Nicole Farhi – From Cloth to Clay

How does the old saying go? One door closes and another one opens? Such is the case for former fashion designer Nicole Farhi. After 30 years creating understated ready-to-wear, she has embarked on a new chapter as a fully-fledged sculptress. So has she found her calling?

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On what is officially the hottest day of the year so far, London, or leafy Hampstead to be precise, feels oppressive under thundery skies and the potent scent of flowering oak pollen. In contrast, here inside the renovated greenhouse, which sits at the back of Nicole Farhi’s 18th Century home, light in dazzling proportions and slightly cooler air provides the perfect respite from the muggy outdoors.

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For those who still associate Farhi as the head of her eponymous ready-to-wear label, this is not a place for designing clothes or even growing pot plants. Instead, this is where Farhi the fashion-designer-turned sculptress, creates impressive works of art.

On first meeting, I’m struck by Farhi’s thick mane of honey-coloured curls and pale green eyes. A sing song of an accent also reminds me that she is French – despite the fact that she has has lived in the UK for the past 30 years.

To recap on 69-year-old Farhi’s career to date, her fashion brand, which was previously owned by French Connection, was sold to the private equity company OpenGate Capital in 2010. In many ways she believes it was a blessing. The need to create art through her hands has always come straight from the gut.

“As a student in Paris, I studied both fashion and art,” she recalls. And even though I went on to design fashion for over 30 years, I’d still find time to work on my art at weekends or whenever I could.”

It is also worth mentioning here that Farhi was tutored and mentored by the great Eduardo Paolozzi. His influence can be seen in a variety of her early work – from sketches to the clay sculptures of his large head and fists.

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“Eduardo had an inner strength and a kind of wildness as if he came from the earth, the sea… All the elements were in him that’s why I did this particular head sculpture,” she says pointing to a bronze work, which is notable for its raw, jagged edges.

It was thanks to the encouragement of a close friend that Farhi decided to approach sculpture galleries with her work. Robert Bowman, director at London’s ‘Bowman Sculpture’ was among the first to see her vast collection of pieces and immediately offered her a slot at his gallery. Her first show, ‘From The Neck Up’, an exhibit of busts opened in 2014, two years to the day that she ceased designing for her fashion label.

So what next? Judging by the amount of hands – from charcoal sketches of rotund baby hands to bronze and more sinister black aluminium casts of the real thing, which are dotted around the studio, I take it that this is the theme of her next show.

“I like to watch pianists, dancers and conductors in their own environment, playing or dancing,” she says.  “I often revisit my subjects and ask them to hold a specific pose for me which I’ll then photograph and work from that. I’ve been working on this project non-stop since last October. I might show in a year’s time let’s see.   Unlike the fast-pace of fashion, I have the luxury of taking as long as I like to create and only have myself to answer to.”

 

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Images © Atlanta Rascher

Finally, Farhi will also be participating in the upcoming edition of Brown’s London Art Weekend. She was asked by the organisers to take a stroll around Mayfair and list her top five galleries currently showing sculpture. Her musings can be read here.

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Bond’s Best

The Messengers Arrival II by Jamil Naqsh

A painterly passion to capture the beauty and culture not just of his native Pakistan but of the wider reaches of the Indian subcontinent, has turned up a memorable name in contemporary art.

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Jamil Naqsh was born in Kairana, Uttar Pradesh in 1938. Aside from being one of Pakistan’s best-known contemporary artists, he is also well established in the rapidly expanding international art scene.

In his current exhibition: ‘The Muse, Messengers & Miniatures there is one standout painting of note. The pigeons depicted with the nude in ‘The Messengers Arrival II’ oil on canvas (£54,000) are said to be secret messengers of love, making this piece well worth homing in on.

Jamil Naqsh, The Muse, Messengers & Miniatures.

11 June – 11 July 2015. Albemarle Gallery, 49 Albemarle Street

Shop Tactics with John Martin

John Martin opened his namesake gallery at No.38 Albemarle Street in 1992, when he was just 24. Today, with a second gallery in Chelsea, his business continues to thrive. Meanwhile, as one of the directors and co-founders of Brown’s London Art Weekend, John will be putting his best foot forward to lead a tour of local art galleries. The walkabout departs from Brown’s at 10.30am on July 4th.

