WWD Weekend

Portofino Beyond the Piazzetta: A Tour With La Portofinese

Portofino Beyond the Piazzetta: A Tour With La Portofinese

When Dalida chanted about finding her love in Portofino in 1959, chances were she saw him strolling about the town’s iconic Piazzetta. 
The main square overlooking the harbor of the Italian resort destination is known for being the hot spot’s key gathering point and has been attracting European aristocracy and the international jet-set to the colorfully painted houses, restaurants and luxury stores gravitating around it since the 1950s. Yet there’s life beyond the Piazzetta, and visitors are increasingly discovering it. 

For one, a hike of a few kilometers from it leads both locals and tourists to the hillsides, where La Portofinese rises. Steep and narrow streets don’t allow for cars to reach the destination, which is nestled between rows of vines and olive trees. But “for those who do not like walking, we offer a transfer with a Piaggio porter,” says the agricultural company’s owner Mino Viacava.

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Viacava hails from Portofino, with his family established in town for six generations. Not only is he the heart and soul of this project, which he launched as a give-back initiative to his homeland, but his ancestors’ history is intertwined with that of the Italian Riviera’s hot spot.

“I was born in the Piazzetta of Portofino, I am the son of bricklayers, but with the heart of a farmer,” Viacava says. “My grandfather always talked to me about the countryside, until his memories became my desire: I started by buying small plots of land, a few olive groves, until arriving to the actual three hectares of cultivated fields on the slopes of the mountain of the natural park of Portofino.”

La Portofinese’s Eco-Farm

Courtesy of La Portofinese

Viacava says he launched La Portofinese “as a sign of gratitude and respect for my ancestors, who reluctantly left their sharecroppers’ work to look for jobs in the village.” An environmental mission was what kickstarted the whole project.

“We built many homes and villas here through the years, so around seven years ago we had the idea to explore sustainable practices,” Viacava says. “At the beginning, we shared the project with some of Portofino’s regular guests, like [late Vogue Italia editor in chief] Franca Sozzani, who really supported us…and we started by investigating [what] were the best ways within our means to start producing energy from new sources, as well as recovering existing ones, without ruining the natural landscape.”

In the first two years, Viacava developed projects like the installation of mini wind turbines and photovoltaic solar panels. But bureaucracy slowed their implementation on a community level, so he established a company within the perimeter of which he could continue to experiment with different solutions and invest in renewable energy. The recovery of abandoned land, and resuming ancient agricultural organic practices, followed. 

Inside La Portofinese’s Osteria dei Coppelli.

Stefania Giorgi/Courtesy of La Portofinese

To back the project financially and promote the land’s natural riches to a wider audience, the company banked on experiences, gradually adding a constellation of places extending from the park to the coast to offer visitors different ways to experience Portofino.

These include Eco-Farm, located on Portofino’s mountain and boasting a panoramic view of the gulf and access to nature, among Vermentino grapes, olive trees and an apiary for local honey production. 

At the bottom of the Eco-farm, an ancient drying room has been revamped to house the Osteria of Coppelli — which serves tailor-made lunches and dinners both indoors and outdoors — and a cold pressing olive oil mill, where a small factory was created to process some products of La Portofinese’s brand, such as marmalades.

Cooking class at Osteria dei Coppelli.

Courtesy of La Portofinese

These venues offer experiences that encompass cooking classes with chefs and ingredients picked right from the garden, or the making of Ligurian focaccia prepared in an outdoor wood burning oven; picnics with local delicacies; hikes to be enjoyed solo or with a guide; meditation sessions in nature; bee workshops and tastings of La Portofinese’s Vermentino wine in the vineyard. 

Each experience grants exclusivity — from couples to a group of friends up to a maximum of 20 people — since “we want to our guests to feel special, make them feel part of what we are living and this would be impossible in the presence of other guests,” Viacava stresses.

Not far from the two locations and nestled on the cooler side of the park, the Gassetta Mill hosts a small museum open to all visitors, a bar and restaurant with a terrace and a seasonal vegetables garden, including a hopyard for the production of homemade beer. 

Portofino’s lighthouse.

Courtesy of La Portofinese

The company also manages Il Faro di Portofino — the lounge bar at Portofino’s lighthouse which boasts a stunning position on the promontory’s cliff, with a terrace overlooking the sea — that can be booked for private events. Reachable only by foot, it is open from morning to sunset and best known for its cocktails, including the La Portofinese Spritz made with prosecco, soda and the Limoncino liquor produced by the firm itself. 

For an even more intimate experience, this spring La Portofinese unveiled Il Giardino del Faro, a small private garden on the way to the lighthouse with a few tables arranged in the shade of a lemon grove. 

Ü Caban

Stefania Giorgi/Courtesy of La Portofinese

Also inaugurated at the end of April, Ü Caban is the most central outpost of the business, located a few steps from the Piazzetta and overlooking the yacht dock. Named after the word in the local dialect for a quality of crab, the venue acts both as a wine bar and a shop selling the agricultural company’s products. It stands out for being furnished like a boat, with teak floors and tables as well as armchairs and benches covered with ivory cushions with navy piping. 

With a total of about 15 seats between indoors and the small balcony, the location serves a special aperitif menu of Ligurian delicacies recalling the maritime traditions of the village, such as the “gallette,” typical Genovese crackers, anchovies and dried tomatoes.

Ü Caban

Stefania Giorgi/Courtesy of La Portofinese

To promote the different experiences, Viacava says the company is collaborating with the Belmond Hotel Splendido and all the key luxury hotels scattered across Portofino and the nearby towns of Santa Margherita and Rapallo.

“Of course, tourists are the most interested in these kind of experiences, also because we recovered and tried to revamp these places according to how they looked in the past. So, for example, people visiting the Coppelli cellar are under the impression of stepping into an era that is long gone,” Viacava says.

Among all the locations, the founder says visits to the vineyard are the most requested ones, up to the point that the 2,000 bottles of Vermentino wine La Portofinese usually produces are immediately sold out. Available to purchase remotely by emailing the company, products in the catalogue also include the Coppelli’s olive oil and tomato sauce; liquors such as Limoncino and myrtle; honey, and nonalcoholic drinks like La Splendida lemonade, Gran Gioia orange soda, La Corsara tonic water and L’Eden Gioia iced tea.

Products by La Portofinese displayed at Osteria dei Coppelli.

Stefania Giorgi/Courtesy of La Portofinese

Up next, Viacava aims to boost the production of beer, in sync with an ancient tradition dating back to Benedictine monks in the 18th century.

“I’m simply trying to work the land as it had been done in the past, without the use of pesticides or other chemical,” he says. “Our company is not a commercial project, we don’t deal with big [orders]. This is a project focused on the territory, which we want to improve. Now we would like to install factories to work and make all products locally. We started from the one for honey but we are aiming to add a mini brewery so that we can make everything beer-related there.”


