How living, travelling and dining alone became the ultimate markers of modern-day independence
There’s little doubt we’re living in the age of the individual. Time to yourself is redoubling as a luxury, and between work and play, lifestyles are starting to reflect that. Hectic schedules mean homes are havens, holidays are opportunities for escape and self-reflection, and meals out are as much about convenience as pleasure. As we are learning to value, as well as enjoy, our own company, flying solo is finally losing the lonely hearts label and, in cities at least, becoming the norm.
The prospect of eating dinner alone in a restaurant was once daunting, but the move towards bar and counter-style seating in many restaurants has all but eliminated the need to reluctantly sit opposite an empty chair – and with it, the taboo. Restaurant design is changing to cater to this, and popular eateries such as Barrafina in London – which counts around 20 single covers a day in its Soho outpost – are made up entirely of bar stools overlooking an open kitchen.
‘Solo dining really started in the States,’ says Nicholas Lander, Financial Times’ restaurant correspondent. For Lander, bar-side dining is the main reason a meal alone has become less intimidating and more commonplace. ‘When you’re eating at a bar, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a party of one or three or five. Really, it’s a situation where everyone benefits.’
The swing also nods to changing modes of living. ‘More people are living alone, and as a consequence more people are no longer cooking on a regular basis,’ explains Alison Pearlman, whose book Smart Casual charts the transformation of restaurant styles in America. ‘The solo diner is a demographic and a lifestyle fact.’
Today, more people live by themselves than ever before. According to Eric Klinenberg, author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone and a professor of sociology at New York University, one in two households in Manhattan and Washington are occupied by one person. In Paris, more than half boast single occupants. In Stockholm, the statistics push 60 per cent, and approximately 7.6 million people now live alone in the UK.
Affordability is an issue, but many – stressed out urbanites in particular – are prepared to cut corners elsewhere for the advantages of personal space. ‘Living alone comports with modern values,’ Klinenberg writes. ‘It promotes freedom, personal control and self-realisation – all prized aspects of contemporary life.’
He suggests that, far from being victims of loneliness, solo dwellers are more likely to spend time with friends and neighbours, go to restaurants and get out to cultural events. Likewise, because technology allows for constant communication, time spent alone is, more than ever, a conscious choice.
Perhaps the most significant upturn in burgeoning solo culture is the number of people taking trips on their own, which is undoubtedly tied to key travel trends set for the year ahead: extending work trips for pleasure, travel for health and wellbeing, and the general move to prioritise experiences over possessions.
According to recent research by Booking.com, 56 per cent of travellers would like to do more independent travel in 2017, and a spike in online searches shows Perth, Vancouver, Puerto Rico and Verona as trending destinations.
‘People are more independent and intrepid in spirit,’ says travel writer Juliet Kinsman, a contributor to Louis Vuitton City Guides and founding editor of Mr & Mrs Smith. ‘We want to experience new, off-the-beaten-track destinations as a local, not as a tourist, and sometimes to really get under the skin of a place, you need to be on your own.’
Words by Alex Hawkins
Illustration by Kerry Hyndman
This feature was originally published in House Notes and on houseseven.com for Soho House & Co
Having abandoned his marriage for a life of adventure and travel, Avaunt reflects on painter Paul Gauguin’s formative period spent in French Polynesia
Paul Gauguin, the French stockbroker turned artist who traded Paris for Polynesia, was as much the ultimate traveller as he was the rogue modern painter. He is one of art history’s most absorbing characters, not least for the way he has been cast as both man of the world and disreputable brute.
His vivid paintings of Tahitian women are some of the most enduring images from the turn of the last century, but his tumultuous life story establishes Gauguin as the most shadowy of the post-impressionists – the unequivocal outsider.
The part-Peruvian son of a journalist, Gauguin was born in Paris in 1848 and spent several years living in Lima as a child. It wasn’t until his mid-30s that he began to pursue painting full-time, but, before falling into work as a stockbroker at 23, his two years as a merchant marine had given him a taste for travel. As his aspirations to be an artist grew, so did his dissatisfaction with middle-class life. First he abandoned his 11-year career in finance, and then he left his Danish wife and five children in Copenhagen, seeing a place for neither in his new role.
