David Collins Studio is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2020, so we are taking a glance back at how things have changed since 1985…
Big hair, big expense accounts and massive, brick-like phones – the Eighties was a bold, booming, hedonistic decade. Who can forget images beamed around the world of people partying as the Berlin wall fell? In London, the newly christened Yuppies thrived, flashing their cash on spritzers and bottled beers in pine-panelled wine bars – where they hoped everybody knew their name, just like in Cheers. Cocktails were sweet and sickly: think Piña Coladas, B52s and Slippery Nipples drunk in neon-lit bars, where bartenders practised ‘flair’, like Tom Cruise in Cocktail.
Enter David Collins aged 29, appreciating much that the decade created - Knots Landing was a favourite - tempered with an appreciation of 20th-Century Gallic design. The Irishman collected Christian Bérard gouache sketches, vintage Daum glassware and Primavera ceramics.
Slogan T-shirts and Memphis graphics clashed with Miami Vice pastels and neon in fashion. Designer labels and pop music reigned, peaking with that transatlantic gig of all gigs, Live Aid, in 1985. Madonna dominated the airwaves, first with the upbeat ‘Holiday’, then more memorably bursting onto our screens, and into our collective consciousness, with ‘Like a Virgin’ and her trashy confection of crucifixes, lace, black kohl and attitude. Another lover of noir-lined eyes, Princess Diana ruled the headlines and style pages. The decade saw designers Romeo Gigli, Dries van Noten and Helmut Lang bring new and varied perspectives to fashion.
Options for dining out improved immeasurably in London with the arrival of hotspots like Bibendum, The River Café and L’Escargot. David ate Bang Bang chicken salad in Le Caprice, which originally opened in 1947 and was operated by Corbin and King from 1981, with whom David Collins Studio later created The Wolseley.
French restaurants were the height of sophistication and Gascon chef Pierre Koffmann was the discreet, publicity-shunning hero, earning three Michelin stars at his Chelsea restaurant La Tante Claire, which he opened in 1977. David Collins Studio transformed the interior in 1985, just two years after it secured its third star. Not a bad debut.
This brash decade also gave birth to the celebrity chef phenomenon. If anyone can lay claim to igniting the trope of the hot-tempered, fiery chef, it has to be Marco Pierre White, who opened his legendary Wandsworth restaurant Harveys in 1987. David Collins Studio designed the elegant dining room over which the 'enfant terrible' of UK restaurant scene reigned and some of the finest examples of the burgeoning Modern British food movement were served. And a beautiful, professional partnership was born.
And so dawned the era of the contemporary coffee shop revival (bear in mind these first trended in London in the 17th/18th centuries). During this five-year period alone, Starbucks mushroomed from 116 outlets to 677 – no doubt gaining an additional caffeine kick with the popularity of new TV hit series Friends. The glossy preppy look favoured by Rachel, Ross and crew was counterbalanced IRL, however, by the popularity of grunge, vintage clothes and heroin chic. Don’t forget the UK was in a recession, with the US also experiencing a mild economic retraction, which perhaps explains why the late photographer Corinne Day’s gritty, raw portraits of waif-like Kate Moss struck a nerve and ushered in a new aesthetic.
Elizabeth Wurtzel’s hit novel Prozac Nation gave a voice to the clinically depressed Gen Xers, with Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994 further stoking the angst. Meanwhile, Alanis Morrisette’s album Jagged Little Pill was hugely popular (even when listened to on a bumpy Sony Discman), sparking countless debates about the definition of the word ‘ironic’ - today they’d be a meme. In the UK, the seeds were being sown for the Britpop explosion with the emergence of guitar bands like Pulp, Suede, Blur and Oasis. Their popularity fuelled by a hungry tabloid press, who overplayed the chart competition between Blur and Oasis into the ‘Battle of Britpop’ in 1995. Meanwhile in art, the Saatchi Gallery’s ‘Young British Artists’ show of 1992 would herald an exciting new creative scene with Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin its biggest stars.
Global event of the early 1990s? OJ Simpson’s televised car-chase through LA. That was back when television was our prime information source. Videos were still hired from Blockbuster, accessing the internet was accompanied by that unforgettable buzzy dial-up sound, mobile phones still weighed up to 2lbs and pagers were considered the height of sophistication. Home computers? Still resolutely PC.