Stefania Giorgi/Courtesy of La Portofinese

Along with continuing to explore environmentally sustainable solutions, Viacava is also committed to continuing to hire young staffers. 

“We started from five and now we’re around 30. They are passionate and have a lot of drive, and that’s our biggest satisfaction,” he concludes.

Aegean Adventure

Aegean Adventure

After spending multiple family summers on Patmos in the eastern Aegean, not far from the Turkish coast, Maria Lemos had had enough.
Lemos, founder of the Rainbowwave showroom and Mouki Mou concept stores, has always loved the fashion lovers’ island, which is dotted with private homes and hyper-styled rentals, but she was also restless and wanted to experience the island in a new, more intimate, way.

So when Pagostas, a guesthouse built in 1597 and owned by the monastery of St. John the Theologian, came up at auction, Lemos and her husband Gregoris Kambouroglou jumped.

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They took a long lease on the property in Chora, the island’s capital, which is dominated by the 11th century monastery. For centuries the monastery has been a Christian and Greek Orthodox pilgrimage site as it was the place where St. John is said to have written his Gospel and the Book of Revelation.

Although Lemos and her husband never set out to become hoteliers, they fell in love with the place and thought, why not?

“We both love hosting people and had already decided to spend more of our lives in Patmos. It’s something we both really wanted — although we didn’t realize at the time how much work it was,” says Lemos, who is Greek by birth and who grew up between Athens and London.

A view from the rooftop terrace at Pagostas.

Their project also had a wider purpose.

“The house belongs to the monastery, and that was the most interesting part for us,” says Lemos. “We’re here doing something that is actually not for financial gain. It’s more a labor of love and a way of giving back to the community.”

Kambouroglou, a retired orthopedic and trauma surgeon, took charge of the restoration. He worked closely with local builders and artisans and has become the de facto doctor on Patmos which, like many Greek islands, only has a small medical center.

The couple tapped Leda Athanasopoulou, an interior designer who has renovated many historic houses on the island, to redesign the space in line with the couple’s vision.

They divided it into three large bedrooms, renovated the bathrooms and created common areas where guests can have breakfast, mingle over cocktails or gaze at the hills and horizon.

There’s even a place to listen to Kambouroglou’s large collection of vinyl records — Greek opera, classical and rock ’n’ roll — which he spins all year round, says Lemos.

A bedroom at Pagostas.

The music may be his, but the refined, bohemian style is all hers. Pagostas is a spare, tranquil refuge straight out of an Homeric poem.  

“Patmos is very traditional, and you are living in a place that belongs to the monastery. We wanted to show a Greek way of life, and find that cusp between tradition and modernity,” says Lemos.

In addition, she asked herself, “’How do we live with less?’ Greece is about simplicity, about the basics — but those basics have to be modern,” she adds.

The bones of the building are original: there are stone walls, vaulted archways, terracotta floor tiles, and steep slate stairs. The bathrooms are modern, and nearly all the homeware was made to order in Greece.

Sheets, linens and napkins were woven by hand exclusively for Pagostas; the pottery was handmade by a trio of female artisans in Athens, and the glass was handblown in Crete. The silver cutlery is a rare exception — it’s from England. 

“Pagostas is not rustic — if you’re doing simplicity, the elements and the components need to be quite elevated,” says Lemos.

The interior designer sourced the furniture from antique markets in Athens, while other bits were made locally.

“And then there are a couple of touches that are mine, like the Bauhaus chandelier and a Swedish tapestry. They kind of like throw you a little bit,” says Lemos. “They fit perfectly, but are unexpected.”

Design is in her DNA.

Lemos began her fashion career working with John Galliano and Clements Ribeiro and later founded London’s Rainbowwave showroom, which has been a launching pad for brands including JW Anderson, Marios Schwab and Carven. Ten years ago she opened Mouki Mou, a concept store in London, and in May she opened a second one in Athens.

Working with the landscape designer Helli Pangalou, Lemos and her husband planted jasmine in the courtyard and filled the walled garden with plumbago, myrtle, and lemon trees.

The original arches, stone fireplace and beamed ceilings have been preserved at Pagostas.

The Naxos Apothecary, one of Greece’s top fragrance and personal care brands, supplies the herbal bath products while Lemos worked with her old friend — and fellow Londoner — Lyn Harris of Perfumer H on a bespoke candle.

The food is local to the island.

Breakfast might be brown bread with schinos (a type of aromatic root) served with eggs, cheese, and yogurt. There are seasonal fruit juices, and jams which are made by Lemos’ mother-in-law from quinces, figs and other fruits. Honey is made with heather from the nearby island of Lipsi.

Despite all the hard work, and the many trips back and forth across the European continent, Lemos is enjoying Pagostas as much as any of the guests.

“Holidays have become different,” says Lemos, who spent New Year’s on Patmos for the first time this year. “I probably had the best holiday of the year in Patmos in January. This whole project has taken me into a completely different context.”

The kitchen at Pagostas.

Lemos has been spending an increasing amount of time in Greece. As she and her husband set about reviving the guesthouse, Lemos took on another project: Opening a branch of Mouki Mou in Athens in May. Although Athens is her native city, she had never done business there, and says it has been an adventure.

Mouki Mou is located in a ’70s building in the historical neighborhood of Plaka and has a view of the Acropolis.

Lemos again worked with interior designer Leda Athanasopoulou. She also created a planted garden on the vast roof terrace, which she plans to use for parties, exhibitions and events.

As with London, the store offers clothing, jewelry and lifestyle, but is different in many ways. Lemos says Mouki Mou is the first fashion concept store to land in Athens; the audience is different from London, and the focus is more on wardrobe building and introducing international designers to the market.

Breakfast on the terrace.

“It’s about exposing the Athenian crowd, and also the international crowd in Athens, to an array of designers and makers that they weren’t exposed to before. In London, we stocked Lemaire but I stopped buying it because now it’s everywhere. But that’s not the case in Athens, so we’re selling Lemaire there,” says Lemos.

She’s also stocking the French clothing label Casey Casey for similar reasons, and wants to introduce the London-based Toogood, which offers clothing, ceramics and furniture designed by the multidisciplinary creative Faye Toogood.

“I’m learning about the Greek clientele. Like London, it’s about building a loyal customer, and we’re beginning to do that in Athens. The surprise was that we have an international following — which I hadn’t expected,” says Lemos.

“They’re all coming through Athens in the summer months — people from Rainbowwave, Mouki Mou and Pagostas. The three are kind of merging, and the lines are getting blurred,” says Lemos.

Her universe of style just keeps getting bigger.

Blue Heaven

Blue Heaven

On the grounds of a historic property in Litchfield County, Connecticut, a simple stone and cement pool filled with crystalline water uneventfully just turned 86 years old. 
Scott Pools of Woodbury, Connecticut, built the timeless summer respite back in 1937 and in the nearly nine decades since, the company has installed several thousand others across the Northeast. Their enduring work has attracted an Oscar-heavy client list through the years, said to include Elia Kazan, Kathryn Bigelow, Daniel Day-Lewis, and the Clintons, along with institutions like the Hotchkiss School and Hay Harbor Club. (The company will neither confirm nor deny names to preserve privacy.) 

