The summer season at Christie’s South Kensington has now started, the most noteworthy landmark being, and you will all agree of course,
the feature of A-Gent of Style in the prestigious auction house’s June newsletter, which you can view in full here (shameless self-promotion).
Additionally, following a very successful collaboration last July, Christie’s invited Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, interior decorating and antiques, Brook Street, Mayfair, to contribute to another innovative sale on 4 June that celebrates the best of interior design and decoration with an international reach and universal appeal.
A-Gent of Style is delighted to be collaborating with the two renowned houses on the feature of this sale, and he had the privilege to be given a preview guided tour of the exhibition on Thursday evening ahead of the opening to the public on Saturday.
The Art of Design sale combines a carefully curated selection of 60 lots which exhibit the quality, elegance and world-class reputation of the Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler name alongside a collection formed over the course of a lifetime by the late Melbourne-born interior designer Lex Aitken and his partner, the esteemed fashion illustrator and designer Alfredo Bouret Gonzalez.
Taken from their Sydney home and private collection (Aitken died last spring at the age of 83 in Sydney and Gonzalez now lives in Vancouver, having sold the Sydney home), this home contents sale will appeal to both first-time collectors and aficionados of design who will be attracted by the good taste synonymous with each contributor. The auction will include furniture, ceramics, pictures, lighting and decorative objects, forming 220 odd lots, with estimates from £300 to £80,000. The sale is led by two fine portraits, the first by Jacques-Emile Blanche (French, 1861-1942), entitled ‘Jeune fille à la fenêtre’, a charming full length oil (estimate £15,000-25,000) and a striking depiction of Mrs Moody, three-quarter length, in a white dress, holding a dog in her lap, in a landscape by British master George Romney (1734- 1802) with an estimate of £50,000-80,000 (shown here). The Romney can be seen hanging above the sofa in the Sydney home of Mr. Aitken and Mr. Gonzalez.
Lex Aitken’s international career is reflected in the diversity of countries represented among the objects in this sale. Yet the influence of London is evident throughout as it was where he built his reputation in the 1960s as Lex Aitken Antiques, his eponymous business on the capital’s road of designers, Pimlico Road. Aitken’s integrity and flair endeared him to clients – including luminaries such as Lucien Freud, who shared his contagious enthusiasm for works of art, furniture and design.
In a career that spanned almost two decades which brought him worldwide recognition, fashion illustrator Alfredo Bouret Gonzalez, Lex Aitken’s long-term partner, shared his taste and connoisseurship honed in Paris where he sketched for the great couture houses, Vogue and Harpers Bazaar, capturing effortlessly with his dazzling impressions and animated lines the golden age of haute couture, and was granted unique access to the reclusive genius Balenciaga. Gonzalez moved to London where he established his boutique, ‘Mexicana’, importing peasant shirts and other Mexican wear to a delighted London audience, which included HRH Diana, Princess of Wales and Valentino.
A-Gent of Style was fortunate to be given a guided tour of the exhibition with Charlotte Young, the sales’ specialist at Christie’s, and Ronan Sulich, Christie’s Sydney representative. A-Gent of Style shamefully knew very little about aesthetes Aitken and Gonzalez and could hardly find any information online (where else these days?!) about their incredible careers and lives except a fascinating YouTube video on Gonzalez’ s life and career (which you can view at the end of this article). So it was with great appreciation and enjoyment that Sulich, who flew in to help with the curation (he knew Aitken and Gonzalez well, and had been to their storied house on several occasions over the years) delighted us both with stories and anecdotes that brought to life the glamourous life of parties, dinners and travels the international ‘A-gay’ couple had experienced together, surrounding themselves with eclectic collectable objets over the decades. Both Aitken and Gonzalez were generous supporters of the arts and after they retired to Aitken’s native Australia, settling in Sydney, they contributed to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the RMIT University and the Powerhouse Museum, Melbourne.
Viewing is opened until Tuesday 3 June 5pm with a late viewing this evening until 7.30pm. The auction will take place at 10 am on Wednesday 4 June.
