He is known for having made a major contribution to defining and updating the concept of brand luxury on a global scale, emphasizing both the material and cultural contents and creating a dialectical relationship between interior settings and the surrounding reality. With his “bad boy” look, the New Yorker Peter Marino is famous as the architect of contemporary luxury thanks to his design of “luxury retails” for a number of international brands. Dior to Chanel, Fendi to Louis Vuitton and Valentino are just some of the world-class iconsnames that have entrusted him with the task of designing and creating their boutiques. The result? The creation of ultra-modern, elegant, chic and luxurious spaces with a striking, creative, emotional and cultural impact. These are exclusive places of rare beauty that mark the triumph of a new type of merchandising. Highly innovative, effective and ultra-contemporary so as to enhance the product and deeply move the ultimate recipient: the customer.
PB You have designed stores for some of the most famous global luxury brands. Where did your interest in architecture come from and how did you become a designer of contemporary luxury? PM Ever since I was a boy, I was always a model student in art and related subjects and at the time, even in mathematics. I thought then and I still do now that architecture was the most fascinating synthesis between aesthetics and engineering. My first clients were Andy Warhol, Gianni and Marella Agnelli and Yves Saint Laurent and I learned a lot from them. Becoming a designer has been a gradual process that starting from my experiences in the “factory” has led me through perseverance, study and research to design private residences and retail stores all over the world.
PB Translating an idea or a thought into reality is at the heart of your work. Where do you find inspiration for your projects and what is your personal approach to design? PM There’s no particular source of inspiration. Materials, colours, texture, dimensions – anything can spark up an idea that can result in inspiration, project and creation. I often describe myself as a “materialist” in that touching and experimenting allows me an immediate emotional approach, followed by marker-pen sketches of the idea that a group of computer wizards then turn into feasible projects.
PB How do you balance your creative process with your clients’ business needs? PM Art at the service of industry is just as appreciated as industry is in the service of art. Clients always try to keep costs low and when they tell me I’m the most significant part of their annual budget, I believe them: architecture linked to the brand is the single most prominent item. I know that I have to compete with the second most important item on the budget, which is always advertising. What I say is that brand architecture is part of advertising because if four people go into a luxury store and only one buys something, it’s important that the other three people who haven’t bought anything have still had a really satisfying experience and go out with a positive attitude toward the brand.
PB At the beginning of your career you worked with Andy Warhol who was also one of your first clients. What memories do you have of that incredible experience? PM Andy was an extraordinary person, a genius. He was never banal or bourgeois in his way of thinking. Thanks to him and his “Factory” I was able to introduce myself and get to know the people who counted and who gravitated around him. When I met him, he was living with a guy, a certain Jed Johnson, who told me “Peter, Andy’s just bought a house on East 66th Street, and he wants to renovate the bathrooms and kitchen. There is a lot of work to do. ” The house was rather desolate, so I did a series of architectural designs while Jed looked after the interior decoration. It was a fantastic experience, I was a young architect and creating home designs in Andy’s city was really exciting.
PB And then came the factory… PM It was Jed himself who called me. I think that the real reason he had hired me was my willingness to do artwork at a low cost which Andy liked. Everyone knows I used to tease him – he was famous for being tight-fisted – and one day I told him, “Andy, doing it like this you avoid using two coats of paint, are you joking?” And he replied “No, no, I like the stucco just like it is.” And in fact, he was right, it was beautiful…
PB You have a natural propensity towards transforming shapes and symbols into a contemporary language with a strong visual impact and high aesthetic value. Can you tell me more about your philosophy? What is your point of view on architectural design? PM I infuse my architecture with my cultural baggage and interest in fine arts as well as my relationship with the artists with whom my career was launched. Every architect is said to be able to create twenty good quality works which is not entirely true, since there are many good architects who have created lots of interesting constructions. By involving artists in my projects, I can produce good quality works that people like to admire. I would like my architecture to really express the times we live in or help determine those times because this too is art for me.
PB Technology has radically altered our way of living and working. What is your approach to technology? PM I’m not a technology person, I don’t use a computer, but I like iPads because they enhance visual communication. Unfortunately none of our most high-tech structural projects have yet been achieved. We designed some that would have become the longest cantilever bridges in Qatar and the inverted pyramids of Dubai.
PB One of your main skills is the capturing of and photographing the identity of a brand in its entirety. How do you manage to do that? PM For me, every brand has an identity equal to that of my client, to whose aspirations and necessities I listen very carefully. I completely immerse myself in the product, whether it’s jewelry for Graff or bags for Chanel. During the design phase I am looking to make the product unique and desirable while taking the client’s requirements into consideration.
PB When creating luxury stores, how much is your creativity conditioned by urban architecture? PM Very often, in a metropolitan centre like Paris or Rome, we work with buildings that are part of the protected historical patrimony and our creativity is unfortunately limited to interior design. In expanding new urban areas in countries like China, Korea and Japan, we are free to intervene on the outside as well and this is a much more interesting opportunity. Our façade for Zegna in Hong Kong, for example, has become a major point of reference.
PB Your studio in Manhattan has an incredible collection of contemporary art. Who are your preferred contemporary artists and how do you integrate art into your designs? PM At the moment I am buying works by contemporary artists such as Donald Moffett, Anthony Pearson, Jean-Michel Othoniel, Anselm Kiefer and Richard Deacon. When I have to select an artist and commission a work, I rely heavily on the gut instinct I get when visiting a museum or gallery, which tells me that the artist in question would be perfect for a particular brand. I like to choose artists whose works contain elements in line with the brand. It is essential that there is harmony between the artist and the brand philosophy, otherwise the partnership can’t work.
PB Your unmistakable leather look clashes with the purity, lightness and sophistication of your design. How do your personal and professional styles coexist? PM I love to think out of the box. In the same way, I like to dress and live in an unconventional way. If you are looking for a truly original design idea and wanting to find a new creative path, the best way to do it is certainly not to act, think, and behave like everyone else. I like to go down roads that have not been taken before.
PB And if you hadn’t been an architect, what would you have done in life? PM Maybe I would have been a sculptor, a gardener, a professional athlete or why not? A bond trader.
Photo credit . Peter Marino Architect, Yunsuk Shim, Adrien Wilson, Stephane Muratet, Paul Warchol, March, Courtesy of Zegna, Luc Castel, Vincent Knapp