He quickly became a mentor to a handful of younger artists and his radical advice that Paul Sérusier should ignore naturalism and use paint straight from the tube in fact paved the way for modernist painting. “He made you think of a buffoon, a troubadour and a pirate all at once,” Sérusier later said. This is telling of Gauguin’s fraught relationships. He was wildly unpopular and Van Gogh famously came at him with a razor during nine weeks they spent together.
In 1891, following a trip to the Caribbean and an extended sojourn in Brittany, Gauguin left for the French colonies in the South Pacific. In his mind’s eye Tahiti was a romantic idyll, an image promoted by the writings of naval officer and novelist Pierre Loti. The dispassionate faces of the islanders he painted show that the truth was a colony in decline.
He spent the better part of 12 years painting in Polynesia, but despite attempts to “go native” always kept one eye on the Paris art world, where he continued to sell work. After retreating to the Marquesas Islands, he died in 1903 at the age of 54, suffering from an advancing case of syphilis.
From Sunday painter to rolling stone, he is a notorious example of the artist as explorer. His travels through Panama, Martinique and the South Pacific; the abandoning of his family; paintings of mysterious, dusky women and scenes of paradise lost; a succession of adolescent lovers – all of these things would later inspire W. Somerset Maugham’s 1919 novel The Moon and Sixpence.
Although little celebrated in his lifetime, last year a painting of Gauguin’s became the most expensive artwork ever sold, and his influence, however troubled, has proven considerable. A young Picasso is said to have drawn on pages of his Tahiti travelogue, Noa Noa, and Gauguin’s bold outlines and experimental palette can still be seen in the work of artists like Chris Ofili and Peter Doig.
This is an exceprt from issue 3 of Avaunt. Read the piece online here.
Introducing three spirits makers shaking up the liquor industry
Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen the revival of cocktail culture, the emergence of mixology as both a science and an art form, and the boom in high-end spirits. Putting craft beer to one side, all of this has given way to a new crop of small-batch distilleries that are not only catering to the modern appetite for premium-quality, handmade products but are competing successfully with major players in the drinks trade.
London is known for its gin, but tucked away in two adjoining railway arches near Hackney Downs station is the city’s first vodka micro-distillery, Our/London. Up and running for a year now, the distillery doubles as an event space and tasting room, and is part of Our/Vodka, a global brand founded in Stockholm and made up of independent distilleries run by local partners in different cities around the world.
“Being asked if we wanted to open our own vodka distillery was a pretty massive curveball,” says Neil Chivers, who runs Our/London with long-time friend and restaurateur Clive Watson. The pair were drawn to the understated branding and crown-capped bottle design, both of which do away with the many marketing clichés surrounding premium vodka, from the tall bottles to the diamond filters. “It’s almost utilitarian and there’s something that really stands out about that,” he adds.
To date, Our/Vodka has sub-brands in Berlin, Detroit, Seattle, Amsterdam, London and LA, with New York, Miami and Houston still to come. “We’re brand custodians in a way but the city brands themselves are shaped by the partners,” Chivers says.
“Seedlip is actually the name of seed sewers’ baskets that my family used when they started farming,” explains Ben Branson. With Seedlip, 33-year-old Branson is leading the way into the rarefied world of non-alcoholic distilled spirits and offering a grown-up alternative to going booze-free, whether you’re teetotal or just having a day off.
Despite venturing into uncharted territory, Branson, a former marketing executive, insists he never set out to create a new category in the industry. Seedlip grew out of his fascination with botany and herbal medicine; in particular, The Art of Distillation, a book detailing the apothecaries of the 1600s.
“It’s been a bit of a wild ride, from hand-labelling the first thousand bottles in my kitchen to selling out in Selfridges,” says Branson. Spice 94 and Garden 108, which are both made to be mixed with tonic water, are now stocked by 35 Michelin-star restaurants in the UK, the brand announced investment from Diageo in May, and the first bottles landed in California in early November.
For husband and wife duo Robin and Tessa Gerlach, creating their own gin was, first and foremost, a means to do their part for elephant conservation. Having spent time in Kenya and South Africa, the end-of-day sundowner tradition – usually a gin and tonic – was something that stayed with them. This, combined with Robin’s interest in exotic African botanicals and Tessa’s passion for wildlife, came together as the idea for Elephant Gin, which donates 15 per cent of its profits to charity.