You can view the full catalogue here.
Some of A-Gent of Style‘s favourite picks from the sale:
The Alfredo Bouret Gonzalez retrospective:
A-Gent of Style would like to thank Charlotte Young, the sales’ specialist at Christie’s, Ronan Sulich, Christie’s Sydney representative, and Trudi Ballard at Sibyl Colefax & Fowler for their assistance and support.
– Photographs by Christie’s, Sibyl Colefax and John Fowler, and A-Gent of Style –
Focus/13 and Decorex International 2013 are now in full swing; London is buzzing and living up to the title The New York Times gave it last year as the ‘design capital of the world’. And what could be better than this, you may wonder?!
Another installment of A-Gent of Style‘s interview series
‘We Need To Talk About…’ of course!
Rita Konig had been on A-Gent of Style‘s radar for a few years now and it was just a question of time before they met.
There were only two degrees of separation between Rita and myself: we had met briefly last summer at Tissus d’Hélène through Helen Cormack and also Rita’s office is situated at Redloh House, the destination textiles mews in Chelsea’s Old Gas Works regrouping “The Golden Girls of Prints”, as I like to call them.
So when the opportunity arose for A-Gent of Style to properly meet the tastemaker and interview her, there was no time to waste.
Over the years, I had followed Rita’s journalistic and decorating pursuits and had gradually become a fan of hers, from a distance, reading the articles and columns she wrote in various publications, and I was also charmed by the flats she lived and decorated in New York that kept being featured on design sites and blogs, the latest of them being The Selby.
Having returned two years ago to London after six years in New York, the English style writer and interior decorator who has been living, writing and working from both sides of the pond for over a decade is currently the European Editor for the T Magazine of
The New York Times and a features writer on their website, whilst continuing design projects mainly in America but also in England. In New York, she was Editor-at-Large for the now sadly defunct design publication Domino until 2009. (post-publication addendum 02/2015: Rita is now a columinst for House & Garden).
Rita has written for some of the best publications in the world such as Harper’s Bazaar, Tatler, House & Garden US and UK, Architectural Digest, The London Telegraph, the Style section of The Sunday Times and The Telegraph magazine and had her own cult columns Rita Says in Vogue, Off Duty in The Wall Street Journal and Inside Out in The New York Times. She has written two books, Domestic Bliss and Rita’s Culinary Trickery, published in both the UK and USA, both met with critical acclaim. She recently created a furniture and accessories collection with The Lacquer Company, which I adore (of course; see A-Gent of Style‘s own lacquer retrospective here). Another attribute to add to her impressive CV and accomplishments.
When you look at Rita’s interiors, there is a palpable feeling of joie-de-vivre, an infectious sense of colourful, bold and feminine style and a confident mix of old and new where comfort, relaxed informality and quirky personality shine through. Despite her ‘English woman in New York’ history, Rita has undeniably stayed true to some beloved English decorating traditions and sensibilities – the seemingly mismatched, cluttered, piled-on but cozy, elegant and studied British look – that successfully result in home-making rather than a polished and polite construct. I see a lot of similarities between Rita’s décors and Hamish Bowles‘s or Isabella Blow’s apartments which I love so much. To me, the result always appears fresh, real, elegant but also fearless of any trends or conventions.
During our interview in her office, Rita proved to encapsulate all of the above and even more;
she did not disappoint. A multi-faceted 21st C style commentator and translator,
she has oodles of charm, energy and wit and not an iota of pretension, all of which will come across during our interview I hope.
So now, you can sit back and relax in your favourite armchair and enjoy an intimate moment with…Rita Konig.
Do you plan things in life, for instance your career, or are you quite happy to go off on tangents and see where life takes you?
When I started writing, I was working for my mother [the acclaimed interior decorator Nina Campbell] in her shop and did a couple of decorating jobs, one of which was a nightmare because of the builders – I hate builders, well not all of them – and decided never to do it again but somehow I kept coming back to it; the writing and decorating are both kept in tandem and seem to feed each other.
Did your childhood influence your work?
