Design pioneer Gaetano Pesce talks taste
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My personal style signifier is Issey Miyake. I don’t think I have a personal style because repetition bothers me. But I do find myself wearing Miyake a lot because his work is so elegant and he was always experimenting. He was able to translate Japanese style for people who like innovation. Right now I’m wearing a pair of trousers from his Pleats Please line – even when I treat them very badly, they remain in good shape.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a brown cardigan – I went into Jenni Kayne, a women’s clothes shop in New York, saw something I liked and bought it.
The place that means a lot to me is Hong Kong. I first went there in the ’90s when I had a lot of work in Japan and I would stop over there to see a friend, and then the most recent visit was around five years ago when I had a project in China. The atmosphere there is one of constant disequilibrium. It’s not stable or fixed – it’s a place where insecurity is very much present. And I enjoy that very much. It’s a marvellous city and the people are very special.
And the best souvenir I’ve brought home is a huge white toy bear – I was on a London street six years ago and saw it in a glass showcase. So I bought it for my daughter, Fontessa – it was a problem to put it in a taxi and send it to her in Kent. But it got a good reaction from her. Generally, though, I don’t really buy souvenirs nowadays. The best thing about travelling is the idea of travel. It’s important to put yourself in front of diversity and different cultures so you come back with another notion of value.
Some of my best ideas have come at night, when it’s very quiet and where I get to think a lot. That’s usually the moment when I can transform a thought into something else the day after.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian. She was a great writer, a hugely intelligent woman. She wrote a book interpreting the Emperor Hadrian and it really felt like it was him talking.
The music I’m listening to is electronic music like Blank & Jones because there is a sense of space when you listen to that. That space can evoke memories of a sunset or a beautiful room. My mother was a pianist so music is very important to me – I cannot do without it.
My style icon is Jack Nicholson. He has always been very creative and very human in the way he acted. He looked particularly fantastic in Easy Rider. He opened a new kind of way to make movies.
The best gift I’ve given recently was two beautiful Bottega Veneta coats to friends of mine – I got them at a discount after I worked on a show with the label. The idea we realised together was a representation of diversity, and was very successful.
And the best gift I’ve received is a Lumio portable lamp in the shape of a book from the MoMA store, which my studio manager, Giulia, gave me. Look, I am someone who as soon as I like something, I buy it for myself. So it’s hard to buy a present for me. But Giulia nailed this one.
The last music I bought was by R&B project Rhye – I love how expressive the music is.
I have a collection of memories from my travels. I don’t collect anything because it connects me with the past. Once I was at Kennedy airport and I asked the staff how many times I had travelled with Delta. They told me I had crossed the Atlantic 700 times!
In my fridge you’ll always find pomegranate juice – it doesn’t have much sugar and is different from soft drinks. Parmesan, which I like very much. Lentil soup. I can tell you I never touched meat in my life. Growing up in my house – they would make a menu for other people and a special menu for me. I refuse to eat meat, but when I’m in Italy I eat fish – it’s the best fish in the world.
I’ve recently discovered a hotel called Villa Fiorella on the Amalfi Coast that I like very much, in a tiny little place called Massa Lubrense. I’d like to go back there.
In another life, I would have been a pianist. It is a complete instrument. My mother taught me the piano but my life took me away from it.
An indulgence I would never forgo is madeleines. When I lived in France, I developed a taste for them and from that time on, every morning for breakfast, I have had a madeleine with a coffee. Because when you dip it in the coffee, it tastes fantastic.
The thing I couldn’t do without is Antonucci Café in New York. For 20 years I’ve been going to this one restaurant, three or four times a week. It’s one of the few things I repeat with pleasure. It’s a restaurant where you don’t need a menu – they make the food I want to eat. It’s like I found my culinary taste – the cuisine is from Venice, near where I grew up. Sometimes I just get the soup with some mozzarella – very simple food.
An object I would never part with is the very first little model of my UP5_6 chair, which I made 54 years ago. I’m very proud of the piece as it said something important politically about women’s freedom – maybe not enough, but more than we usually did at that time. I make models for my designs in my house and if it’s interesting then I bring it to the workshop. So my house is full of ideas and prototypes.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Piero Manzoni, a forerunner of the arte povera movement. He was very conceptual, a very intelligent artist. We had an exchange of letters; we discussed working on a round theatre project. I admire an artist whose personality is in contradiction with themselves.
My favourite room in my house is my living room, where I go to think about projects I’m working on. My house is on the river, so the living room has a lot of windows that look over the East River in Manhattan. I’ve always lived near water. Water is forever in motion, it’s always changing with the light, so it gave me the idea that my life is not supposed to be static – I have to move like the water. Our time is liquid.
My favourite building is the Guggenheim Museum. Other than that, I often say there’s no architecture in Manhattan. It’s more than 60 years now since it was built but it remains very innovative. It is an example of what architecture should be.
My favourite app is Spotify. I listen to music all the time. Through the computer the algorithm keeps sending me music – I enjoy that very much.
The works of art that changed everything for me were Marcel Duchamp’s. His porcelain urinal, Fountain, on show in 1917 in Paris, was for me the first time someone expressed the idea that an industrial object can also be a piece of art.
The best bit of advice I ever received was to stay curious. It’s in my nature. It’s the advice I gave to my daughter, Fontessa – to keep your eyes open.
Gaetano Pesce: The Complete Incoherence by Glenn Adamson, published by Monacelli Press, is out 28 June