of devastating wildfires has brought even greater resonance to their work. Evan Moffitt explores how four LA artists are changing the way we think about climate change

DEUTSCHE BANK WEALTH MANAGEMENT x LUX

When the Getty Fire tore up the dry hills of Mandeville Canyon in October 2019, many in Los Angeles feared the worst: the Getty Center’s Titian and Thomas Gainsborough paintings curling from their frames, masterworks of European art reduced to cinders. This wasn’t the first time locals had imagined such a catastrophe – Ed Ruscha had painted his iconoclastic portrait of the county museum, The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, in 1968 – but this time, it was different. The severity and frequency of wildfires had increased as climate change accelerated, threatening not just art in Southern California but the very way of life there.

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Scientists, furthermore, have warned that the city could eventually run dry, and nothing has shaped LA more than its lack of water. The Department of Water and Power was long seen as the most powerful bureau of city government, dating back to when William Mulholland drained the Owens Valley in 1913 to soak the dry fields of San Fernando. The violent conflict that ensued was famously fictionalized in the 1974 film Chinatown, and many artists have explored the city’s relationship with water, from Judy Baca’s epic mural along the Tujunga Wash, The Great Wall of Los Angeles (1974–84), to more recent projects by artists such as Carolina Caycedo and Oscar Tuazon.

This work can be difficult, but it has struck an important nerve. “Most of our patrons are museums or their supporters who want to engage in dialogue with challenging contemporary art,” says Kibum Kim of Commonwealth and Council, the gallery that represents Caycedo. “They don’t want something that is easy.” For Caycedo, this has led to being included in shows at major institutions such as the Hammer Museum in LA, as well as having works in a number of private collections. Artists such as her are a reminder that Southern California has always been a place where artists, writers, filmmakers and others have mobilized around difficult issues, mining the past to build a better future.

Artist installation in the desert

Wagon Station encampment at A-Z West (2004) by Andrea Zittel

No one embodies the utopian spirit of LA more than Andrea Zittel. In 2000, the artist left a burgeoning career in New York for a ramshackle bungalow on the outskirts of Joshua Tree National Park. She began slowly expanding her compound in the desert, informed, in part, by the Bauhaus, Japanese architecture, minimalist sculpture and architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. A-Z West, as the 60-acre campus is known, encompasses Zittel’s home and studio, guest cabins, outdoor sculptural installations, informal classrooms and a series of Wagon Stations, tiny chrome sleeping pods nestled between boulders like UFOs.

Read more: Picasso Through the Lens of David Douglas Duncan at Hauser & Wirth in Gstaad

Zittel refers to A-Z West as “an evolving testing ground for living – a place in which space, objects, and acts of living all intertwine in a single ongoing investigation into what it means to exist and participate in our culture today.” In part, this means creative, sustainable approaches to the privations of living in the desert. Zittel pulps her paper waste and sets it to dry in metal trays called the Regenerating Field; she uses the results to make sculptures. Vegetables grow from barrels shrouded by mosquito netting in a courtyard formed by shipping containers. Shade is provided by trees watered using dry irrigation techniques.

installation of artworks

Installation view of ‘Rafa Esparza: Staring at the Sun’ at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, 2019

What ecological problems might be solved by building better? Like A-Z West, Oscar Tuazon poses this question with his Water School (2016). Its central component, Zome Alloy (2016), borrows its bubble-like plywood structure from the waste-free dome homes designed in the 1960s by Steve Baer, the inventor of passive solar technology. Tuazon’s project also refers to another LA visionary, the architect Buckminster Fuller, best known for his transparent geodesic greenhouses and light-filled homes. When Zome Alloy was recently on view in the Chicago Architecture Biennial, visitors could browse a small library of books about water rights and convene for bimonthly discussions.