Oh yes, I’m sure. I used to redecorate my bedrooms since we moved a lot. With my mother, travelling or going shopping was always alluring and exciting. You know the feelings and the pleasure you get from the comfort when you go and sit into a room, those specials feelings that I definitely have that not everybody has.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I didn’t want to do anything! I remember looking out of the window and looking at these ladies walking their dogs and going to buy their groceries and I thought that would be a nice thing to do. Then I wanted to be a mimic or an actor and then
a fashion designer.
Some parents, especially artists, can deter their children from doing the same job as them. Did you experience that?
No, my mother didn’t deter me but she didn’t encourage me as such or it wasn’t something that was voiced upon me. It’s not something I always wanted to do, except I kept being asked to do it which is how it started.
Do you have any design icon?
I love the old American decorators like Albert Hadley but I am more drawn to people with taste rather than decorators per se. I love Veere Grenney and what Marella Agnelli does. For instance, in the magazines I write for, I’ve never been interested in publishing houses that decorators have done. And if I ever introduced a decorator’s project, it would have always been their own house; it’s far more interesting.
Do you remember the first piece of vintage or antique furniture you bought?
Probably my first set of plates from Alfies [Antiques Market, NW8] for my first flat. And vintage curtains I regret selling when I moved.
How would you describe your own style or design aesthetics?
Look around the room: a real mess! I like an undecorated look, little pictures on the walls, things to be a bit haphazard, funny irregular lamps; I’m not crazy about symmetry; I love colour, pattern and wallpaper. I don’t know if one can be very objective about one’s own style but I’m not terribly fussy, maybe more…tidy.
Taste is something you don’t really choose.
How does your London flat differ from your New York apartment?
I own my London flat which I didn’t in New York. In London, I am doing everything from scratch. The process of decorating a rental is so much more enjoyable and carefree: you can put pictures up or change the wallpaper for instance. You only do the fun bit because the minute you have to deal with some bad builders, you can have the most hideous time. And I did on some occasions! As a result, these photographs of my New York flat were done quickly and looked terrific.
London however is more grown-up, it has a good functioning kitchen!
Ideally, do you prefer your client(s) come with a lot of furniture for you to work with or do you prefer a blank canvas so you can start from scratch and source for almost everything?
I don’t think a room benefits from starting from scratch. Obviously, it’s tough when you are faced with a room full of stuff that looks dated. I believe it’s important to have a mixture: I like doing a bit of shopping with them and I like to see what they’re bringing. And also couples should go to shops and buy together; it’s such a nice way to build your house and that’s when a house looks great. When you sit down and you remember the afternoon you spent together when you bought that chair or that picture. It becomes part of their story. I think that’s more important actually than finding the perfect thing that matches with the rest. To a degree, I wish my look was more polished, finished and beautiful, because you’d end up with a more picture-perfect product. My instinct is that you need to make a room for someone to live in.
Talking about instinct, did you train as an interior designer? Do you think it can be taught or should it be innate?
I think taste is innate, I don’t think you can be taught taste. I didn’t train; sometimes I think it would have been great if I did but so much of it is a combination of taste and having a business mind and also having a good team. Your team is worth everything. No one can teach you taste and I don’t think there are rules; it doesn’t work. What works in a room doesn’t necessarily work if you’d dissected everything before; what could have looked disgusting on a mood or sample board can look terrific when installed. And reversely, what looks beautiful on a board sometimes makes for a dull room, it doesn’t necessarily work.
Do you find commercial projects less personal and ‘cold’?
No, I don’t actually. I’m about to do a hotel in the States. You still have a client. There are boundaries because there, they are a business, they can’t change their mind all the time which makes the job easier. And that’s the reason why I’m being employed, for my look. I decorated years ago two flats for a rental properties company and each time, I had to create a client for myself. For one of the flats, I designed it as if a girl like Amélie would live there and in the end this girl rented the flat; and I designed the other flat for a banker, with a man in mind, and a banker rented it. I had to create for myself a personality. When you are left alone, you can give the project that special energy.
