NAILING THE TIME IN WHICH WE LIVE. Peter Marino is the principal of Peter Marino Architect, a New York–based architecture practice he founded in 1978. Peter Marino is well known for integrating art within architectural designs and has commissioned more than 300 site-specific works of art. His own collection Peter Marino Art Foundation opened in Southampton in June 2021.
You can listen to the podcast of this interview here.
Peter Marino, when you graduated from Cornell University’s College of Architecture in 1971 did you think that your career would be so successful?
No, I still can’t believe it. The ratio of architects who become well known is very low. Ask the average person on the street to name ten architects, they stop after Frank Lloyd Wright, Corbusier, I.M.Pei. It’s not like art where you know the name of many artists. To be even a little bit well-known is unusual. I never in a million years dreamt it would happen to me.
Being friendly with Andy Warhol, you started at a high level.
Like winning the lottery. I started working for Andy Warhol who was at his height in the 70s. The second client was Yves Saint Laurent, Agnelli the third, and fourth Rothschild. It was lucky. I’m a believer in the old recipe for success: talent – of which there is very little in the world today – is 5%, and the other 95% is hard work and a really good staff. You can’t have this kind of career without being surrounded by very great people. Now I have 200 people, and 41 projects at the last count.
You work all over, in America, France, Korea, China, UK …
Indonesia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi….. I’m very proud of the staff. We have architects here from so many different countries. New York is a city that attracts architects. I am a fifth generation New Yorker. The right kid in the right city at the right time.
“I want to be like Warhol and nail the time in which we live. Tiffany’s opened in 2023. In 60 years I want people to go, that defines the style, that was very 2023.”
Peter Marino, you were doing houses and apartments but in 1985 you started working for the famous shop Barneys. How did you move into the fashion world?
I still do houses and apartments, but not like at the beginning when I would say I’d be happy to renovate your powder room (laughs). Now, after selling 5,000 copies, which is a lot, they are reprinting my book The Architecture of Chanel about eleven huge buildings that I did for Chanel.
At the same time you work for LVMH and in 2021 finally completed a great reinvention of the original Dior flagship in 30 Avenue Montaigne, Paris.
I got an email from Bernard Arnault in April 2010 saying next time you’re in Paris I’d like to give you a new project. Brands have branched out, and with all these new ideas penetrating the retail world it’s not just about selling handbags and clothing anymore, it’s lifestyle. Dior Avenue Montagne is a shop, a museum, a restaurant, a beautiful hotel suite where you can stay above the shop and residences that they rent out.
Now you are renovating one of the most famous hotels in the world, the Cipriani in Venice.
I love the vibe of the Cipriani Hotel, founded by the Guinness and Niarchos families as the ultimately chic playpen. Looking back at photos of how truly chic and elevated women and men were there, they dressed beautifully and looked impossibly glamorous compared to our lives today. There’s so little glamour left in the world, my goal on that hotel is to restore an impossible glamour.
You are Chairman of Venetian Heritage. Is Venice one of your favourite places?
The entire city is a living museum. We have a huge four year project to totally restore the Ca’ D’Oro.
You restored the Tiffany building, an extraordinary landmark for New York City. Was this project similar to the Dior?
Similar in the fact that Bernard Arnault was backing me up with great confidence and financial viability. He said do the best of anything you’ve ever done. So I did. (laughs) When it came to the opening he was terribly complimentary and said, “I could never have imagined this level of success, you really pulled it off.” In fact I have been doing flagships for Louis Vuitton and Dior since 1995, but Tiffany’s was a new one.
An iconic place for a New Yorker?
The important thing of that project relates to being an American, star struck because of the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Truman Capote’s brilliant script. That movie I grew up with is an American dream. Moon River I can’t listen to without crying, it’s so beautiful. I insisted very strongly – as strongly as I could – that we had an Audrey Hepburn room When you do shops, financially everybody calculates how many sales per square foot and I am going: “I am sorry I need a big room where there are no sales but this will make people crazy about the brand.” I put paintings that I did of Audrey Hepburn all around the room and we took the original dress – because LVMH owns Givenchy we had the black set dress that Audrey Hepburn wore – and that’s standing in the middle of the room in a hologram. We put film clips and the music there, and people have taken over a million selfies.