Read more: Gaggenau’s head of design Sven Baacke on the meaning of luxury

For several years, Caycedo has explored the effects of colonialism and industrialization on water resources throughout Latin America with her ongoing project ‘BE DAMMED’. At the 2016 São Paulo Biennial, four enormous satellite images of controversial Brazilian dams revealed the structures’ disastrous effects on the surrounding landscape. Caycedo hung brightly colored sculptures woven from fishing nets, which she calls Cosmotarrayas, mesmerizing mobiles linking the precariousness of marine resources to the over-fishing that threatens the life within them. “There’s been great demand for Carolina’s Cosmotarrayas, which have immediate visual power,” says Kim. “They’re colorful, and they play into generally accepted ideas about sculptural composition and form. But they also carry a powerful message.” Caycedo says she doesn’t believe in sustainability, per se: “Extraction will never be sustainable. A coal mine is not sustainable. The way we use our water is not sustainable. I prefer to think about ‘sustenance’ in terms of my work and a healthier relationship to nature: to give strength to something you care about or someone you love.”

Installation of artworks

Installation view of ‘Wanaawna, Rio Hondo, and Other Spirits’ (2019) by Carolina Caycedo at Orange County Museum of Art, Santa Ana, CA

In 2014, artist Rafa Esparza began making adobe bricks from mud he harvested on the banks of the Los Angeles River, on a parcel of land known as the Bowtie – one of the only sections of the river left unpaved by the Army Corps of Engineers when they buried the channel in concrete in 1936. In 2014 the artist Michael Parker had carved a 42m obelisk into the earth that Esparza covered with approximately 1,400 of his bricks. During the installation’s closing performance, he donned a traditional Aztec loincloth, pheasant headdress and ankle rattles and performed a dance atop the structure that referred both to his ancestral people and the indigenous Tongva displaced from the river’s edge by colonialism. Adobe and thatch are among the most sustainable building practices on earth, but the indigenous people who used them were killed or forced from their land, which was then torn up to build LA. Esparza has since repurposed his bricks for shows, including at the Whitney Museum of American Art, in what he refers to as “browning the white cube”.

This has had its challenges, according to Kim, who represents Esparza: “Adobe is very structurally strong, but it’s not archival; it will deteriorate over time, which can be hard for some collectors and institutions to accept. But that’s an important element of Rafa’s work: we need to re-conceive our notion of art as a static thing that will forever remain the same.” By imagining cities like LA and their museums made of mud and river water, Esparza places the environmental costs of colonialism into stark relief, proposing, if not a return to a precolonial past, at least a few important lessons we might learn from.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue.

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Mexico city shoppping street
Joe Sitt interview

Joe Sitt, President and CEO of Thor Equities

Joseph Sitt, President and CEO of Thor Equities, sits atop a luxury property, retail and advisory empire that straddles the western hemisphere. His company owns and develops prime retail property throughout the US, as well as Latin America and Europe. The portfolio and development pipeline of the New York-based company, which he founded in 1986, is in excess of US $18bn.

He is also known as something of a luxury visionary: unlike many property companies, his firms (he also runs Thor Retail Advisors, a leading retail agent and consultant; and others) work closely with fashion and luxury brands to ‘place make’, transforming the areas they are based in. Like LUX, he also believes in mixing high luxury with creative emerging brands to create an atmosphere of discovery as well as indulgence. LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai caught up with Sitt on one of his whirlwind visits to London about the rise of LA, Mexico, and the future of luxury retail.

LUX: Tell me about the rise of LA as a destination.
Joe Sitt: There is physically no more room in San Francisco for office space and for homes, for rental buildings and retail. So, much of that industry is migrating to LA because it’s also on the coast and it’s got better weather. It’s also got more culture and things happening, so there is a lot of migration there, and a lot of wealth being created in LA. And you are getting a lot of second home owners (from the San Francisco area) who are buying in LA.

Between the businesses migrating their technology and the second home owners there, the revitalisation and reactivation in LA is tremendous. You can see also that new restaurants are incredibly successful. And it’s not just coming into LA proper. It’s also coming from down below for example into Santa Monica and Venice Beach. You have tech companies like Snapchat whose headquarters are based over there.

The other aspect of it is the creative industries in LA. Some real fashion is coming out of there for the first time in quite a while. Secondly, the movie industry. For the first time the movie making business is a real profitable business for film makers, writers – salaries are going up tremendously for all of them and for anybody affiliated with the industry.

The tech industry has so much wealth and power and it has the “funny money”, because their stock prices are so high; for example the FANGs – Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google – their stock prices are so high that they are throwing money very aggressively at almost anything. And that is crossing with the fact that the biggest thing that all of those tech companies need, and that they don’t have the ability to do within their tech shops, is actually content.

