More design for Chelsea
Trumpeting the degree to which design has seriously arrived in Chelsea, Barry Friedman opened his 18,000-square-foot gallery on West 26th Street last week. And whoa, amidst all the Ettore Sottsass glass and Ron Arad chairs, bodyguards were in full force, an indication of the pricey nature of the offerings.
But Friedmanís moving into Chelsea and championing contemporary glass and editioned furniture also indicates how the trendy design world is cherry-picking retail features from the fashion orbit. Just as fashion spins out seasonal collections, Friedman and Marc Benda, his partner in the new Friedman Benda gallery, roll out annual releases by the design worldís version of luxury brands (such as Arad).
That kind of merchandising power and enormous size of the gallery places Friedman in the league of other Chelsea bigfoots like Larry Gagosian and David Zwirner. Whatís next? Our bet is that trendy fashion- and design-world insiders are soon to be trekking downtown to Friedman for shopping sprees.
Wright knocks down more real estate
Further affirming the happy marriage of design, architecture and real estate within the elevated precincts of the fine art world, the Chicago auction firm Wright is offering a trophy house on Oct. 7, 2007. This time, auctioneer Richard Wright has corralled Marcel Breuerís 1951 Wolfson House, complete with a riveted aluminum trailer that clearly could have been one of the inspirations for Australian designer Marc Newsonís famous lounge chair and chest made of the same material.
As it happens, Breuer was requested to design the house around the trailer, and thatís exactly what he did, for a totally unique ensemble. The residence is located on 10.3 acres in Salt Point in Dutchess County near Millbrook, N.Y. The presale estimate sounds more than reasonable: $1 million-$1.5 million -- or a fraction of the value of a set of six Arad chairs. "The land alone is worth the price," says Wright.
The auctioneer says he snared the consignment because of his highly successful marketing and sale of the Pierre Koenig-designed house in Los Angeles last December. With that sale, he rang up a cool $3,185,600 for the house, over a presale estimate of $2.5 million-$3.5 million. Interestingly, a European and an Asian bidder duked it out, with the client from the Orient taking the prize.
The ultimate Hermès tote
The luxury leather purveyor, Hermès, just notched yet another high price mark in its belt, so to speak. Art media owner Louise MacBain ditched her Hermès belts and bags at Christieís London on Sept. 12, 2007. Though the sale was dubbed "From City Chic to Alpine Retreat, Holland Park and St. Moritz," the entire contents came from a single location: MacBainís townhouse in Londonís Holland Park.
Call it the ultimate closet cleaning. On the auction block were 39 Hermes belts, 30 Hermes bags and nine pairs of Manolo Blahnik crocodile stilettos along with a variety of furnishings, including 19th-century antiques, masses of Georgian silver and porphyry urns. Close to 90 percent of MacBainís castoff Hermès bags were only used once or twice, reports Pat Frost, Christieís London costume and textiles specialist. Like Judy Taubman, wife of former Sothebyís chairman A. Alfred Taubman, MacBain opted for the more unusual colored purses. Top of the heap was a red crocodile Kelly bag (est. £10,000-£12,000), bringing a stupendous £31,200.
Why the high-ticket prices? "Buying at auction is instant gratification for people who donít want to wait two years for a bag," said Frost, in reference to the Hermès waiting list. And demand there was. Bidders tied up a total of 23 telephone lines. Half of the Hermès items went across the pond to the States.
All told the sale made an impressive £2,204,052 ($4,476,429). Also hotly contested was 19th-century Russian brass mounted furniture. A set of 12 trellis-backed dinning chairs with brass detailing sold for £108,000, well over the £15,000-£25,000 presale estimate. That particular style first debuted in Russia in the 1790s, when brass-accented mahogany furniture could be found in practically every Romanov palace. Now the newly rich Russians, many of whom make their home in London, have a craving for it.
That Nan Kempner provenance
The late Nan Kempner -- Manhattan hostess, fundraiser (a cool $75 million for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center), "American fashion icon" (designer Carolina Herrara gave her with that accolade) and Christieís International representative -- wore St. Laurent to perfection. No less than the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art plucked up 200 of her outfits and accessories.