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Owner Jim Scott is just six months shy of his own 86th birthday. Only the second steward of what may be the oldest pool company operating on the East Coast, he has spent a lifetime thinking about pools.

In a conversation with WWD Weekend, Scott reflects on current natatorium trends and some of his more unusual requests through the years, including an elaborate Long Island grotto built for literal swims with the fishes.

WWD: How did your family get into the pool business?

Jim Scott: In 1937, the year before I was born, my father sat down with a bag of cement on his lap, read the directions, and built his first stone and concrete swimming pool — a vanishing-edge, natural pool that still operates today, in Woodbury, Connecticut. At that time there were very, very, very few private pools in existence.

WWD: What’s the secret to a lasting pool?

J.S.: Properly train the people who care for them. We do that with all of the maintenance teams who take on the care of our pools.

WWD: What would you say is your biggest contribution to the industry?

J.S.: Let me put it a different way. We have always been involved with the Connecticut Board of Health, helping them raise their safety standards. We were easily the first company on the East Coast to work with gunite [a type of pool created with flexible rebar and sprayed — as opposed to poured — concrete]. We’ve done that since 1950. We’ve built stainless steel pools on high floors of tall buildings. Everything we’ve ever constructed has been engineered to the highest standards.

A classic pavilion and “brimful” pool in Westchester County, New York, by Scott Pools.

Courtesy of Scott Pools

WWD: Did you ever consider going into a different line of work? 

J.S.: When I was discharged from the Navy as a young man, I applied to the University of Colorado architecture and engineering school. My father, who at that time was suffering from poor health, convinced me I could do more with my life by taking over the company business. We were building then, not only swimming pools but also shopping centers and houses. So I had the opportunity to work with a range of architectural styles. I came to the company at the age of 21. My father sold it to me, as the old European families often do.

WWD: How has pool construction changed since your earliest days? 

J.S.: Water purification and filtration have improved immensely. The standards everyone in the pool business must meet have grown more stringent. There are now licensing requirements and continuing education. All of this makes for greater safety and a better product.

WWD: Do you build more saltwater pools or traditional chlorine these days?

J.S.: Saltwater pools still generate chlorine. People don’t always know that. The salt sits in the water and as it breaks down, a gas chlorine enters the pool. Then it converts back to salt. So you’re really in a very lightly salted pool, about the same amount that’s on your lettuce salad. You could hardly taste it.

But the pool must be precisely built to accept the salt. If not, this process will shorten the structure’s lifespan considerably. 

WWD: Is saltwater chlorine any healthier than traditional chlorine?

J.S.: Salt provides a constant level of bactericide whereas standard chlorine is applied intermittently. Both tools are clean and safe, but there is more labor with a standard chlorine pool. Somebody’s got to hand-feed the chlorine and maintain the equipment. With saltwater, it’s an automatic process.  

WWD; Which is better, gunite or poured concrete? 

J.S.: In the Northeast, a cold climate, the strongest pool is one in the ground, properly engineered for its setting. That could be gunite, which handles curves and elevation changes well, or poured concrete, which is stronger at larger sizes. Both are very good options. Municipalities and schools tend to go for poured concrete. Everyone wants gunite for their backyard.

WWD: I heard you built a pool for Daniel Day-Lewis. Is that true?

J.S.: Did I? I don’t recall.

WWD: Well, who are some of your more interesting clients?

J.S.: Oh, they are all interesting to different people. So I would say, it would almost be an insult if I were to name one, because I’m sure I’ll forget to say somebody else who’s just as important.

We also, and this is at the core of what we do, we protect our clients’ privacy. We tend to deal with very private people. 

There are a few things we consider sacred, including security. Most of our employees are veterans of the armed services who have been with us for many, many years. We don’t bring in day laborers. 

Our reputation is important. All of our business comes through word of mouth.

WWD: What’s the furthest you’ll travel to build a pool?

J.S.: We work primarily in the Northeast. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, a little bit of New Jersey, Rhode Island. So that’s five states. And we do a lot of work in the Caribbean. But when the job is that far, we collaborate with local construction crews. 

WWD: You must have visited some pretty idyllic settings.

J.S.: Working on the Hudson River is pretty dynamic. I like going up into the Berkshire Mountains. When you look across the valleys into the next mountain, that’s a nice spot for a vanishing edge.

WWD: What are some of the most outrageous pool requests you’ve ever received?

J.S.: Well, we have built pools into quarries, some of them fed by natural water, some of them artificially filled. We have built pools that are capable of having live fish in them. That particular project was on Long Island. 

An infinity pool in the Virgin Islands.

Courtesy of Scott Pools

WWD: A Long Island homeowner wanted to swim with the fishes?!

J.S.: Yes. We hauled in rocks and made stalactites and stalagmites and caves. Probably the most difficult part of that job was purifying the water without killing the fish. We used ozone purification and did our research by visiting the Mystic Aquarium. 

WWD: Has there ever been a request you couldn’t build?

J.S.: When people ask to build pools attached to existing stone ledges. Rock is porous. So it’s virtually impossible for a pool to hold water in that scenario. You have to start with concrete.

WWD: What are clients asking you for right now?

J.S.: The trend on the East Coast is back to traditional pools. We’re building a lot of English garden-type swimming pools. Those are built for viewing as much as swimming. 

WWD: You mean people build pools just to look at them?

J.S.: Sometimes! 

Our philosophy is, you should be able to walk up to a pool that’s been in the ground for 20 years or more, and it should look like it was just made. And the reverse is also true — the pool should look like it’s been there a lifetime, even on the day it’s built. 

We are seeing a lot of European stonework surrounding our pools. I’m working on a project on the Hudson River right now that has replicated stonework from England, all made by master craftsmen.

A few clients are interested more in the health aspects of swimming so they ask for endless pools where you can swim against a current.

WWD: You’re about to turn 86 and still working.

J.S.: Every day. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. 

WWD: To what do you attribute your longevity? 

J.S.: My joy of doing it.

WWD: Do you like to swim?

J.S.: I’m not an Olympian, if that’s what you’re asking. 

WWD: But did you build yourself a pool in your own backyard? 

J.S.: Yes. I did.

WWD: And do you just look at it or do you use it?

J.S.: If it gets hot enough, I’m in there — along with my family. But I’m not a real swimmer. I’m just a normal country boy. 

You can print that.