Brands like Armani, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Tiffany are all very different and competitive one with the other, yet you are their architect and surely one cannot be better than the other and they should all be at an equal level?
They are at an equal level because it’s all me, but they are all different. Many people ask me, how could you do so many and they all look so different? The first ten years of my career I was doing private homes, and no two private clients want their homes to look the same. It was drummed into my head that you’d better not give me the same sofa that you just gave Mrs. Smith up the block. That design philosophy got drilled into me very early, and it would never occur to me to do the same thing for Chanel that I did for Dior. For Chanel, I pretend I’m working for Mademoiselle Chanel. What would she like? What would she do? What would she ask for? Would it be anything like Mr. Dior would ask for? Absolutely not. They’re so different. Remember my wife Jane is a costume designer, and fortunately she has a vast library of costume design books and very definite opinions, as does my daughter. To me it would be impossible to make them all the same, they’re all such different people, just as Valentino is the opposite end of the earth from Armani. They are miles apart from each other.
Has the philosophy of shops changed a lot?
The philosophy hasn’t changed a lot, but its purpose is somewhat different. When I started working for fashion designers there was no such thing as the internet, no buying online, no Net-a-Porter. If you wanted a luxury dress or handbag you had to go to the shop and that led to the shops not having to be terribly fancy because you had no choice. Now, with the Internet, the brands all say the architecture and the interior design and each sofa and carpet that you design and every lamp and lampshade has to be experiential. The product itself is presented alone on the Internet, but you’re presenting an environment. An interesting statistic is that whether it be jewellery or fashion, out of every four people who enter the average luxury store one leaves having made a purchase. And if you give an elevated, sensual, visual, intellectual experience, the other three will come back and will be the one of the next four the next time.
“For me, the family philosophy to enjoy your life meant surround yourself with the most beautiful things you can find visually. Money is for me very abstract, and art is very real. Whatever I get I spend on art.”
Peter Marino, your background is in art. You started collecting very young with an encyclopedic eye; from Basquiat to French bronzes to antique Greek and Roman archaeology to photography by Diane Arbus. Why did you create your own museum in 2018 and locate it in the Rogers Library of Southampton NY?
It was the heart of the town. The old Rogers Memorial Library that was founded by Harriet Rogers, who left her entire estate to build a library in 1895. Her idea was to leave all of her money to increase the literacy of the locals, there were many farmers who at that point were not literate. She left this incredible gift but it had outgrown itself 20 years before, and the town built another library about five blocks away, and then it was leased by the town. When my wife and I passed it there was a giant sign on the outside which said: Sale. It was really sad. I felt so bad. The legacy to the town was being used to sell sheets and towels instead of increasing one’s knowledge of higher literature.
What did you do?
My wife said why don’t you get one of your very wealthy clients to buy this building that is in really terrible shape and do something with it? I asked four or five of my very well-heeled clients who lived in Southampton, Would you buy it? Would you do it? And they said, we’re really just summer residents and they have so much on their plates that it was a project nobody would undertake. And then Jane said, “It will have to be you. You’re the only one who knows how good the building is. You’ll know how to fix it up.” As an architect I really did want to make a point that adaptive reuse of old buildings is very green compared to this American frenzy of let’s knock everything down and rebuild, which is really not good for the earth in terms of materials. I even think it’s not really good for your soul. Adaptive reuse is great. In Venice everything’s been adapted for centuries, and I’m more of that philosophy than the great American knock it down and build something new. So I restored it.
And you created the Peter Marino Art Foundation museum where you show your collections?
My goal is not as elevated as Harriet Rogers’ to increase literacy, but is to increase people’s knowledge of art: modern art, antique art, medieval art, any kind of art. My message is out in this basically golf and tennis community – how about looking at art on the rainy days?
You show artists like Anselm Kiefer and Melvin Edwards, photographs by Diane Arbus and Priscilla Rattazzi?
The exhibitions are all still things that I own. The Peter Marino Art Foundation shows approximately 200 works of art, and my collection has over a thousand pieces.