The leftovers are being hammered down at Christieís House Sale at Rockefeller Center on Oct 1-3, 2007. St. Laurent from the 1960s, as well as Dior and Oscar de la Renta, are up for grabs. One lot bound to be fought over is a St. Laurent cashmere and sable evening coat. While the overall presale estimate for all 60 lots is $33,450-$49,650, prices are certain to be steep. After all, Diana Vreeland, the late high priestess of Vogue, once wrote, "Thereís no such thing as a chic American woman -- the look is always too contrived, it doesnít come naturally. The one exception is Nan Kempner."
Noguchi goes repro
Nothing like a museum to zoom an artist into the haute realm. Japanese-American designer, sculptor, ceramicist and print-maker Isamu Noguchi is the prime example of a once impoverished artist (he sculpted a bronze of PR maven Eleanor Lambert in exchange for numerous loans back in the Ď50s) catapulting to fame. When Noguchiís namesake museum first opened in Long Island City a decade ago, a trickle of 9,000 people passed through its doors. By last year, the attendance had grown almost 400 percent to 35,000. Even the staff has quadrupled in size.
Whatís newsy about the museumís current exhibition, "Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi," is the announcement that Isamu Kenmochiís "rattan round chair" from 1960 is being reproduced and distributed by the museum. Price is $2,200. "Knockoffs of it were common once the chair entered the Museum of Modern Art collection in 1964," says Noguchi curator Bonnie Rychlak. They were a staple of the Ď60s look. Even Babe Paley had them at her Caribbean beach retreat.
Unfortunately, the Noguchi museum is not reproducing the artistís 1951 curved wood bench with tatami seat made for Keio University. Itís a sublime Japanese take on Jean Prouvť. But when you visit the museum, be sure to check out the garden and the design of the building, too. The entire premises could just rank as Noguchiís most creative effort.
Jansen tome: total chic
None of the stylishly curious should miss Jansen Furniture by James Archer Abbott, a new book published by Acanthus Press ($90). Parisian Stephane Boudin, who headed up Jansen, turned that firm into a powerful international brand of chic long before Vuitton entered the minds of the superwealthy. The Jansen client list was to die for: Windsors, Paleys, Jayne Englehard, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Pamela Harriman and legions of other deep-pocketed but discriminating creatures.
Stylistically, Jansen furniture was a frothy mix of 18th century Bourbon references and Hollywood-like glam. This tome is packed with 600 photos and finally serves up a look at the way a certain international tribe lived decades ago. Check out Jansenís coral-based cocktail table and sconces made of shells. With this source widely available, copies are bound to be spun out for the millenniumís wannabees.
Fowleriana: ruffles and flourishes
Interior decorator John Beresford Fowler (1906- 1977) was dubbed "the Prince of Decorators" by Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, and not only pioneered the English country house look but also the modern decorating firm as we know it today. With Nancy Lancaster, he headed up the London enterprise Colefax and Fowler and turned out oodles of wallpapers and fabrics. Thereís nary a single top-tier designer practicing now, excepting perhaps Donatella Versace, who has not absorbed the lessons and lifestyle of that quintessential English genius.
Finally, Frances Lincoln has published a book, John Fowler: Prince of Decorators by Martin Wood ($65), which does him justice. Itís crammed with period photos detailing Fowlerís "romantic disrepair" and "humble elegance" with which he trimmed up some of Englandís grandest houses, including Chequers and Syon House. No fan of antiques or the English country house look or even social history should miss this tome.
The images of his curtains alone are worth the price. Fowler could grace windows with impeccable taste, right down to intricate bullion fringe. His insight regarding the "dead dining room look" and his subtle sense of color in pairing aubergine silks with lush brown antelope velvet are priceless.
The fact that Fowler paid £1,500 for his 1740 Hunting Lodge in Hampshire -- the home used in the Tony Richardson film. The Charge of the Light Brigade -- gives a peek at the dire financial straits Britain faced after the war.
BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times, the New York Sun and other publications.