Rebecca Minkoff on Her New Stone Line and Navigating Fashion’s Social Media Hierarchy

Rebecca Minkoff on Her New Stone Line and Navigating Fashion’s Social Media Hierarchy

Late last year, Rebecca Minkoff set about renovating a 100-year-old house she had just purchased in Clearwater, Florida, the gulf town where she grew up. A hands-on designer, Minkoff happily immersed herself in the nitty gritty of the home makeover. (“If the toilet parts arrive in the next couple of weeks, I’ll be done,” she says during a recent interview with WWD.) And when she was looking for stone for her kitchen, she called Lyndsey Belle Tyler, an acquaintance and the creative director and vice president of marketing at ABC Stone.
Minkoff had her eye on a slab of Calacatta Viola, a bold marble with thick veins of violet and burgundy. Tyler had other ideas.

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“My team and I had been talking about collaborations we could do with different artists,” says Tyler. “Not just interior designers, but artists who would bring a personal lens to our products.”

“She called me and said, ‘I have this crazy, wild idea,’” recalls Minkoff.

Tyler pitched Minkoff on a collaboration with ABC Stone and Borrowed Earth Collaborative, an L.A.-based art and design studio that creates sustainable slabs and tile. Minkoff was all-in.

“Whenever I get the opportunity to go outside my comfort zone and flex a new creative side of myself, I’m like, yes,” says Minkoff.

The first project from that collaboration, Anthozoa, is a series of three large bespoke panels carved on giant slabs of marble and limestone. Each piece took about 300 hours of computer numerical control (CNC) milling and hand-finishing. The biggest is 8 feet by 4 feet and they range in price from $35,000 to $44,000. Fabricated with sustainably sourced stone from India, Minkoff was inspired by sea anemones and soft and stony coral, rendering stone as art rather than work top.

“Anthozoa coral is a living, breathing thing, but it’s building something so hard. It’s alive, but it’s very stiff and sculpture-like,” she explains. “The question was, how do we take that idea and turn it into something that could be a beautiful installation in a corporate building or a hotel or a townhouse or a beachfront mansion?”

Ultimately, she adds, “My goal is to have Anthozoa on display in a public space for all to view.” 

A bespoke panel in beige travertine measuring approximately 7 1/2 by 4 feet.

Minkoff has more designs in the pipeline with ABC Stone and Borrowed Earth, including a tile line, which Tyler hopes to bring to market within a year. “We have ideas for the bread-and-butter salable stuff,” says Minkoff. “But I figured, let’s launch with something that feels more like an art piece versus just everyday.”

Minkoff’s foray into something as specific as stone is not entirely surprising. While the home market has long been a repository for fashion labels — from luxury houses to mall brands — it has exploded in recent years as the pandemic led consumers to reconsider their interior surroundings. But Minkoff has eschewed a headlong foray into the crowded market, only recently dipping a toe in the lifestyle space with a modest bedding collection launched last year.

“We put so much thought into our products, which is why it is so limited. We only produce the top of the mattress, the sheets and the bedding,” she says. “As a brand, our goal is to have success in any area before we expand, which is why we have a very edited point of view on our home line.”

Each panel in Minkoff’s Anthozoa series took approximately 300 hours of CNC-milling and hand finishing.

A hand sketch of the Anthozoa panel.

Minkoff got her start in fashion with a lot of hustle and an eye for the preferences of single Millennial strivers who gravitated to her copious handbags (her breakout bag was dubbed the Morning After Bag) and grunge-meets-office leather jackets. Her brand — which she launched in 2005 with brother Uri Minkoff, after her deconstructed I Love New York T-shirts became a sensation on the pages of pre-social media weekly style magazines — offered attainably priced clothes and accessories that spoke to a newly empowered lean-in generation.  

Before the advent of social media, she connected with her customers via blogs, cultivating a community of fans years before the rise of the influencer class. She opened up her creative process to customers in a way that seemed revolutionary more than a decade ago. In 2011, for instance, she communed with the diehard handbag fans of PurseForum.com on an exclusive project, letting users vote on design elements for a new Rebecca Minkoff handbag. At the time, it seemed like a radical form of user-generated retail.

“Rebecca was one of the first few women designers that understood the power of a handbag at a decent price,” observes Joanna Coles, the former top editor at Marie Claire and Cosmo. “And I think young women cleaved to her because they saw someone who understood their lives, and who wanted to understand their lives, and who was no longer talking down to them. She was part of the revolution of fashion from the street up. The minute consumers got a phone in their hand and could take pictures of themselves and other people they found cool, the conversation became different. She was in that conversation in a way that the more unattainable French designers were not.”

As the old gatekeepers have been supplanted by social media influencers, Minkoff remains her best brand ambassador, regularly and unself-consciously sporting her own designs on Instagram and in real life. (In February 2022, she sold her company to Sunrise Brands; she remains chief creative officer.)

At a recent launch event for Anthozoa hosted by NYCXDesign, she wore her own black ruffled one-shoulder evening dress and strappy studded sandals. And while so many of her Instagram posts feature her long, naturally bronzed legs, she is also unafraid to share her more vulnerable moments (including her post-partum body — in hospital underwear — after the birth of her fourth child, son Leo, last January). Minkoff, 42, and husband Gavin Bellour, a commercial director and producer, have three older children; sons Luca, 11, and Nico, 5, and daughter Bowie, 9.

Minkoff with youngest son Leo, now seven months.

“Rebecca is authentic,” says Tyler. “She and I are in a similar space in life, we’ve got young kids, we’re both working. And maybe that’s where the similarities end, but that’s not how you feel when you’re with her. She’s so non-judgmental, you just feel like you’re hanging with your girls.”

In 2018, Minkoff established the Female Founders Collective with Ali Wyatt, the organization’s cofounder and CEO. The nonprofit has amassed a community of female founders and leaders with networking events, workshops and mentor opportunities. “I launched FCC out of frustration,” she admits. “Because I didn’t feel like I had a community within the fashion industry because it is so competitive.”

It was post-#MeToo and Minkoff found herself “speaking ad nauseam on panels” about female empowerment and equity.

“And all of these incredible women would come up to me off the stage and we’d be in our little sewing circle. And I was like, did any of this move the needle? Did anyone make a f–king cent more because we said whatever. And I thought we could all be more successful if we had a community, a safe space to talk about what worked, what didn’t work, who to avoid, the roadblocks.”

The FFC had more than 3,000 applications the first weeks after launch; now the community includes more than 25,000 women. “We’re all working hard and no one has time to go back to school. So how can we educate founders about all the unsexy stuff, hiring and paying women more fairly, better maternity leave programs? We did a cohort during the pandemic where we took 50 female-founded companies through a financing program and these women have gone on collectively to raise over $40 million — because of what we taught them. Annoyingly, [women] are seen a trend, though it doesn’t feel like women are trending right now. But we’re 51 percent of the population. I think as long as we can keep educating, supporting and helping founders, that’s something. If someone gets paid two cents more because of something we did, I’ll take that as a win.”  