So now what you have is, if someone is making movies in LA you actually have a shot at a bidding war between Amazon, Netflix, etc. Even Snapchat have announced that they want to be buying and delivering content. That’s creating a really exciting time for the LA market for the people in all forms of the creative industry. A combination of wealth and creatives.

LUX: And in parallel the visual arts has revived there in the last 10 years.
Joe Sitt: Yes. For example, my friends at the [Helly] Nahmad gallery, who are the largest owners of Picassos in the world, now see how many people are coming from the West Coast to consume their products in New York. So they are opening their third outpost: they’ve got London, New York and are now looking to the West Coast. You’ve got [Larry] Gagosian who’s got his New York Gallery, he sees where the zip codes are where he’s shipping his product to. So while people are opening up shop in San Francisco, to get to the wealth proper a lot of them are really looking to the arts district in LA.

Read next: Japanese restaurant, Sake No Hana brings blossoms to Europe 

LUX: Do you see the emergence, despite Donald Trump, of LA and Mexico emerging as one entwined retail and luxury zone?
Joe Sitt: Very much so. I look at Mexico as a big new frontier in luxury fashion. A tremendous amount of wealth has been created in that country. In terms of those people who think that Donald Trump’s policies are going to hurt Mexico…I will throw you a curveball and show you how he’s actually getting the opposite result from what people think would happen and perhaps what he intended. I will give you two examples.

One, is in terms of the border in terms of trade as well as in in terms of immigration and how they actually play out. Sometimes when you shoot a bullet when it comes to policy you don’t know who the victim is going to be. The trade announcement forced a tremendous amount of devaluation in the Mexican Peso. The Peso went from around ten pesos to the dollar ten years ago to twenty two recently; so about half. The net result of doing that was making Mexico as a country and as an exporter more competitive.

As a result of making them more competitive from their currency it increased America’s trade deficit with Mexico dramatically over the last quarter. The opposite of what everyone expected to happen in that first quarter. The second thing that occurred with regard to the second policy, immigration, also had an unintended consequence; which is as a result of being tighter on the border for immigration, US companies have started to create tech centres in Mexico. In Guadalajara, and in Tijuana for those companies in San Diego who just want to be able to cross the border and travel 45 minutes to their foreign teams.

So now you’ve seen an incredible resurgence of business and activity in both Guadalajara and Tijuana in Mexico for the tech industry as a result of those tough policies. It’s a place so close to the United States and you can house all of the greatest foreign minds in the world.

Mexico city shoppping street

The Ferragamo store on Masaryk street in Mexico City

LUX: Mexico has been seen as an outlier in terms of luxury retail.
Joe Sitt: It takes time for a market to react to some of things I’ve mentioned. It’s now waking up. I feel that the entire luxury market has been sleeping at the wheel regarding the Mexico opportunity. And so now they are just waking up to it. Those who are waking up to it are finding success in the market place. But it takes time for them to mobilise.

LUX: Can you tell us your vision for what you’re doing there, because it’s a long term play.
Joe Sitt: We are attacking it from multiple prongs. One of course is just bringing luxury retail there, and creating a platform for it to come to, for the first time. We sparked the revitalisation a street called Masaryk and in an area called Polanco, in the heart of Mexico City. In the old days it was an Upper East Side kind of marketplace that was starting to become abandoned and is now revitalised.

LUX: And is that now going to be the Rue St Honoré of Mexico?
Joe Sitt: Yes exactly right. You’re starting to see it. Hermès, Ferragamo, Gucci and Goyard just opened there. So you’ve got some great brands already.

LUX: Was this through you?
Joe Sitt: We were the spark that brought it all together.

Thom Sweeney

Thom Sweeney SS17

LUX: Integrating investment in emerging fashion brands and developing districts seems pretty for a property company. What’s behind it?
Joe Sitt: Candidly, it’s more of a passion. Yes, there are financial benefits of being on the ground floor of some of the most exciting brands and investing with them or representing and aiding them. Yes, there will be financial reward, probably in years to come when a Thom Sweeney explodes and goes next level or a Drakes or an Edward Green or a Maison Bonnet. But for me, more than anything else, at this stage in my career I am looking for things that I enjoy personally. And I enjoy young and exciting luxury brands and helping them achieve their potential. I get my personal thrill vicariously through their success.