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It is a far cry from when he first set up shop in the area. Looking back he says: “It was the recession and Mayfair appeared tired and bruised, with shops empty and art collectors thin on the ground. Even then, Mayfair seemed to demand a bit of polish from its art dealers and so for a while I did my best to look dapper, polishing my shoes every Sunday evening to a high gloss until children, work, and cycling took prior claim on the effort it demanded.”

Recently however, (and by his own admission), standards have started to slip. “The jacket went, the tie went until I realised I was still wearing the gym shoes I had cycled to work in and a cardigan with a hole in the elbow. It was time for a major Bond Street service, with parts, labour and lubrication.” He maps out his favourite haunts below:

Brown’s Hotel, Albemarle Street

My Mayfair will always begin and end at Brown’s Hotel. So comfortable is Brown’s in its understated elegance, that the welcome is always warm (even wearing a tatty jumper). In 1992 it was a fading but adored jewel: I discovered the perfect Manhattan in the old St George’s Bar, and though the restaurant was an occasional treat, Kate (my wife) and I could think of no better place to begin our honeymoon. For two years it was closed for renovation and then it rose again, beautifully and bravely redesigned, a new incarnation which lost none of its soul and now I love it more than ever.

E.B. Meyrowitz, 6 Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street

Across the street from Brown’s, in the Royal Arcade, you will find the astonishing opticians E.B. Meyrowitz.  It designs and builds beautiful, handmade glasses that offer poise and elegance to the most asymmetric of faces. I have been passing their glorious shop for many years wondering how long it would take before I could legitimately order a pair of their fabulous creations. That day has come. After a thorough eye examination the owner and designer, Sheel Davison-Lungley carefully selects the right frames for me.  A perfect fit means the glasses are precisely balanced so they not only sit well, but seem virtually weightless too. There can be few retail experiences as delightful or as life changing as an appointment with Sheel and I will forever entrust my eyes to her care.

Trevor Pickett, 10-12 Burlington Gardens

Trevor Pickett is as much a Mayfair institution as his store. It is a source of gossip, retail wisdom and wallets of perfection. He takes enormous trouble in the design and construction of his bags and leather goods, working with the best English craftsmen and championing new talent to keep the artisanal tradition alive. He designed every bit of his exquisite new store located at the top of Albany. And when a film crew is not following him around, Trevor takes huge delight in guiding you through its maze of rooms and cabinets.

Sam Fogg, 15D Clifford Street

It is impossible to walk around Mayfair without visiting at least a couple of galleries. There are nearly 200 galleries and dealers in the area, and their exhibitions and collective expertise make this the greatest and most diverse art market in the world. It is still a thrill to discover a new gallery or a new artist and with so many overseas galleries establishing themselves here, it has only added more depth to Mayfair’s art scene.  One of the highlights of last year’s art weekend was a guided tour through Sam Fogg’s beautiful exhibition of medieval sculpture.

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly

I have recently joined the Academician’s Room tucked away on the first floor of the Royal Academy. Designed as the architecture gallery by Norman Shaw in 1883, the magnificent room is a wonderful, tranquil haven whose membership is only open to anyone involved in the visual arts or recommended by an Academician. It is such a good club that for those without the necessary credentials it may be an incentive to consider a career change!

 

Bond’s June Exclusive 

A chance to WIN Two Tickets for an exclusive Art Talk as part of Brown’s London Art Weekend, Brown’s Hotel Talks Programme.

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Brown’s Hotel will be hosting a programme of specialist art talks over the course of the weekend, in the Clarendon Room in Brown’s Hotel with a selection of light refreshments. The understated elegance of Brown’s Hotel and its location make it a popular choice for art collectors, gallery owners and artists.