Her podcast, “Superwomen with Rebecca Minkoff,” is another variation of that mission. Through conversations with female founders, executives and activists, Minkoff hopes to offer practical advice wrapped up in relatable stories. Guests have included jewelry designer Jennifer Fisher, Nyx Cosmetics founder Toni Ko, Jessica Alba, The Newsette founder and chief executive officer Daniella Pierson, and actor and activist Marisol Nichols.

“No one has it all figured out and it’s hard for everybody,” she says. “But I hope we can give [listeners] some practical tips from people who figured something out.”

Minkoff has also made sustainability core to her brand; she launched a blockchain-enabled sustainability tool and tracking platform with fashion tech company Resonance that lets customers view (via a QR code) the lifecycle of her ready-to-wear collection, including the amount of water used and carbon emitted.

In February 2020, she debuted a sustainable kids’ line with Resonance called Little Minkoff. But it was derailed by the pandemic when Resonance, out of global necessity, shifted its resources into manufacturing masks. She hopes to restart the kids’ line, but she says right now her focus is on the mothership; handbags and ready-to-wear and reopening stores that were shuttered during the pandemic.

And if it’s harder to break out in today’s crowded social media fashionscape, where brands are seemingly beholden to the inscrutable whims of online communities, Minkoff does not seem intimidated.

“In the beginning we weren’t accepted, we weren’t part of the cool club,” she says. “We had to learn the technology as it was evolving, to get in front of the customer. And then we used it to our advantage. The speed [of the industry] doesn’t scare me. It’s incredibly inspiring to see someone break through in new and different ways. We have a fast and slow approach to everything we do. But whatever we do, it needs to make sense for the brand. Like, we’re never going to get on the bucket hat bandwagon. But I still see women who have had their bags for 18 years and they’re still wearing them. So it’s about holding true to the design aesthetic. When I close my eyes, I can see our customer.”

How to Travel Sustainably, in Style

How to Travel Sustainably, in Style

Being a prepared traveler is being a sustainable traveler. Though decisions around what to pack, where to stay, what to do (and eat) and how to get there can be hard enough, making the sustainable choice shouldn’t mean having to sacrifice the stylish one.
WWD has sustainable travel covered with practical steps any traveler can take to ease their environmental footprint, as well as some more luxurious interests for discovery.

How to Pack

Re-wearing clothing isn’t just something red carpet royalty has grown fond of — the very principles apply to vacation mode.

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Fashion designer Kay Unger has one travel uniform in mind: her floral-print Marni pajamas. “It is the best outfit because it is made of viscose crepe. It never wrinkles, so I always look tidy and perfect. I can do an overnight trip, for example to Paris, where I am president of Parsons Paris and trips are as often as possible. I get off the plane, add some of my signature bracelets, check into my hotel, and head out to lunch or dinner. It is amazing,” Unger says.

She dresses the outfit up or down depending on the weather, using a few practical styling tricks up her sleeve, be it high-top sneakers, a black turtleneck or Muji T-shirt or jacket over top. “That’s another perk of these pajamas — they could be perfect for almost any climate,” she adds.

Re-wearing and hand-washing favorite outfits will ensure travelers not only pack light, but are light on their footprints. Methods such as the 5-4-3-2-1 packing method can streamline one’s wardrobe. The method entails packing no more than five sets of socks and underwear, a total of four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes and one hat for a weeklong trip.

Research shows that accessories for smart packing are on the rise. According to a Google trend analysis, searches for “travel backpack” and “compression cubes” saw record highs in the U.S. in March. “Capsule wardrobes” are also popular when it comes to fashion.

Designer Kay Unger says she sketches outfits before packing.

Though claims of being the world’s first “carbon-neutral” suitcase might sound alarm bells for greenwashing, Paravel’s Aviator suitcase could fit the bill. The brand sources its recycled polycarbonate material for its Aviators luggage from partners in Asia and Germany, and its Aviator Collection is manufactured in Taiwan. Its Aviator line ranges from $395 for its carry-on size to $475 to Aviator Grand and is available at Bloomingdale’s, Net-a-porter, Shopbop and more. Paravel claims to offset all of the emissions from sourcing, assembly, shipping and delivery, even the estimated carbon emissions of the customer’s first domestic plane trip with their Aviator luggage (across the U.S.). The brand also offers packing cubes, jewelry cases, pet carriers and totes.

Many more travel brands are broadening their pitch from simple quality standards, as consumers demand more. For hands-free travel, Climate Neutral-Certified travel brand Monos offers its nylon Metro Sling. The brand also offers premium aluminum and lightweight polycarbonate luggage (starting at $255), compressible nylon packing cubes ($90), which claim to more than halve packing volume, and its UV-C light water bottle ($80) that kills 99.9 percent of bacteria on the spot. The company also donates a portion of its profits through 1 Percent for the Planet.

Experts recommend zero-waste toiletries — including options such as silicone refill tubes, shampoo bars, reusable cotton pads, menstrual cups — and the like to make travel a breeze. Innovators such as Bite, Last Object and more are looking to solve the plastic crisis with toothpaste tabs and reusable silicone swabs, to name a few.

Packing doesn’t have to entail only practicality or lack of luxury. New beauty solutions such as Bare Hands’ “The Dry Gloss Manicure” ($42) is an all-in-one, natural nail care solution for shinier, healthier nails. Beauty aficionados should ensure their sunscreen is mineral-based and safe for reefs. In fact, Hawaii passed a law (which went into effect in 2021) banning the sale of sunscreens with potentially coral-harming chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Louis Vuitton luggage being loaded into the trunk of a car at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Oct. 4, 1976 in New York City. (Photo by Sal Traina/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images)

Penske Media via Getty Images

What to Eat

By and large, experts recommend limiting plastic use, which can be achieved through reusable food containers (such as Stasher bags); packed snacks, and reusable water bottles such as Yeti, Sway, Stanley Cups (for the very thirsty, there’s a 40-ounce size canteen) or Nalgene (now made with 50 percent recycled plastic). Those with built-in filters may be an added plus if water quality is a concern.

“I always pack a stainless steel straw and bottle for water, and I often throw a Yeti cup in my bag as well,” says Chloe Sorvino, agro journalist and author of “Raw Deal,” a book about the politics of meat. “It makes me feel better, especially when I’m in a tropical location already suffering from straw and other plastic pollution.”

Today many airports are equipped with water-refill stations, making a reusable bottle not only a sustainable choice but a convenient one.

Bamboo cutlery is a low-weight and -waste alternative to disposable plastic ones. The same can be said for cloth napkins, reusable straws and tote bags, which take up little room. Solid food can be transported through TSA in either a carry-on or checked bag, but as with the carry-on liquids rule, liquid or gel foods over 3.4 ounces are not allowed in carry-on bags and should be placed in checked luggage.

Regional food and fiber enthusiasts argue that the benefits of buying local vastly outshines buying from global chains. Sorvino says sampling the local cuisines is a must.