Read next: Labassa Wolfe on the contemporary tailoring experience

LUX: Is your ideal scenario that they grow up to be the next Moynat, Vuitton, Hermès?
Joe Sitt: In some cases yes, in some cases no. For some, Maison Bonnet, the eyeglasses company, we are going to help them make the move from Paris’s first and only little artisan shop to executing in London. It’s about growing the business but not necessarily overgrowth or creating a Goliath.

LUX: And is the long term that you are buying, building and selling them?
Joe Sitt: I have to be careful in terms of conflict so I can’t say which ones I invest in. Other than to say when I do make investments in them I am focused on very very long term. It’s not to buy and sell. It will go wherever the visionary wants to take it, who’s owning the business, will we ride with this vision. In terms of our advisory business, our goal for these companies is to help them reach whatever their potential is, or is meant to be. Some of them it’s meant to be a very large business, some of them it’s not. We do the same thing with tech related businesses. I mentioned Warby Parker [an eyewear company], we were with them from the start, opening all of their first locations. Helping them understand the challenges of physical retailing versus internet retailing.

LUX: You are a property person. But is retail moving online?
Joe Sitt: There will be challenges in terms of distribution for people to buy things online for many years to come. And buying direct is not a new invention. We had catalogue prior, it was just a different medium for doing it. Someone would get the catalogue to their house and then they would order by telephone; or later order through emaiI. I look at online as another modem to deliver a product to a consumer. When it comes to commodities, it’s easy enough push a button and buy it on the internet. But does the internet mean that Nike should not open up more stores? We’ve found the opposite. I worked with Nike in New York, myself and a partner, for the first flagship store in Soho on the corner of Spring Street and Broadway. They are doing two incredible flagships that are costing them mega millions of dollars to build. Why are they doing that in the year 2017 with all the talk of tech and internet sales? Because they realise for a brand, it works arm in arm. People want the experience of a brand. The same way people are talking about restaurants and experience and enjoying that aspect of it, it’s the same thing when it comes to a brand. I want to go to Nike and not just see pictures on the internet. I want to touch the product, I want to try it on I want to interact with it.

Maison Bonnet

Maison Bonnet’s Palais Royal Salon in Paris. Image by JYLSC

LUX: You have done some transformative retail schemes over the years. What are the challenges when you have an area like this that has got great potential but you need to change things? Do you get resistance?
Joe Sitt: There is always resistance. I always say that the secret to knowing when a project is going to be great is the greater amount of resistance. We enjoy both. We like doing things in established high profile tourist destinations as well as cool emerging areas like Wynwood in Miami, Venice Beach in California, and all of these creative markets all over the world that we think need and deserve luxury exposure as well.

Read next: Luxury in the foothills of the Himalayas

LUX: Do you think that monolithic luxury malls as are opening in China and elsewhere, where everything is a luxury brand and nothing else, will change? Will people want more of a mix in there?
Joe Sitt: Yes. That’s boring. Even if it’s great luxury brands it’s not what the consumer wants. As a consumer it gets more and more sophisticated. You see that in their taste they want something that is more eclectic.

LUX: A bit of discovery?
Joe Sitt: Yes. It could be restaurant discoveries, specialty shops, boutiques, perfumeries, candle shops etc. Intermixed with the luxury brands and that’s what creates the most successful environment for a luxury brand.

LUX: What’s the most exciting area of luxury and fashion for you?
Joe Sitt: Menswear is so exciting, much more exciting than womenswear, still very much an untapped market, with brands we’ve referred to today, Thom Sweeney for example, in years to come that could explode. I think that food, F&B, restaurants etc. have tremendous potential. Look at a market like London, if you were here 15 years ago the restaurant scene was horrific. It’s come along light years. I think other markets are going to expand to a much greater degree.

Last, but certainly not least is destination. I think people are remaking what the word ‘resort’ is, as hospitality and a destination. I think people are stating to get really creative. People crave creative.

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Reading time: 11 min