And for those wanting to replicate the relaxed, café hang-outs frequented by stars on our TV screens, all-day dining was about to blossom in the form of mid-market accessible high street restaurants. Yet again, David Collins would be at the forefront of this revolution. His collaboration with entrepreneur Karen Jones led to the birth of Café Rouge, an informal dining concept inspired by the classic French brasserie, featuring interiors full of authentic Gallic posters and distinctive features such as zinc-topped bars. The partnership blossomed and they went on to roll out Café Rouge throughout the UK.
During the 1990s, David rented an apartment in Paris to be closer to the art and collectible furniture galleries and the fashion shows, this was the era of Yohji Yamamoto and Commes des Garçons. Closer to home, in June 1995, David discovered and started collecting the works of the artist Line Vautrin through David Gill’s presentation of her works at his Fulham Road gallery.
This was also the decade of the destination restaurant; many of them mega-sized and often revivals of heritage venues, their USP a contemporary reinterpretation of bygone glamour. The Ivy opened in 1990, and Sir Terence Conran introduced London to grand multi-tiered dining with the resurrection of Quaglino’s in St James’s in 1993. The following year, Oliver Peyton opened his hip late-night haunt, the art deco-themed The Atlantic Bar & Grill (where many of the YBAs would hang out drinking Sea Breezes). Meanwhile, in 1995, the 19th-century Neo-Byzantine gem The Criterion, one of the oldest restaurants in the world, was brought back to life by Marco Pierre White in league with David Collins, who was rapidly becoming the go-to interiors visionary for leading chefs and restaurateurs.
As the 1990s drew to a close, Tony Blair’s 1997 election victory heralded a newfound optimism for the UK’s ‘soft power’ – boosted considerably by the Tate Modern which opened in 2000. Vanity Fair declared that ‘London swings again!’ and the drinking and dining scene boomed. Girl power was given a Buffalo-soled kick by the Spice Girls, who were swiftly followed by All Saints in their crop tops and Maharishi trousers. Madonna released arguably her best album, Ray of Light, featuring Drowned World/Substitute For Love by David Collins. During the same period she invited David to join her in Buenos Aires while she filmed Evita. Falling in love with the city David was inspired to open a satellite office there to help deliver the Blackstone-owned London NYC and London West Hollywood hotels which the Studio had been commissioned to design.
Sex and the City, which recounted Carrie Bradshaw’s dating travails with Mr Big, hit our TV screens in 1998, boosting the fortunes of Manolos, and the popularity of dressing up, cocktails and the girls’ night out. Sex was discussed, dissected and debated, and was very much the appeal during Tom Ford’s sizzling tenure at Gucci, which ran from 1994 until 2000. The Studio would later collaborate with the designer on the design of his Mayfair home. At the same time, Helmut Lang offered an alternative, new silhouette and moved his label to New York in 1997, often utilising technical fabrics, and making classic materials appear altogether modern. In 1996, The Studio launched John Barrett’s eponymous hair salon atop Bergdorf Goodman, from which the term "Bergdorf Blondes" originated, which in turn became the title of a later book by Sex and The City author Candice Bushnell.
Apple’s colourful iMac launched in 1998, suddenly a home computer seemed all the more palatable. In the same year, Google, the search engine that would signal the death knell of the sloth-like Ask Jeeves and others of its ilk, was born. If only one of these big tech firms had been able to predict that the hype over the potential technological havoc wreaked by Y2K would be just that, hype. In the midst of all the positivity there were some troughs of despair, not least the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Her funeral at Westminster was watched on television by 2.5 billion people around the world, attracting some of the same glamorous mourners who had attended Gianni Versace’s just two weeks before. Elton John’s new rendition of ‘Candle in the Wind’ became the most popular single of all time. Much was philosophised and written about the British public’s outpouring of grief, while the failure of the Queen to display any herself sparked criticism and signalled a new low for the monarchy. Diana will forever be known as the People’s Princess, as coined by Blair and immortalised in her last official portraits taken by Mario Testino for Vanity Fair against a white cotton upholstered, David Collins Studio-designed sofa.
