Viva la Rock (Black Card)

Many a fine jeweller has looked to myth and legend for their inspiration. Van Cleef & Arpels have produced collections inspired by the fairies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the lost city of Atlantis, while one of De Beers most recent collections, Amulets, is based on the imagery of African tribal totems. Stephen Webster, recently appointed as creative director of the Crown Jeweller Garrard, works with a very different kind of visual currency. ‘For me,’ says Webster, ‘it’s Mick Rock’s photographs of David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars in the 1970s that capture the essence of what I do.’ Webster’s work is utterly unique but also very much a part of the new school of luxury – a kind of modern luxury that looks, and feels, like classic rock and roll.


Renowned for a muscular and offbeat way with silver and diamonds, Webster’s first collection for Garrard, Fire of London, features 18ct white and yellow gold, white and black diamonds, orange sapphires, garnets and citrines all sculpted into rings, cuffs and earrings in the shape of blazing flames.  Webster’s imagery is essentially a bold but luxe redux of the skull and crossbones, and his stock in trade is jewellery that — while not exclusively for the kind of individual who fathered Garrard’s previous creative director Jade Jagger — is certainly aimed at the client who wants a little more 21st century attitude in their jewellery box than comes with a tiara and pearl drop earrings.

If there’s any one woman who embodies that 21st century attitude, it’s dishevelled grunge queen turned Hollywood icon Courtney Love. Love recently appeared at London-based designer Todd Lynn’s catwalk show at the Pacific Design Centre in West Hollywood and is one of his most faithful customers. She can, on occasion, rock a look that might suggest she’s appeared on the red carpet via a backwards-facing hedge, but it’s always done with confidence and sophistication. ‘She always looks fearless,’ says Lynn, who is currently working on his spring/summer 2010 collection which he says will combine ‘something slick with something tattered…  a style adjustment that fits the new world attitude.’ Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune, and the world’s most powerful fashion writer, commented of his autumn/winter 2009 presentation in February: ‘This is a show that seemed modern.’

Although Lynn has designed for Marilyn Manson and Keith Richards, continues to create U2’s tour wardrobe and cites as influences ‘The Cramps and Sisters of Mercy’, his collections combine leftfield edge with a sense of things haute and a wearability. He’s a sharp tailor, first and foremost, and works almost exclusively in monochrome. There are often black leather or fur touches, and there’s an obvious toughness to his work, but at the heart of his collections there is often The Perfect Black Jacket, or the most wonderful 21st century Power Suit, all catwalked on custom made Louboutin heels. The quality of his menswear and womenswear, assured by top-level factory production in France and extremely limited runs (each item is numbered), is near couture standard.

Fashion and rock culture have, since the 50s, made for a passionate, if rowdy, bonding. In recent years the American designer John Varvatos has used leftfield rock stars (Franz Ferdinand, Ryan Adams and Cheap Trick) in the ad campaigns for his pared down, contemporary tailoring. Last winter’s Comme des Garçons Homme Plus collection was themed on the Sex Pistols, borrowing from a punk history that had already fused Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren’s early sartorial exploits with the sounds of the Silver Jubilee. For this spring, rap star Kanye West collaborated with Louis Vuitton’s menswear designer, Paul Helbers, to launch a range of single-coloured sports shoes geared towards the Miami lounge bar more than the tennis court.

Other designers who are consistently inspired by rock style but interpret it in a very grown up, luxury, wearable way include Paula Thomas of Thomas Wylde, and John Richmond. For this summer Thomas showed soft layered dresses reminiscent of Ossie Clark, but with a skull print in the chiffon and press stud shoulders – feminine but dramatic. John Richmond started out in the 80s as one half of the wild, Taboo-era label Richmond Cornejo, and now shows his own label men’s and women’s collections in Milan. His palette, like those of Lynn and Thomas, includes lots of black. ‘I come from Manchester where everything is dark anyway,’ he says. ‘Versace grew up in Mediterranean light so colours look wonderful, but to me colour looked grim.’ Richmond, one of Stephen Webster’s favourite designers, describes himself as a ‘frustrated musician’, and takes most of his inspiration from ‘glam rock and punk.’ ‘Seeing David Bowie on Top of the Pops was like Paul on the road to Damascus,’ he says. His collections feature whisper-thin, angular noir sur le noir suits, but there are also sensual draped and folded liquid-silhouette evening dresses and gold sequin shifts – echoes of the glam rock of the 70s that offset the darker rock and roll era of CBGB and assorted fatalities within the confines of the Chelsea Hotel in New York City.

Rock and roll luxe blends together the magpie with the goth. Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God, a now iconic human skull covered with diamonds valued at £12mn, is a paradigm of the style: outre; dark and expensive. Frivolous too. It doesn’t so much flirt with bad taste as lift up its skirt and goose it.