Did you invest most of your money in art?
I am art rich and quite cash poor, and I don’t care. (laughs) For me, the family philosophy to enjoy your life meant surround yourself with the most beautiful things you can find visually. Money is for me very abstract, and art is very real. Whatever I get I spend on art.
Music is another passion of yours.
I was chairman of the board of Young Concert Artists for many years, and still every year in Southampton at the end of August pick up a new talent. I have once a year a concert I support at Carnegie Hall and I present a musician – which is well worth it because these kids need a push in life. I am a big music supporter. Possibly because of the way I look, people are always shocked by my total lack of knowledge of hip hop music. (laughs) I should know more about modern music, but there’s so much wealth in music up until 1970 that I still need to learn about, and I haven’t got much past it. I’m a big supporter of musical events, which is why we built a little stage in my home in New York. We are very blessed and every three years William Christie and Les Arts Florissants arrive and make an opera. This November we’re going to do Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with William Christie. Music is a big part of my life.
Do you travel all over the world?
I travel 7 to 11 days a month. The 16 hour airline flights are the only downside in my life, but you really have to see the site. Someone can’t tell you, you’ve got to touch the earth. I’m in Paris every month for a week.
When you collect for example pieces of Lalanne art and furniture how does it work? Do you discover and fall in love with artists?
That’s a nice way to describe it. They are my friends and my guests. Lately I had dinner with Julian Schnabel, and I said, “Julian, would you do some dishes for Tiffany?” And he did a series of dishes, each one with the signature of a poet who meant something to him. Julian and I have been friends since before 1980.
Were you friends with Basquiat?
We were not friends, but I knew Basquiat and went to his very first show with Warhol and the crowd. I thought it was street scribble. I was very questioning about Basquiat and I regret that I did not purchase anything then. It took me several years before Peter Brant said, “Peter, don’t miss the boat.” And then I bought two or three.
Was New York different in those days?
Very different. Cornell University had a remote education program in the fourth year where I spent the entire year in New York City. The Cornell art program was on 17th Street, right where Warhol’s factory was, and that was an eye opener. The teachers took us to the studios of Roy Lichtenstein, Warhol, Jasper Johns, and I met everyone in the painting scene in the 60s. I did understand the value of Warhol very early on. I always felt that art is a) based on truth and has to be 100% truthful, no artifice, and b) it has to totally reflect the time in which you live and the society in which you’re painting. Warhol absolutely nailed American society with his understanding it was about consumerism and celebrityism. A portrait of Marilyn Monroe today can go upwards of $60 or $80 million.
Boontheshop in Seoul. The award winning multi-brand specialty store is located in Seoul’s luxury district, Cheongdam.
Photo © Yunsuk Shim
Tiffany’s includes over 60 artworks, looking at Marino’s commission from Rashid Johnson. Johnson has also exhibited at Peter Marino Art Foundation.
Photo © Manolo Yllera
Chanel Beverly Hills. The interior included a commissioned sculpture by French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel which spans 4 floors.
Photo © Manolo Yllera
Dior Avenue Montaigne in Paris, completed in 2022, has a massive program of 55,000 sq ft including 3 floors of retail, haute couture salons, Le Restaurant Monsieur Dior, La Patisserie Dior, La Suite Dior (apartment).
Image courtesy Dior
Peter Marino Art Foundation. Works by Sanford Biggers
Photo © Jason Loebs
Peter Marino’s rose gardens in Southampton, NY.
Photo © Jason Schmidt
“For Chanel, I pretend I’m working for Mademoiselle Chanel. What would she like? What would she do? What would she ask for? Would it be anything like Mr. Dior would ask for? Absolutely not. They’re so different.”
Peter Marino, do your clients in Korea perceive beauty differently?