“We kind of stumbled into it while trying to do something for the elephants,” says Tessa. Neither of them had any idea that their German-made, African-inspired gin would go on to win awards (Spirit of the Year 2016 in the World Spirit Awards), or that they could give anywhere near the €150,000 they have donated to Big Life Foundation and Space for Elephants so far.
“Gin is one of the most versatile spirits, so it was ideal to infuse it with unusual ingredients,” says Robin. ‘We selected 14 botanicals – from devil’s claw to baobab to buchu to lime’s tail – which we combined with fresh apples from Germany. It took us a year and a half to develop, and we haven’t changed the recipe since we sold the first bottle in 2013."
Photography by Thomas Brown
This feature was originally published in House Notes and on houseseven.com for Soho House & Co
Brands are becoming bigger presences in our lives by the day and, more and more, what we buy, and who we buy it from is a clear and personal choice. Where traditional markers of identity — like nationality or religion — have blurred, consumerism is stepping in, and by selling a set of values and a lifestyle with their products, certain brands are developing a deeper relationship with us.
“There have been a lot of discussions about how, basically, subculture is dead,” says Protein’s strategy and new business director Zeenah Vilcassim. “Previously subcultures were built around political movements, communities of people who had things to rally behind. You could argue that nowadays, particularly in fashion, that doesn’t exist because everything is so fluid.”
According to Vilcassim, consumers are looking for new guidance and brands are bringing them together. “Something like 89% of our audience don’t associate themselves with a religion anymore,” she explains. “But offline and online, people still crave community. That is something that has never gone away.”
Hannah Robinson, visual editor at LS:N Global, the insight and inspiration arm of London trend forecasting agency The Future Laboratory, suggests something similar. “We’re losing trust in governments and traditional institutions, so brands are starting to take on those roles,” she says.
Creating a community and culture to buy into is just step one on the road to cult status. Just as we’re becoming more selective about our spending, brands are becoming more specific about their consumer. What separates the cult brand from its traditional counterpart is often the confidence to not appeal to anyone and everyone.
“It’s really not about demographic or age anymore, but thinking about the mindset and the psychographic you want to connect with,” explains Robinson. The relationship between brick-and-mortar stores and online presence is a key opportunity to make that connection. “We go online for a seamless experience and ease, but the in-store experience is actually more important than ever,” she says.
Australian skincare brand Aesop is known for its chameleonic, site-specific approach to store design, often collaborating with local designers and taking inspiration from the history of the area. “Aesop creates a sense of discovery and excitement in all its spaces,” Robinson adds. For its shop on Lamb’s Conduit Street in London, British design studio JamesPlumb played on the street’s history as one of the city’s first sources of tapped water by gently streaming water from shelf to shelf throughout the store.
As well as putting care and detail into its physical spaces, Aesop reserves a large part of its online presence to promote lifestyle. “They rarely ever focus on the product,” says Vilcassim. “They send newsletters about design and travel, and the content is meant to inspire and connect their audience. They never scream about the brand, they talk about things they’re interested in.”
In the realm of cult brands, streetwear sits on its own pedestal. Since launching in 1994, James Jebbia’s American label Supreme has cultivated a huge following. Initially the brand was largely overlooked in fashion circles because its skater credentials spoke to a subculture. But the very reasons it was snubbed in its early days are the same reasons the brand has achieved its impressive and confident — some might say cocky — aura over time.
What was once considered niche is now respected for maintaining a sense of authenticity. Being authentic is, for Robinson, another defining feature of cult brands, and Supreme’s short-run products, considered approach to retail and clever collaborations with brands like Commes des Garçons and artists like Richard Prince have only continued to propel its cult status. Now, much like the release of a new iPhone, a new drop from Supreme is an event and sees loyalists queuing outside stores in anticipation.
“Apple is another good example of a cult brand because they’re constantly innovating, thinking about their future products,” says Robinson. “Who remembers what an iPhone 2 looked like? It’s not about harking back to the past, but always about moving forward.”
Whether striding forward or looking back, there’s a difference between achieving cult status and standing the test of time. “I’m not sure where some of these brands will be in 10 years time or if they’ll still have the same following,” says Vilcassim. “But I think the ones with the most longevity are probably the ones that evolve with their original consumer.”