“Nothing feels more ‘of-place’ than eating food that comes from close by,” she contends. “All soils are different, so when you eat from local and organic farmers, you’re eating only what can grow there. Some plant breeds are hyper-local and only able to grow at that specific climate with the access to water that exists there, so these kinds of crops become the best way to taste the place you are in.”

Sorvino recommends seeking out local food makers (at farmers markets and stands) or consider staying on a farm or “agriturismo,” an independently owned farm that the owners have rented out partially for guests. Olive oils, wines, cheeses, fruit, herbs and livestock are in many cases available to the farm guests.

“If you don’t want to see the relatives of the pig or lamb you may eat there, you may want to consider eating less meat entirely,” quips Sorvino.

Chef Michel Barbier stands behind the counter with a cafeteria staff member. (Photo by Fairchild Archive/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images)

Penske Media via Getty Images

What to do

Excursions can be fun on the one hand and damaging on the other.

Bettina Garibaldi, executive vice president and managing director for travel and leisure at PR firm Ketchum, reminds travelers: “Consider the impact that your enjoyment has on local communities, the environment, and its animals.” She emphasizes that with a bleak point. “For example, when travelers ride on elephants, their bodies are not designed to be ridden, causing them great harm. I recently read this article from CNN that broke my heart. Respect rules like jumping into bioluminescent bays, like the ones in Puerto Rico, without insect repellent or other lotions on your skin. Our enjoyment should not be at the expense of others or the environment.”

However, travelers can have a positive impact. She recommends buying with purpose as shopping sprees can, in fact, be a force for good. “An excellent way to give back to local communities that rely on tourism or may be impacted by tourism is to make a purchase — no matter how big or small, as these funds go back to the people and the local economy,” says Garibaldi.

Designer Kenzo Takada poses with a sculpture of an elephant in Paris on Feb. 10, 1978. (Photo by Guy Marineau/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images)

Penske Media via Getty Images

Where to Stay

Destinations such as Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Madagascar are top-of-mind for eco-travelers, according to Google Trend data, and perhaps what they share is a conscientiousness that other lodges lack.

Though traditional bed-and-breakfasts offer a more localized feel (and perhaps reduced footprint), many hotel chains have strived for lower impact, be it with bulk refill shampoo and body washes in rooms or renewable energy. Among them, Virgin Hotels and CitizenM both source 100 percent renewable energy in their U.K. and European hotels, priding themselves on local artist collaborations and food waste reduction. Partnerships with apps like Too Good to Go allow travelers to source leftover foods at a discount. The Gabriel South Beach is another location sourcing renewable energy, offering an electric vehicle charging station on-site as well as branded bicycles. This location, as with the Miami one, are part of Conscious Certified Hotels, an organization dedicated to environmental stewardship. In Japan, Hotel the Mitsui Kyoto sources its coffee grounds for good. The hotel partners with nearby Aoki Farm so coffee grounds are sent to the farmhouse and converted into fertilizer for carrots. In a full-circle moment, the carrots are combined with a domestic rice flour to make vegan cookies available year-round in the hotel store.

Staycations are not only trendy but also added incentives for environmentalists who opt out of exhaustive travels. Auberge-owned Wildflower Farms in upstate New York (about 90 minutes from the city) opened last September and is set on 140 pine-dotted acres complete with 65 freestanding cabins, along with a spa, pool and restaurant. This property includes a namesake farm, orchards, heirloom gardens and wildflower fields, where foraging classes are among the offerings.

Unique sustainable services are increasing worldwide with hotels such as the Four Seasons Houston uniquely partnering with luxury rental platform Vivrelle so guests can borrow handbags from the likes of Gucci, Prada, Saint Laurent and others free of charge for the length of their stay. (This also means packing less).

It is, after all, a two-way street. Even by guests deferring extra room service or cleaning, declining single-use containers and opting out of buffet-style breakfasts, travelers can make a significant difference.

Guests attend the International Variety Club’s convention in Monte Carlo during May 1977. (Photo by Tim Jenkins/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images)

Penske Media via Getty Images

How to Get There

It’s clear that one’s mode of transportation matters.

By efficiency, the most sustainable long-distance travel options ranked by Our World in Data, an online scientific publication rendering emissions data in visuals, are: domestic flights (255 grams of carbon dioxide equivalents), a medium petroleum-fueled car (192 g CO2e), a medium diesel-fueled car (at 171 g CO2e), a short-haul economy flight (at 156 g CO2e), a long-haul economy flight (at 150 g CO2e), a bus (105 g CO2e), a motorcycle (at 103 g CO2e), an electric vehicle (at 53 g CO2e) and all the way at the bottom of the chart — a Eurostar international rail (at just 6 g CO2e). Business-class flights were not factored into the estimates.

Companies from Air Canada to British Airways, Emirates to Delta are offsetting flights. But given that airlines account for 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions (but much more given other gases and if accounted for by a life-cycle assessment), there’s a lot in favor of avoiding flights — Americans especially, who travel more than any other nationality.

With the electrification of transportation comes modern luxury services that are seeking to disrupt the disrupted. Santa Cruz-based air taxi start-up Joby Aviation (which saw a $75 million investment from Uber) is setting its sights on transforming travel, with an air taxi dreamed up as a solution to skip traffic blocks en route to the airport.

Joby Aviation’s head of air operations and people Bonny Simi offers the following advice to travelers looking to do so more sustainably: “Lower the window shades. Lower the window shades during the flight because doing so can help lower emissions by reducing the energy required to maintain the cabin temperature.” Simi also suggests taking a non-stop flight wherever possible. “Take-off and landing burn the most fuel, so try to find direct flights to reduce carbon emissions. Google Flights is a great resource to get an estimate of the carbon emission each flight uses. And the airline you choose matters, too. In 2020, our partners at Delta retired more than 200 aircraft and replaced them with ones that are 25 percent more fuel-efficient.”

Whenever possible, opt for public transportation. Simi adds, “I love exploring new cities on foot while staying hydrated. Walking allows me to enjoy the ambiance of the new city and stumble upon lesser-known attractions that I would not have noticed if I took public transportation.”

A Joby Aviation craft, 2022.

U.K. Bedding Company Woolroom’s Quest for Sustainability

U.K. Bedding Company Woolroom’s Quest for Sustainability

“Do you know how long it takes polyester to decompose?” Chris Tattersall asks.
Tattersall is the owner of Woolroom, the U.K.-based bedding company that makes organic washable wool bedding, including wool-filled pillows, comforters and mattresses.

“Seven hundred years,” he intones.

Tattersall, 54, exudes a deep appreciation, bordering on passion, for the fluffy fleece of the upland ewe and a science wonk’s knowledge of the environmentally sustainable process that renders wool machine washable without shrinkage. During a recent trip to New York, he is ensconced at a corner booth at the downtown Manhattan spa and healing hot spot The Well. A bounty of Woolroom products — a comforter, pillows — swells from the banquette. He unzips a pillow and invites a visitor to plunge their hands into the twice-washed, chlorine Hercosett-treated fleece. It is soft enough for Cinderella’s slumber. And it biodegrades in 60 days.