Who and what inspires you?
You’ve designed a furniture and accessories collection
for The Lacquer Company. Would you like to design your own range of fabrics/wallpapers?
Would you like to work on a collaboration with your mother?
Do you have any design pet peeves?
Who is your ideal client?
Somebody who has a good idea of what they like and has an opinion. And somebody who trusts you. I love the interaction, the back and forth, what you learn from them, when you learn new ways of doing things.
How do you define luxury?
What is beauty?
Something a bit frayed, not too perfect; like the fragments of a beautiful old silk; things that have been and lived. Not the perfect Botoxed face but the face that’s lived and laughed. Beauty has got to have some age…or a story.
Clever, beautiful or rich?
I would. I don’t know if I would be any good at fiction but I’d like the next one to be about decorating. Having lived in America in two spaces that were rented, maybe I’d like to do a book about decorating rentals. But I don’t think the world needs another beautiful coffee table photographic book. Somehow it’s not very helpful to see pictures of beautiful, perfect rooms, when in reality your bathroom is in a different place or the windows are in a different shape; but if you are reading something and it’s illustrated with drawings, then you can be inspired, you think “I can understand that, I can do that”. That‘s what I like imparting when I write about decorating.
Do you judge a book by its cover?
Yes, generally by its author’s photograph. I should learn not to. I do think covers are important. When I did my first book, somebody said to me if you get somebody to pick up a book in a bookstore, you’re 80% of the way to selling it. Especially, if it’s red and shiny. So my first cover was red and shiny.
What are the top 3 magazines you would take with you on a plane?
Vogue Entertaining + Travel, The World of Interiors, the Spanish Architectural Digest.
Favourite natural scent?
If Proust had his ‘madeleines’, what takes you back instantly to a place, a moment in life or a person?
Any of the scents my mother wore as a child like Opium. And my grandmother wore Mitsouko. Guerlain scents. As a child you don’t know what smells are but then you discover them later in life. My grandmother’s house smelled of cigarettes and Rigaud candles with some Mitsouko or Shalimar mixed in with a bit of dust too. I like that old-fashioned smell.
What is your favourite gift to give or to receive?
I love giving things but I hate having to find presents on demand for a special occasion for instance; I find it difficult. The rest of the time I find it easy, I love the unusual, the unexpected; it’s so amazing when you open a parcel and it’s something you never imagined but it’s exactly what you love whether it is a vintage linen French tea towel with initials or the latest pair of electric blue Nike tops I gave my godchild. And it’s the same for me: when I am given something and it’s that exact thing that I wanted but I never thought I’d get it. That’s magical.
What painting, sculpture or other work of art would you like to own?
I’d really like to have a Rothko or a Henry Moore in a landscape, a sculpture outside but not in a sculpture park; I love the idea of coming across something.
If you were an animal, what would you be?
Dusk or dawn?
Dusk if I’m somewhere really beautiful, with a drink, maybe in the English countryside with a really good gin & tonic and somebody lovely to be with. But there is something so invigorating about the dawn, if you’re up before anybody else.
But I’m not very often!
Afternoon tea or cocktails?
Probably cocktails because I love afternoon teas and all those cakes and sandwiches – I have a horrible sweet tooth – and you know what that does to you! There is something special about that first drink when you are somewhere lovely, having a Campari and ginger ale, or a beautiful glass of white wine that has frost on it when it’s crisp and fresh. And the first drink is always the best drink of the evening even though one rarely has only one glass!
Cats or dogs?
Can you share a guilty pleasure?
I suppose sweets, and bad TV like trashy box sets.
What’s your perfect day off?
A long breakfast or lunch; it would involve finding a lovely market, packages or having a picnic in the hills of Scotland. I love the discovery of shopping, more for the home than for clothes actually. And not having to rush anywhere.
What keeps you awake at night?
A pressing deadline; and money. Or…Father Christmas.
What’s your greatest fear?
What do you never leave home without?
My door keys but I never always manage it!
Who are you most grateful to and why?
Which actress would play you in the film of your life?