Outlined here are five common approaches of cult brands today:
1. Build a creative community
Understand the mindset of your audience inside and out, and look for ways to inspire and connect them.
2. Have a clear message, vision and values
Allow this to manifest in different ways online and offline, through communications, content and retail spaces.
3. Collaborate don’t compete
Align yourself with like-minded brands who share your values to reinforce and strengthen your message.
4. Be authentic
Think about legacy, not heritage, find new ways to be authentic and new ways to talk about it.
5. Be confident
Communicate about your interests and values as a brand, not your product.
A version of this article was originally published on houseseven.com for Soho House & Co.
The Italian photographer on the process behind his sweeping shots
“There are so many pictures that need an explanation,” says Massimo Vitali, counting his own among them. For the last 20 years, Vitali’s objective has been to create images with layers of meaning, but he is adamant that beauty has never been a priority. “The only thing that I don’t particularly pursue is to take beautiful photographs,” he says.
As one of Italy’s most celebrated photographers, Vitali is best known for the seaside panoramas he shoots from an 18-foot tall scaffold with a large-format camera. His six-foot-wide photographs of crowded beach scenes have drawn parallels with old master paintings and biblical scenes, and his studied approach and singular eye stem from earlier stints as a photojournalist and cinematographer.
“I try to be in the centre of things without going to extremes,” says Vitali. “And the beach is a fantastic place for watching people. Everyone faces forward and they are still.”
His images – instantly recognisable for their saturated colours and almost classical compositions – are tied as much to the history of art as they are to cinema. “I grew up around art,” he says. “I can take a shot and know that in Renaissance painting, the space was divided in the same way. I don’t even have to think about it, but it’s one of the natural layers in the pictures’ compositions.”
By now, he has taken nearly 5,000 photographs. This is something of a feat if you appreciate there is little room for chance in Vitali’s process, which demands that each shot be something of a full-scale production involving thorough research and a team of assistants. “It’s seldom that people talk about one image in detail,” he observes. “But behind the pictures there is a lot of work.”
One image in particular in his portfolio is something of an anomaly. An all-white picture of sand dunes in Brazil is perhaps the only unpeopled shot he’s ever taken, and a departure from the brighter work for which he is known. “I titled this picture after the Italian artist Piero Manzoni’s white painting Achrome, because it reminded me so much of his work,” Vitali explains. “We were in Maranhão in Brazil on assignment with The New York Times, and normally there are small pools of water between the sand dunes. I was there to shoot those and we went at the end of the rainy season, but as it turned out, it was the first time in 27 years that they didn’t have rain. Everything was all white and I couldn’t not take this picture or think about Manzoni’s paintings. It was a special place and I did something I’d never really done.”
Here, the photographer shares his tips for taking the perfect picture.
Don’t look for drama: “There’s a lot happening in my pictures, but also nothing. It’s just life. It’s the little details that make up our lives and that’s the best way to tell a story.”
Think big: “I think that it’s all about moving into the picture. I want people to see the photograph and I want people to appreciate the details. If my pictures were printed in a smaller size they would be less interesting.”
Do your research: “You have to know the location and where you want to put the camera. I do a lot of research and we often send people to scout locations. We never really discover anything. Everything I do is planned.”
Originally published on houseseven.com for Soho House & Co
A feature on New York-based arts non-profit Art Production Fund published in the second issue of Harper's Bazaar Art en Espanol in May 2015
Full English text below
ART IN THE CITY
Alone in the desert, on the outskirts of the west Texas town of Valentine, near Marfa, stands the world’s most unlikely Prada store. Even more unusual is the fact that the door does not open, and none of the Fall 2005 shoes or bags seen in its windows will ever be bought. This is because what appears to be an absurd luxury outpost baking under the Texan sun is actually a piece of conceptual land art only borrowing the Prada logo. Prada Marfa is a work of pop architecture dreamed up by the theatrical Scandinavian art duo Elmgreen & Dragset, and brought to life by the indomitable women behind New York’s boutique arts non-profit, Art Production Fund (APF) – Yvonne Force Villareal and Doreen Remen. The roadside artwork off U.S. Highway 90 might be their most iconic commission, and one of the most famous pieces of public sculpture in the last decade, but is just one of the many ambitious public art projects these New Yorkers have been making a reality for the last fifteen years with their ingenuity and vision.