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Tattersall — who in a Dickensian flourish happens to share a surname with the famed tattersall pattern popular in shirts and waistcoats donned during equine pursuits — hails from four generations of cotton millers. His great-great-grandfather started the family cotton mill in northwest England; his father later sold the business to department store giant John Lewis & Partners. But since 2012, he has been a wool man. That’s when Tattersall became managing director of Woolroom, which at the time was a two-employee operation based in Bradford, the West Yorkshire city once known as the wool capital of the world.  

Back then Woolroom offered washable wool bedding made from the famous British wool, along with various wool accessories (cushions and throws). Tattersall had a vision to expand the company’s distribution routes by focusing solely on bedding. He moved the company to Stamford, an agriculturally rich enclave about 100 miles north of London, in the East Midlands.

At this point in the market trajectory of washable wool, the fiber was evolving from sweaters and socks to underlayers. Smartwool, the outdoor apparel company founded in 1994 by erstwhile Colorado ski instructors Peter and Patty Duke, had a growing customer base of American winter sport enthusiasts convinced of wool’s moisture-wicking prowess.

Tattersall’s goal was to turn wool into the new cotton for the sleep environment. But for all of the advances in textile technology, this still sounded a bit counterintuitive. Even today, the popular perception of wool as hot, itchy, high maintenance and exuding a vaguely funky barnyard odor still lingers. Why would anyone want to sleep on top of it, or under it?  

Tattersall offers numerous reasons. Wool is antimicrobial (since wool naturally manages moisture, there is no wet environment for bacteria to grow), so it’s highly beneficial for people with allergies. It’s self-cleaning (natural proteins in wool, called keratin, kill bacteria and neutralize odor), so it requires fewer washes than other fabrics, thereby conserving water. And counter to popular misconception, wool’s natural moisture-wicking properties work to keep the body cool when we’re perspiring.

Last. year, Woolroom introduced a line of GOTS-certified organic wool bedding, the first washable wool bedding to receive the organization’s seal of approval.

If Tattersall was going to expand Woolroom’s reach beyond England, where wool maintains a storied place in the history of British textiles, he knew he needed to educate consumers.

“The most important thing was the research. I wanted to prove that wool was fantastic for those with allergies, which we did in 2014 whilst working with Allergy U.K.,” he says, referring to the British nonprofit that doles out seals of approval for products safe for allergy sufferers.

In 2016, he enlisted researchers at University of Leeds — England’s renowned textile college — to conduct a study proving that people sleep better under wool than they do under polyester and even down. The Leeds researchers found that wool is 67 percent more effective than down and 43 percent more effective than polyester in allowing moisture to escape while sleeping. In fact, according to the study, the ubiquitous down comforter is actually least effective in “moisture management.”

It’s not just down and polyester. It’s possible that more of us are having a less-than-regenerative night’s sleep because of the rise in memory foam mattresses and polyester bedding stocked at big-box stores. The former were first marketed to improve sleep through better spinal support, but in many cases actually promoted night sweats.

“It’s all about the movement of moisture away from the body and the skin, keeping us at an ambient temperature so that we sleep deeper,” Tattersall says.

The pursuit of sleep, for many people, has long been elusive. But this anxious era has given rise to a multibillion-dollar wellness industry that, in recent years, has spawned a flotilla of supposedly sleep promoting gadgets, lotions, aromas and supplements. By 2017, Tattersall became Woolroom’s majority shareholder and expanded into North America, responding to a demand for what he calls “natural sleep solutions.” (He became the owner of Woolroom in 2019.)

“I think a lot more people now understand the real benefits of sleep,” he continues. “Particularly post-lockdown, we are all really focused on the quality of our life, the quality of our sleep.”

The state of the planet being left to younger generations is also not exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep. As consumers have become more aware of the deleterious effect of chemicals and pesticides not just on their own health, but the health of the planet, the market for ethically sourced and organic products has steadily risen, particularly in America. Woolroom purchases its fleece from small U.K. farms that are tightly regulated according to Britain’s Animal Welfare Act of 2006, which “makes it an offense to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal,” according to its remit. Further, Woolroom only uses wool from farms assured by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“We feel it’s really important to be able to demonstrate to our customers that we know where our wool comes from, we know how those animals have been looked after and the environmental impact that they have,” Tattersall says. “Sheep are bred outdoors all year round. There’s no impact in terms of having to grow crops to feed them because they will just graze on pasture. So the wool grows with natural grass and sunshine as its source. There is nothing more sustainable.”

In 2020, with the pandemic raging, Woolroom introduced a traceable wool program that allows consumers to trace the wool in their products directly to the farm. And last year, Woolroom released a line of organic bedding with the coveted Global Organic Textile Standard accreditation; to date, it’s the only washable wool bedding that has received the GOTS imprimatur.

Fleece is a reliably renewable resource since sheep need to be sheared each spring for their own health and comfort. But making it washable does involve the use of chemicals and water. The industry standard for making wool washable is the chlorine Hercosett process, a chlorine-based shrink proofing treatment invented in the ’50s by the Wool Board in the U.K. This process exposes the fibers to a chlorine solution (much like the water found in a swimming pool), which basically burns away the outside fibers, or hooks, that makes the wool prickly to the touch. Then the material is coated with a polyamide resin that allows the fibers to glide over each other when they are agitated in the washing machine, instead of clumping into a shrunken ball of felt.

Woolroom owner Tattersall feeds a flock of upland ewes.

Woolroom’s wool is processed in Tielt, Belgium. The Benelux countries, with their copious rivers and canals, are ideally situated for the manufacture of washable wool and Belgium, in particular, has been a leader in the technology. According to Tattersall, the plant uses water from the canals to treat the wool, cleaning it before and after the process and releasing the purified water back into the canals. The proprietary for Woolroom’s GOTS-certified washable organic wool bedding differs in that it does not use chlorine. Rather, the fiber is bathed in a tank with water and natural minerals while oxygen is blown through the tank.

Tattersall — a married father of three sons whose wife, Karen, and eldest son, Ed, also work in the business — concedes that Woolroom’s sustainability pedigree may not be the top reason most consumers decide to spring for a $100 wool pillow or a $300 wool comforter. But the textile industry — and fashion brands — are increasingly being called to account for their contributions to a warming planet. (The world generates more than 2 billion tons of waste annually, with the U.S. responsible for 12 percent, or 268 million tons, of that total despite accounting for only 4 percent of the population, according to the nonprofit Environment America.)

“There are mountains of garbage,” says Tattersall, lamenting the iceberg size heaps of waste littering the oceans and the desserts of the Middle East. “It’s depressing.”