The similarly tragic Titanic, featuring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio was the hit movie of the late 1990s, and that nostalgia for fin-de-siècle glamour was also played out in our hospitality spaces. David Collins and Marco Pierre White rebooted the dormant Mayfair classic Mirabelle with elegant new interiors. David also began his fruitful working relationship with the brilliant restaurateur duo Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, remodelling the theatreland classic J Sheekey’s to great acclaim. Meanwhile, 15 years of hip boutique hotels in New York and latterly London (not to mention the cocktail renaissance) had left the capital’s grand dame ripe for reinvention. And what better way to achieve this than by transforming their bars into glamorous independent destinations. Enter Claridge’s Bar, reborn with all the decadence and finesse that had become a signature of David Collins Studio – and most certainly worthy of a visit from Carrie, Samantha, et al.
In spite of the lessons learned from Diana’s death, celebrity culture tightened its grip on the public consciousness during the Noughties – a mania fuelled by reality TV shows like Big Brother, Pop Idol and new weekly gossip rags Heat, OK!, Now and Grazia, which forensically documented the jet-set escapades of Paris Hilton, Britney’s breakdown, and the relationship rollercoasters of Brad and Jen or Sienna and Jude. Fashion followed suit in this Mean Girls era, with Juicy Couture velour tracksuits, Ugg boots (named as one of Oprah’s favourite things in 2000), giant sunglasses and a slew of It-bags by brands like LVMH, Mulberry and Balenciaga snapped on ‘slebs’ from Rodeo Drive to Bond Street, driving the demand. Boho chic, as worn by the likes of Sienna Miller and the Olsen twins (whose 2008 book Influence showcased David Collins alongside Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano and Lauren Hutton amongst others), offered a 1970s-inspired alternative. And if you couldn’t afford the real thing, well, fast fashion made sure something similar was available at a fraction of the price. Is it any wonder during this fashion and fame-obsessed decade that Zoolander and The Devil Wears Prada were notable hits. In contrast to the boho trend, brands such as Prada (by Miuccia Prada) and Lanvin (by Albar Elbaz and Lucas Ossendrijver) created nylon-clad, grosgrain-trimmed wardrobes for glamorous urbanites. And for subversive fashion, Alexander McQueen returned to the London catwalk in June 2004, after a three-year hiatus, for one night only. In association with his long-term sponsor American Express, ‘Black’ was an ambitious performance that re-staged many of the defining moments of McQueen's legendary fashion shows.
Casting a dark cloud over this period and years to come, was of course the horrific televised event sparking global turmoil and terrorism: the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaida’s destruction of New York’s Twin Towers by two planes was swiftly followed by the invasion of Iraq in 2003. These were indeed dark days, but Western-driven globalisation was unstoppable. This was the decade that social networking was born with the launch of Friendster, Friends Reunited, Myspace, Facebook and Twitter facilitating mass communication, 'likes' and one might argue, heralding the age of anxiety. Other onscreen entertainment included the rise of gaming and cinematic escapism in the form of new blockbuster fantasy film franchises like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. On the small screen, meanwhile, the boxset was emerging with audiences binge-watching popular series like The Sopranos, The Wire, 24, Mad Men and The West Wing.
Music inched closer to the download, when Steve Jobs launched the iPod for Apple with the memorable line ‘1,000 songs in your pocket’, setting the brand on course to dominate the music industry. Meanwhile, the airwaves vibrated with Indie Rock and with it, jeans shrunk to skinny proportions. Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’ was the hit that signified a new wave of sensitive guitar bands like Snow Patrol, Travis and Keane, while female divas reigning the charts included Kylie, who made a dazzling comeback in her gold lamé hot pants with ‘Spinning Around’, Beyonce, whose post-Destiny’s Child solo career got off to a storming start with her anthemic ‘Crazy in Love’, Amy Winehouse, with her beehive and tats, and Lady Gaga masquerading her ‘Poker Face’.
Meanwhile, in 2002, their pop predecessor Madonna made her theatrical debut treading the West End boards in Up for Grabs at London’s Wyndham Theatre. Now a London resident, her favourite hangouts included the discreet Michelin-starred Italian restaurant Locanda Locatelli and The Berkeley’s cosy Blue Bar, one of the capital’s most celebrated hotel bars, loved for its exquisite shade of lilac-toned Lutyens blue. In 2007 Madonna presented her friend David Collins with the Inspiration award at the 10th annual GQ Men of the Year Awards, who in this decade had completed pan-American retail roll-outs for Les Wexner’s Limited Brands and his first two complete hotel projects, The London NYC and The London West Hollywood – both commissioned by Blackstone, cementing The Studio’s profile Stateside.
The economy nosedived at the tail end of the Noughties when in 2008 the Lehman Brothers collapse, triggered by bad debt, over-borrowing and an unregulated banking industry, heralded a global recession. Not that this stopped the historic Collection Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé Christie's sale setting a world record for the most valuable private collection sold at auction, following the designer’s death in 2008. On a more positive note, in 2009 Barack Obama became the first African-American US president, signalling a new era of hope and optimism.
Britain was on a patriotic high at the start of the decade, with Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in 2011 (the same year David Collins made a cameo in Madonna’s movie of blue-blood betrayal, W.E.), followed by the London Olympics and Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, all imparting an air of optimism to the nation and boosting our international profile. Many British institutions were revived to coincide with the crest of the royal wave; Fortnum & Mason launched The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon in 2013, designed by yours truly, and many David Collins Studio designed hospitality projects won accolades over the decade.
The Artesian scooped the No.1 spot in the prestigious World’s Best Bars awards in 2012, holding onto the top spot for four consecutive years, while The Connaught Bar took first place in 2020, after reaching second place in both 2011 and 2019. In Scotland, the revamped Highland’s gem Gleneagles was rated the best hotel in the world by The Times in 2020 and the same year, further afield the Studio’s Mandarin Oriental Msheireb Downtown Doha was voted number one in the Condé Nast Readers’ Choice Awards.
Alongside the highs it was also a decade of devastating loss – not just our very own David Collins, founder of the Studio, but other immense creative talents: Amy Winehouse, Alexander McQueen, David Bowie, George Michael, Prince and Whitney Houston. News of these events spread faster, and in increasingly visual ways, as Instagram went viral and the age of the influencer arrived. Signified most memorably by Kim Kardashian, who famously threatened to break the internet with her glossy pneumatic derriere in 2015.
On TV and in music, everything got more honest, gritty and a little less glam; shows like Girls and Sex Education explored the angst of Millennials and Gen Z. Even one of Ed Sheeran’s biggest hits, ‘The A Team’, was about addiction. Streaming made couch-based escapism a lot easier, with the swords and dragons fantasy Game of Thrones a favourite, while apocalyptic and dystopian dramas such as The Handmaid’s Tale also captivated us. Shows with female heroes and antiheroes like Killing Eve, Fleabag, Motherland and I May Destroy You gave us refreshingly layered female characters. And in real life, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg became Time’s person of the year in 2019.
Populism may be the movement of the decade – signified by leaders like Trump, Putin and Johnson, with Brexit marking a political low in the UK, but on the positive side we witnessed a new generation of activists. We wised up to equity and diversity with the #metoo and BLM movement, positive Black role models rose to the top with Edward Enninful at the helm of British Vogue and Virgil Abloh appointed artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton. Even the theatrical hit of the decade: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton was a cerebral and joyous mash up of Broadway musical with rap, a genre with African roots. It's been a challenging end to the decade, but there are signs with the swell of grass roots protests and concern over climate change, that positive change could be on the horizon.
Looking back, over the past 35 years it's clear that David Collins Studio has been a pioneering and influential force in the world of hospitality and retail, both at home and abroad. Although David is no longer with us, his legacy burns brightly, displayed most beautifully in ABCDCS, an Assouline monograph published in 2014. And the Studio has continued expanding and evolving, partnering with the Milan-based family-run luxury marque Promemoria to create furniture since 2013, while also developing interior design concepts for great British brands Alexander McQueen, McQ, Jimmy Choo, Pret a Manger and last, but by no means least, Harrods. The Studio has brought its flair to many of the Knightsbridge icon’s most high profile zones; creating the fifth floor Shoe Heaven, masterminding the renovation of the Men’s Superbrands department and radically reinventing the Grade II-listed ground floor Food and Dining Halls, to great acclaim.
The Studio’s restaurant, hotel and bar interiors have been a consistent reassuring presence, bringing glamour, elegance and sophistication to our lives no matter what the mood of the day. As we look ahead to 2021, we can only hope that the pandemic-associated disruption experienced across all sectors in this turbulent year will inspire new, more sustainable and equitable ways of thinking and living. We look forward to our return to hospitality spaces, where taste and entertainment are blended to perfection and we can all have fun again.