Choose a talk from the programme for you and a guest:

– Understanding Contemporary Art

– How to buy Contemporary Art

– A Masterclass in the Art of Interiors

– Panel discussion with Kate Bryan: The History, Development and Future of the Mayfair Gallery Community

For more information on all of the talks, click here

To enter please email:  katiet@bondstreet.co.uk with your name, email and telephone number stating which talk you wish to attend.

Entrees must be received by Monday 22nd June 2015 and the winner will be informed by Wednesday 24th June 2015.

The Q&A: Olga Polizzi

Olga Polizzi is the eldest daughter of the late Lord Forte, arguably the world’s best-known hotelier. She is the director of design for the Rocco Forte Collection, which owns hotels worldwide including Brown’s in London, the Savoy in Florence and Tresanton in Cornwall. She is also a director of Miller’s Bespoke Bakery, which she and her daughter Alex Polizzi, aka TV’s ‘Hotel Inspector’ and ‘The Fixer’, established in 1997.

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These days, the interior designer divides her time between London, Sussex and Cornwall. For her, the perfect weekend involves spending time in her country home with her husband – the author William Shawcross. Away from the hustle and bustle of London, she also enjoys long walks in the Downs and on the cliffs.

As one of the instigators of Brown’s London Art Weekend, (BLAW) Polizzi is a keen art collector with a penchant for Peter Blake and Paula Rego.

How did BLAW first come about?

Brown’s Hotel is so well located for art lovers – there are over 100 independent art galleries in the area immediately surrounding the hotel. We began by hosting monthly Saturday art tours (which we still do, and these are very popular!) and it was the success of these that led us to discuss a weekend celebration of the art in Mayfair.

What links Brown’s with Mayfair’s artistic past?

Brown’s is popular among the art crowd. It is frequented by artists, dealers, gallery owners, collectors and enthusiasts and is also home to a huge array of artworks, photographs by Terence Donovan in the Donovan Bar, three huge sculptures by Emily Young, Tracey Emin near the fireplace in the restaurant, and many more. We are also about to unveil a collaboration with the Gagosian Gallery – it has curated the artworks for The English Tea Room.

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How do you pick the artworks for your hotels?

I like using local art in all of our hotels, to continue the feeling of the city through the hotel. For example, Hotel Amigo in Brussels has artwork by Magritte and subtle references to Art Nouveau throughout, while Brown’s Hotel in London has works by Peter Blake and Bridget Riley. We also work with local galleries. In Hotel de Rome in Berlin, we have collaborated with the Circle Gallery in the new restaurant La Banca. This allows us to have rotating contemporary art integrated within our space – our first installation is Olivia Steele, a neon artist.

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Browns Hotel © Alice Lubbock

What was the first painting you purchased for yourself and what piece do you most covet?

Peter Blake – Tattooed Lady, but I have a mixture of art from Paula Rego to Paninni, from Conrad Shawcross to Lowry drawings. I love Carpaccio – I covet ‘St Augustine in His Study’. From the 20th/21st century I’d like something large and bright by Peter Blake.

What makes you tick creatively?

I have been rooting around antique fairs since I was a teenager. I used to have a stall in the Caledonian Market. I am forever on the hunt for unusual pieces for the hotels and for myself. I love going to Brussels because the Sablon area is a particularly good hunting ground for antiques and art.

Describe your design aesthetic.

My design style aims for comfort and is calm and classically contemporary – if there is such a thing! I like incorporating a mix of different eras and styles of furniture and objects.

Hotel design has to keep current, just like fashion, so it is important to keep up to date with trends. Colour and pattern are the rage now, just as beige and grey were a few years ago, and I incorporate this within my work. Although I am influenced by trends, my main inspiration for the design of our hotels always starts with the location and the style of the building, and it builds up from there. The hotel has to reflect the feeling of the city that it’s in.

Who is your greatest design inspiration?

I admire someone like Philippe Starck, who showed many designers a new way. As soon as you walk into a space developed by Starck, you know immediately that it’s his.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on our new project, due to open later this year, Assila Hotel and Residence in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. We are also renovating some of the suites in Brown’s Hotel, London and Hotel de Russie, Rome.