Marfa, the chosen home of the American minimalist sculptor, Donald Judd, is a befitting namesake for Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s storied work of public art, the mythology of which has taken on a life of its own and become part of both the physical and cultural landscape. Despite not being directly affiliated with Prada, the installation recently came under threat from local authorities following claims that it was an advertisement. But Prada Marfa only appears to speak the language of commercialism, it is a fake store that uses fashion only in order to analyse “the very structure of desire,” as Force Villareal explains. So much so that it was broken into and raided three days after its unveiling in 2005. After winning out against almost a year of legal battles, partially in thanks to a “Save Prada Marfa” campaign, it has gained even higher cultural status. “Now it’s even more famous as a sculpture, more recognised for its meaning and intentions,” says Force Villareal, “Prada Marfa has become a museum.”
Art Production Fund is no stranger to bringing fashion and art into exchange. Remen and Force Villareal’s first working collaboration was the production of Vanessa Beecroft’s famous 1998 Guggenheim performance, which featured fifteen models in Gucci bikinis designed by Tom Ford alongside five women wearing only stilettos, and landed the cover of Artforum magazine. This was long before Marc Jacobs’ string of wildly successful artist collaborations for Louis Vuitton. “All of that was so absolutely confined to a few artists and now it’s totally mainstream,” says Remen. “Now, young artists are not even questioning working in media.” As the commercial world and the art world become more comfortable with one another, she believes “the artist is becoming almost like a creative consultant.”
From beach towels designed by John Baldessari to water bottles designed by Yoko Ono, Art Production Fund have also been trailblazers in the realm of artist-designed products with their Works on Whatever (WOW) series, the proceeds of which are used to almost single-handedly raise the funds for their projects. Now in its ninth edition, what started as a one-time fundraising solution for Rudolf Stingel’s wall-to-wall carpet installation in Grand Central Station, Plan B, has become a commercial platform and a holistic way to fund the organisation. They raised most of the $120,000 needed for Prada Marfa using this model. “For Prada Marfa we made an outdoor sign that a collector could buy for $10,000 and has the work’s title and the number of miles that you are right now in your home from Marfa, as the crow flies,” says Yvonne.
Since meeting on their first day at the Rhode Island School of Design, Yvonne and Doreen have gone on to break the mold for a non-profit arts organisation, earning them both a place on artnet’s 100 Most Powerful Women in Art last year. Little about the way they work has changed since 2000, and together with their Director, Casey Fremont, they remain the beating heart of Art Production Fund. “We’ve always intended to be flexible, and we intended to grow when we need certain consultants or partners, and then shrink back to our core,” says Doreen. “That is how we set it up from the beginning,” Yvonne explains, “and that has been an incredible way to work.”
What has changed is the way they have had to react to the ups and downs of the economy. During the recession, limited funding for their bold undertakings meant they had to scale back. “Our idea was always to do big projects, big visions by artists that didn’t have the means or backing to implement them, and that quickly changed when the economy couldn’t support it,” says Remen. “We started to do smaller projects, and find spaces to do interventions, places that weren’t these heroic or ideal sites.” The result was a wave of projects including a one-month art campaign exhibited atop New York’s iconic yellow cabs, Art Adds, and a series of murals on the roll-down shutters of city storefronts they called After Hours. “Now we’ve shifted again, and we’re back to doing super ambitious projects and a few smaller ones as well,” adds Force Villareal. For their next project, due to be unveiled in July, they have partnered with cult skincare brand Kiehl’s to present a new work by artist Hanna Liden.
From erecting thousands of light bulbs in Rockerfeller Plaza for Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s Electric Fountain in 2008, to laying out 288 sheets of plywood painted by Aaron Young in the Park Avenue Armory so that motorcyclists could scorch the surface with tire patterns and streaks of burnt rubber, APF are constantly pushing the boundaries of public art. In doing so, they have to negotiate the blurring lines between high art and popular culture. “Art since modern times has become more and more elitist, harder to see, and I think because of a very strong ongoing market has been solely associated with people who can afford it,” Force Villareal says. “But art has the ability to communicate in a different way, and public art really helps a great number of people to realise that there are other ways to perceive the times in which we’re living than just a newspaper or a talking head on television.”