It’s also a style that’s crossed from fashion into interiors. The bedrooms at Sanctum, the Soho boutique hotel opened earlier this year by music manager Mark Fuller, feature a mix of plush dark textiles and lurex-like flash details, including door handles encrusted with crystal. Room service includes amps and guitars. Fuller believes that rock and roll style isn’t so much a ‘look’ as a ‘state of mind.’ ‘I think rock and roll is what you feel,’ he says. ‘Sanctum is a hybrid of the best hotels in the world, including the Mondrian in Los Angeles, which is entirely white, so not what you could imagine as being rock and roll. But you have to couple it up with the social side of things, which is why there’s a hot tub for 8 people on the roof of Sanctum. It’s about hedonism.’

After Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood – who knows a thing or two about hedonism – left his wife Jo last year, Jo decided to launch a wedding business in the ample back garden of their rambling gothic Richmond Park mansion, Holmwood. She also set up a pop-up restaurant in her dining room with the not so much arresting as banged-to-rights name of Mrs Paisley’s Lashings. She announced that it would run through the mid-summer months, with a menu by Arthur Potts Dawson of Acorn House. Wood’s pop-up enterprise was intended to echo her main business, the Jo Wood Organics cosmetics range – the 21st century rock chic doesn’t OD and nod off, she has an organic allotment and the keenest business sense.

Most guests booking for an evening of Mrs Paisley’s Lashings were, of course, primarily interested in a poke around Holmwood. A visit reveals a classic rock star pile: vast velvet sofas; wood panelled rooms and hallways; scores of oil paintings; suits of armour and a snooker room lined with gold discs aplenty. ‘That’s a Grayson Perry above the bar,’ says Jo, gesturing to a panoramic framed sketch above the fully stocked centre of the saloon. ‘It was a gift from Mick.’ Holmwood is a prime example of a shamelessly louche aesthetic that implies many a visit to an auction house or Clignancourt with a ‘fuck it, I’ll take the lot’ attitude, and a bank balance to match. It’s the kind of house that demands a party, which is another aspect of rock and roll luxe. It may be brash at times, but it’s certainly out for a good time.

There is a part of the new, post-maximilast tendency in interiors that embraces those good times, even if they’re apparently in short supply elsewhere. Mogul, a design company based in Los Angeles, has recently carved a niche for providing ‘fashion for your home’, and the brand’s aesthetic is absolutely in tune with the likes of Holmwood – particularly the Mogul Rock and Roll Bed, with a huge hooded headboard in distressed black leather with Chesterfield-style buttoning. Elsewhere there are sofas with Italianate chrome backs and a dramatic, perhaps even demonic, finely crafted black leather canopy chair with a carved skull at the top of its frame; a piece of furniture that would be splendid as a single dark accent in a space with theatrical scale.

Not all rock and roll interiors are so obvious. Molteni & C Dada, the Italian furniture company which started out life 45 years ago with a selection of Aldo Rossi pieces and now showcases designs by Jean Nouvel at its recently opened flagship stores in London and New York, launched a range of textile pieces with Vivienne Westwood last year. Westwood’s Squiggle print, which has also been used to great effect by the Rug Company on its products, appears on their Freestyle sofa, Glove chair, Domino pouf and on two sizes of cushion, in five different colourways. It’s an elegant, graphic print, inspired in part by the luxury-infatuated French Merveilleuses, but it has a darker, subcultural rock pedigree: the print was launched as part of the Pirates collection, Westwood and McLaren’s first real London catwalk presentation in 1981 under their World’s End label. Although it was a billowing, new romantic U-turn from their previously spiky punk work, it was still fashion for the young and the wildly rebellious; the pair were dressing the same urchins – or at least those that had survived the 70s – but in different clothes.

Just as Westwood’s work passed from underground to overground, so the late Stephen Sprouse – famed for dressing Blondie and the Warhol set – took his fluoro and graffiti style into interiors. Before his untimely death in 2004, he produced a range of textiles for Knoll, including Techno Tweed and a variety of prints based on the dayglo Warhol camouflage patterns he’d used for his mens- and womenswear previously. They are still available today – all of the seating at the rooftop lounge at the LES hotel in New York, which opened at the end of last year, is covered in the orange Graffiti Camo print – and earlier this year Jeffrey Deitch staged a retrospective of Sprouse’s work in fashion and on canvas at his SoHo New York gallery. At the same time as the Deitch Projects show, Louis Vuitton debuted a limited edition collection featuring Sprouse’s distinctive scrawl, which sold out within days.

The overgrounding of rock and roll style, an inherently underground movement, continues apace. It’s now a part of the fabric of modern luxe. As Stephen Webster says, ‘The luxury consumer in the 21st century tends to make more emotional choices that fit with their own lifestyle rather than wanting something because it is expensive or an investment. My “rock and roll” pieces sell well as they tend to make an emotional connection with our customers.’

If further evidence was needed, it was seen at the Governors Ball at the White House in February. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, made an entrance wearing a just-the-safe-side-of-avant-garde jumble of pearls by Tom Binns, a rock and roll jeweler through and through who started his career with the aforementioned McLaren and Westwood in London and whose last collection included a necklace with faux pearls and gold tone safety pins called Rhythm of Cruelty. With tough times ahead and ‘a new world attitude’ in place, it seems only fitting that there’s a bit of rock and roll style and spirit in the White House.




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