Studies have shown that even non-organic wool that is treated with a polyamide resin does not contribute to the scourge of microplastics in the ocean. If this also helps Woolroom’s customers sleep just a little easier, it is tantamount for Tattersall. Of course, he hopes that his customers will keep their Woolroom bedding for many years. But when they do part with their wool pillow — he calls this the “end of life journey” — it will naturally return to the earth.

“I could take my comforter or my pillow, having cut the zip out, and I could put that on a compost heap in the corner of my garden. And in 12 months’ time, I’ll have nitrogen rich compost that I can put on my roses.”

You can’t say that about polyester.

‘Toys for Grown-ups’: China’s Design Boom

‘Toys for Grown-ups’: China’s Design Boom

A healthy obsession with Le Corbusier, Jean Prouve and Pierre Jeanneret’s modernist works led Kyle Zhang, a former fashion branding expert, to quit his job and open one of the first design galleries in China, in 2018.
Now Gallery Sohe has become a part of a cohort of galleries, including Gallery All and Objective Gallery, that are driving the flourishing collectible design movement in China.

Much of the popular artists’ works showcase a certain inclination for the fantastical and otherworldly — with extravagant price tags to match. A gold, drippy and tentacled dining chair by the Fenty-approved Haas Brothers went for 300,000 renminbi, or $44,032, at Gallery All; several Vincent Pocsik wooden chairs and lamps that eerily incorporate human limbs are priced around that point too, while at Gallery Sohe, animal-shaped Yilun Zhou chairs range from 30,000 renminbi, or $4,400, to 80,000 renminbi, or $11,730.

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A dining chair by the Haas Brothers.

A carved walnut lamp by Vincent Pocsik.

Yilun Zhou’s “The Drunk.”

“It’s not the most attention-grabbing part of the art world,” Zhang admits. “But it’s certainly a more forward-looking sector.”

“Selling collectible furniture has always been around, but selling [it] in galleries builds up an aura and justifies the artist as a brand,” explains Sonia Xie, China head of editorial and marketing at Artsy.

Xie notes that design collectors are often also art collectors, while Zhang underscores collectors from the celebrity world, such as Edison Chen, and top Asian collectors such as Lu Xun and Tian Jun, as driving the trend. “Younger collectors are looking to fill up their homes with something fun, to embed a sense of playfulness with these toys for grown-ups,” Zhang says.

According to Gallery All’s cofounder Yu Wang, a global boom for collectible design started 20 years ago and China is merely catching up.

“The global collectible design market went through two prominent stages: midcentury modern, then contemporary design. But the Chinese market is skipping over the first step, plunging right into contemporary design,” Wang says. “The thirtysomething clients might not be seasoned collectors, but they certainly are very opinionated.”

Launched in Los Angeles almost a decade ago, Gallery All was one of the first to champion Chinese artists and designers abroad.

Seeing a booming local market, Gallery All launched a second space in Shanghai in 2021, in an up-and-coming neighborhood populated by creative types, skaters and sometimes diehard Raf Simons fans — after a Machine-A outpost opened next door. Recent blockbuster shows include solo exhibitions for James Jean and the Haas Brothers specializing in mystical creatures and fuzzy furniture.

Gallery All

Hass Brothers’ exhibition “Clair de Lune” at Gallery All.

“Buying collectible furniture is a risky and atypical affair, but social media is opening up this world to a wider audience base,” Wang says.

Gallery Sohe’s Zhang also understands the impact of fashion and pop culture. Zhang recently signed on French contemporary artists Leo Orta, who is known for his collaboration with Kiko Kostadinov, and Chinese artist Yilun Zhou, whose work has been displayed in Louis Vuitton’s Chengdu Maison.

Gallery Sohe

Zhang has been an avid champion of Yilun Zhou, one of the few Chinese contemporary artists working on collectible objects. Zhou’s clever use of discarded plastic and paper-based consumer goods, such as Louis Vuitton shopping bags repurposed into totems, offers a witty commentary on consumer culture.

“Like Pierre Jeanneret, Yilun Zhou’s work is hands-on, simple and pure,” he says.

At Sohe Gallery’s recent exhibition “Future-Primitive,” Zhang’s prized collection of French modernist furniture is cleverly placed alongside naturalistic works by Chinese artist Zhou, Mao Guanshuai and Dong Han, who is a recent finalist for the 2023 Loewe Foundation Craft Prize. A zany dining table with bold color and figurines by the Balenciaga-approved artist Nik Kosmas are matched with a set of Pierre Jeanneret dining chairs, showcasing how the classic and the new can go hand in hand.

Sohe Gallery’s recent exhibition” Future-Primitive.”

“Contemporary design occup[ies] a nuanced space between art and industrial design. If you put these works within the context of contemporary art, it’s harder for the general public to understand, but if you put them in the context of contemporary design, it’s more digestible. It also makes people think beyond its functionality,” Zhang explains.

At Objective Gallery, one flight up from Gallery Sohe, one enters an entirely different universe filled with raw, sometimes grotesque collectible pieces. Founded by Chris Shao, an interior designer, Objective Gallery boasts a client list that includes Chinese celebrity Angelababy and Zhuo Tan, high-profile real estate magnet Charles Tong and founder of art fair Art021’s Kylie Ying.

Objective Gallery

Perhaps stemming from its roots in interior design, Objective Gallery is known for transforming its gallery space into immersive living environments that offer a rich and sensual experience from a bygone era.

For “Vintage Brutality,” Objective Gallery transformed the whitespace gallery into a livable domestic space called “Objective Suites,” fully outfitted with decadent wallpaper, plush carpets, designer furniture and two taxidermy peacocks.

“Vintage Brutality” at Objective Gallery.

According to Ansha Jin, aside from high-roller clients, the gallery has seen an increase in walk-ins, with people willing to purchase pieces in the four figures with a quick scan on Alipay. She credits the pandemic for the rising interest in homemaking with a bit of drama.

“People are now willing to invest in their homes. Staycation is here to stay,” Jin says. “Works by Brett Gander and Jay McDonald have gained popularity for their daring naturalistic beauty. People want to bring a piece of nature home.”

Since 2021, Objective Gallery has become the local partner for the influential design fair Design Miami. After a COVID-19-induced one-year hiatus, the second edition of Design Miami/ Podium x Shanghai is slated to launch at Shanghai’s newly opened retail complex, Zhangyuan on March 8.

Shanghai’s newly opened retail complex, Zhangyuan

Staying true to the theme of “Transcendence,” the fair will present various works from artists and designers that create a sense of anachronistic beauty. Zhang Zhoujie’s digital chair with spiderlike legs, and Shao Fan’s expertly deconstructed Ming dynasty furniture will be local heroes highlighted by the fair.

But the star of the show is likely to be Gaetano Pesce, the legendary Italian designer known for his work with Bottega Veneta. Pesce, whose market price has more than doubled in recent years, will bring his bold and whimsical pieces to Zhangyuan under the theme “Diversity is the most important value for a better world.”

Poster for Design Miami/Podium x Shanghai 2023.

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