David Collins Studio is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2020, so we are taking a glance back at how things have changed since 1985…
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.
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.
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.