I don’t want to sound conceited but maybe Kate Winslet when she was younger or perhaps Meryl Streep; she can play almost everybody. I adore Frances McDormand but I’ve never been interested by celebrities.
What would be your last supper like?
It would have to be with no more than 6 people, probably a lunch under a sun-dappled shade, probably in Italy, I love Italian food like at the River Café or Ottolenghi’s. Spaghetti would feature. I’m not very good at music, I love it being there but music that’s distant, in the next room, the sounds of bagpipes retreating or advancing but not near me, or the sound of the piano in the next door house. Something atmospheric. I can’t bear loud music.
Finally, tell us something we don’t know about you
I have a fear of travel and leaving home which is funny seeing that I spend so much of my time doing exactly that, doing travel stories for work. I feel things were much more different when I was single but now I am marrying.
– all photos of interiors are by Rita Konig –
“Jeremiah, your painting of our living room is as I imagined it, much more than my actually seeing it, and that is a talent I admire”
– Richard Rodgers –
On the last sun-drenched bank holiday of 2013, two dear friends and kindred spirits were leisurely conversing ad nauseam about interior decoration over a scrumptious, al fresco Italian meal. One of the discussions they had was about the place in the future of hand-drawing paintings in this pixel-saturated, CAD-monkeyed world.
A couple of hours and bottles of Gavi later, entered Jeremiah Goodman and the large and heavy book, Jeremiah: A Romantic Vision that A-Gent of Style picked up from the bookshelves, which incited a passionate conversation about the astonishing career Jeremiah Goodman has had since he started his art now 65-odd years.
Jeremiah, as he is simply known, is the famed watercolour and gouache illustrator of some of the most exclusive enclaves in the world who has been commissioned by an illustrious clientèle ranging from the world of literature and theatre (Edward Albee, Greta Garbo, Sir John Gielgud), music (Richard Rodgers), fashion (Yves Saint Laurent, Elsa Schiaparelli, Diana Vreeland, Carolina Herrera), art (Cecil Beaton, Pablo Picasso), interior decoration (Dorothy Draper, Billy Baldwin, David Hicks, Mario Buatta), socialites (the Rothschilds, Betsy Bloomingdale), royalty (The Duchess of Windsor), politics (the Reagans), to name but a few, and more recently influential personas such as Bruce Weber and the Reed-Krakoffs .
His stylish and studied renderings have been published in some of the most distinguished publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, House & Garden, Vogue, Vanity Fair magazines, The New York Times and Interior Design magazine whose covers he illustrated every month for 15 years from 1949 until 1964. He received in 1987 the prestigious Hall of Fame Award in recognition for his contribution in the field of Interior Design. The unstoppable artist – now in his 90s – can be found at his drawing board in his Upper East side apartment every day – working on private commissions but also on commercial assignments for advertisements, catalogues and artworks. Throughout his career, Jeremiah also embarked on numerous furniture design and product design projects such as fabrics and wallpapers.
Looking at his oeuvre, A-Gent of Style found the enchanting, moody atmosphere and unique air of mysticism that emanate from his plates of artwork compelling. There is such a great sense of emotions, drama and ephemera in each of his watercolours but also depth and movement despite the static nature of this medium. I admire the way he captures light and shadow and infuse rooms with warmth and personality and consequently bringing them vitality and life.
And the most exciting news is… Jeremiah will be coming to London for Design Week and will be interviewed on the 25th by none other than the amazing Nicky Haslam at the much-anticipated Decorex International 2013 salon. Now that is something not to be missed!
In the meanwhile, you can purchase his book Jeremiah: A Romantic Vision and buy a selection of his fine paintings in limited edition prints as well as note cards through Dean Rhys Morgan’s, Works on Paper.
Jeremiah’s impressive accomplishment is the living proof and a great reminder that, whilst we should embrace modern technology, there is thankfully still a huge place for traditional, artisanal craftmanship in this mad, fast-paced world.
For now, come and admire with A-Gent of Style the magical and grand world of Jeremiah, slowly, considerately, one plate at a time: