Hotelier Will Cooper: ‘Creativity is constant contradiction’
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My personal style signifier is wearing all white, year round. It’s funny how much it really stands out because the majority of the population wears dark clothing. White is easy and it cleanses my eyes and mind. And I always have on a crystal bracelet or two to keep me protected – usually rainbow obsidian, or amethyst if I need to open my third eye, or tiger’s eye if I need to protect my energy. Some come from Pantelleria, and some from this amazing place called Crystals Garden on 10th Street in the East Village.
The last thing I bought and loved was a pair of Stan Ray OG Painter pants. White, of course. They are made in my home state, Texas, and I wear them nearly every day.
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is patè di capperi e pistacchio from Pantelleria. You cannot find it anywhere else in the world, and I always bring some home for myself to use in the morning on eggs, to pretend I’m still in Italy. saporidipantelleria.it
My style icons are a trio: architect Renzo Mongiardino, dapper and divinely talented and influential. Ward Bennett, a chameleon who was able to work between mediums of decoration and modernity, and created some of the most beautiful homes in the world. And Gianni Agnelli. No explanation needed.
The best gift I’ve given recently is one of my new Ash scented candles. I worked with an amazing nose in Paris developing this scent; the brief was to create a transportive feeling – ceremonial, sultry, a romantic Dorian Gray vibe. It has nutmeg, carrot seed and white amber, and a base of patchouli and tobacco. The top burns off fast and you get this really beautiful wood essence. The vessel is modelled after the base of a Doric column, and is meant to live with you for ever – as a vase, a coin holder, a glass, whatever you want it to be.
And the best gift I’ve received is always intangible – a trip or an experience. In December 2020 I was taken to Machu Picchu. It was barely open; no one was travelling. The people working there said the only time it had previously been that quiet and deserted was when the Pope came. Not to sound woo-woo, but it really was life-changing. The place is like a vortex – very mystical. So to be there, almost all alone, was absolutely a gift.
The last music I downloaded was Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1. He wrote only three or so piano concertos in his life. I first heard it performed by Yuja Wang, and it was the middle of the night; I was awake and found it on YouTube. It’s this beautiful, narrative musical progression that takes you through so many hills and valleys. In the video, this pianist is almost moved to tears as she plays it. Now I listen to it when I need to detach from the chaos.
I have a collection of myriad ashtrays from all over the world, and matches to match. And another one of various objets d’art in the form of small animals – I try to bring one back everywhere I go. An elephant from India, a bull from Peru, lots of others.
In my fridge you’ll always find good parmigiano reggiano, organic eggs, organic avocados, Acqua Panna, coffee from Morettino in Sicily – I like the Mediterranean blend – and an organic chilled red, ideally one made by Arianna Occhipinti.
I’ve recently discovered Vienna, which I’d never been to and which, oh my God, I loved. I was taken around by Thomas Reiner, who’s an artisan floormaker specialising in historical woods – he does all the parquet restorations for museums and palaces there and he made the parquet floors in the lobby of Ulysses hotel. It’s like a secret European dream: so clean, so beautiful. The people are so nice.
The thing I couldn’t do without is eight hours of sleep a night. I love to be asleep by 9.30pm and wake up before 6am. The morning hours between 6am and 8am are my favourite time of the day. I make a moka coffee and start writing ideas down or chip away at an idea from the previous day.
An indulgence I would never forgo is summer in Italy. It’s the people, and their strong sense of national identity, how they all rally around this central idea of a way of life. And the fact you can be in so many different, distinct places, Milan and Venice and Umbria, and then you get to the south and it’s a whole different world. I love how the country is endless worlds within worlds, but the people share this central mandate of how to actually live. None of this American rat-race bullshit.
The last items of clothing I added to my wardrobe are socks and slippers from Charvet; I recently stocked up when I was in Paris. And a beautiful suit from Dior – it’s a deep navy with a very subtle stripe. A classic line, as always with Dior menswear, but in an unusual fabric.
An object I would never part with is my grandmother’s rosary, which my mum gave me when my grandmother passed. She was from Spain, extremely religious, and said the Hail Mary several times a day. I feel like having the rosary planted an early seed in my life, creating my ties to the Med. It makes me feel she’s always with me.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Vilhelm Hammershøi. He paints still lifes in this austere, 19th-century Danish style. They have this elegance of light. The interiors are often very decorative and ornate, but with his rendering of that light they become subdued. They’re intriguing, and very moving to me. I relate to that in my work, because that’s the hardest thing to capture in a dimensional way: how do you make someone want to be in a space? When I look at his paintings I want to understand what kind of life is happening in that room.
The grooming staple I’m never without is Golconda by JAR, my scent. It reminds me of Paris, particularly Paris in June, when it is light until 11pm. And QMS Epigen Pollution Defense Day & Night Gel-Cream and Intensive Eye Care Day & Night Eye Cream. They keep my skin so firm that several people have asked if I get Botox. I don’t. QMS Epigen Gel-Cream, £118 for 50ml, and Eye Cream, £128 for 15ml
My favourite room in my house? In the mornings I sit in a little slip-covered slipper chair in my living room and have coffee, then move to the floor to start writing and working at the coffee table. If I am not doing Muay Thai, I will do yoga in the same room. When I get home from the office, I will lie on the banquette and just stare into space for a while to decompress. Everything is white, so it is very calming to be in that space.
My favourite building is the “Baby Taj”, aka the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah in Agra, India. It is often thought of as the draft for the Taj Mahal, and I find its intimacy and handpainted walls very appealing.
My grooming and wellbeing gurus are Neighborhood Barbers on 9th Street in the East Village, where I have gone since I moved to New York almost 15 years ago. And Helena Radulovic, my trainer at Fit Ritual, around the corner from my house, who I do Muay Thai with. We’ll first catch up on neighbourhood gossip – mostly about how many cruffins she ate the prior day from C&B on 7th Street – and then get to work.
The work of art that changed everything for me is The Cardsharps, painted c1595 by Caravaggio. I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, and as a young kid I would visit the Kimbell Art Museum, designed by Louis I Kahn, built in 1972. I have a vivid memory of seeing that painting at a very young age, probably around second grade. The subject was intriguing for a kid, as it depicts a young boy in quite a theatrical costume, cheating his fellow player out of a card game. I revisit the painting every year at Christmas, and today I understand it as a life lesson in deception and loss of innocence.
My carry-on essentials are earplugs and an eye mask, always – I actually love the ones Air France gives to you, they’re pillowy and soft. And definitely a book: my mom is a life coach, and she was always plying me with Eckhart Tolle and those kinds of people when I was younger. As a result I find I like to have a grounding book on a plane, which has such a groundless atmosphere.
The best bit of advice I ever received? Creativity is constant contradiction. I saw it, rather than heard it, years ago in Williamsburg, where the office used to be. I was at my desk and I remember so distinctly seeing those words in a book. Creation comes from being able to live comfortably in the tension that exists between two things that themselves exist in contradiction. The truth of it just hit me.
The place that means a lot to me is the Mediterranean Sea. I think it’s the most magical and healing water in the world. The fortunate countries that border it, whether Italy, Greece or Lebanon, have a mystical thing about them that makes you feel a certain way – connected to something larger than yourself. People really know how to live on the Med.
Travel informs the projects I am working on; whether it’s a small architectural detail or a full-blown concept, I always bring back ideas from trips and fuse them with wherever the project is at that time. Or sometimes, much to the chagrin of my team, completely rework something based on a trip. It always turns out better in the end. Far-flung travel usually yields the best ideas as I am seeing something new for the first time, but domestic trips are important to thoroughly understand the local fabric in which I’m working.
The podcast I’m listening to? Podcasts aren’t my thing. I am a visual learner – I prefer to read and watch. But The Business of Home is one I listen to from time to time, as they have some interesting topics.
In another life, I would have been an academic or professor. I love researching and sharing my findings with interested people. I have a constant curiosity that drives me; and in another life I think it would have been so satisfying to be able to share it with young minds, to hopefully trigger something in them to help find their path.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is The Courage to Create by Rollo May. He is an existential psychologist who wrote this book in 1975, and it speaks to how fear is a reaction to what is happening culturally, and how creativity is actually born from the understanding and overcoming of such fears. The teachings are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them.