I’m absolutely mad about Korea. I love it as a society and their values. They’re doing quite well now, it’s taken them a while to recover from the horrible Korean War in the 50s. The women in Korea are the best dressed in the world. They have the best maquillage. It’s very sophisticated and the people I meet are well-educated, knowledgeable about art, very worldly and have travelled to Europe and America many times. I’m a big fan of the Leeum museum, they have so much beautiful porcelain and ceramic. As for their values for doing a home, they like to take me and say, “Now this is the way we do things in Korea.” And of course, it is different. Just like when we work for the Royal Qatari family and they like to say, “This is how we do things.” There are very big social differences in the way people around the world behave.
But in Asia itself are there huge differences between countries?
Japan, Korea and China are three different continents and have really nothing to do with each other. It is different as England, France and Italy, maybe more different. In the late 80s the Japanese had all the money in the world, buying Rockefeller Center, the Waldorf Astoria, every monument in Paris and London, everything. They became the wealthiest country in the world then, and one of their symbols “we have now won” was to hire an American architect. I built seven buildings there between 1987 and 1991, when the big financial crisis hit. I worked for Isetan and the makeup brand Shiseido, and I did Barneys in Japan. Kimiko my Japanese girlfriend ten years earlier gave me a very interesting piece of advice when I had to get my first contract with a Japanese corporation she said, “You are an artist. Just do not try to be a businessman and negotiate your contract because their businessmen have a samurai mentality. They must win. You’ll get frustrated and you’ll get nothing.”
Is it difficult for you to work in countries like Japan, Korea and China?
Japan and Korea are the absolute best places for an architect to work in the entire world. Japan they have so much respect for architects it is a dream. I remember asking five or six very prominent architects, “What’s your favourite country in the world to work in?” Answer: “Japan.” The big construction companies in Japan are trying to make money but they’re all more than 100 years old and they’re actually trying to forge very long relationships with their clients. It’s not the same in the West where there’s not a friendly attitude between contractors and clients which is sad. In Japan they really want to make the building and they put every effort they have into making it better than you can imagine. It is something extraordinary. They start every project with a Shinto ceremony to ask the spirits of the location to please be friendly.
How is America?
At the moment, I’m afraid to say, we really are not in the best shape. The country that I live in now is not the country I grew up in. Perhaps you could say that about any country in the world, but here I feel the divide very strongly, and I regret that there is so much negativism on both sides. I’m one of those old-fashioned Americans from the 60s, 70s and 80s with political opinions in the middle which are completely disregarded by the far right or the far left.
Are all famous architects of a certain age?
Architecture is a bit like doctors; you become more and more famous as you’re older because you’ve done more work. Now I’ve done more than 40 buildings. It’s the old story of have you heard of a heart surgeon who performed 3 heart surgeries, or do you go to the one who performed 300? If you’ve done good work, age in my profession is one of those things that tends to increase your stature.
Who are the rising stars?
I’m not the one to ask. I’m living so much in the time in which I am. Even when I ask my staff as a joke, “Who are the rising stars?” they go, “Who knows? I’m working 12 hours a day. I don’t have time to look.” We’re a very productive, very hardworking office and perhaps too insular, but I certainly am not looking back. A recent client wanted something a bit retro and I went, “You know, that’s not terribly interesting for someone like me.” I want to be like Warhol and nail the time in which we live. Tiffany’s opened in 2023. In 60 years I want people to go, that defines the style, that was very 2023.
How can you handle your collection, music, your clients, new projects, family, your homes?
I live down the street from the office and I drive out to Southampton on my motorcycle for weekends. I garden all day long Saturday except for tennis for 2 hours. Sunday is again 2 hours of tennis, gym. I enjoy working out, and Sunday evenings I come back to the office from 6 to 11 and do sketching for the week. A very close friend said, “Oh, poor you, you have to work on Sunday,” and I corrected her saying, “a) Not poor me. I’m so blessed that I have so much work. b) It’s not work. Do you say it’s work when Julian Schnabel goes to his studio and does paintings all night long?” She goes, “No.” I said, “Well, it’s not work for me either. Going in and creating is such a joy.” I surround myself with objects. I get inspiration from everything.
You designed your garden?
I’ve made a four season garden that I’m very proud of. I am a garden designer and I’ve made many gardens.
And you design furniture?
I got a very good start by working for three years for George Nelson, the Harvard architect who had so many beautiful pieces of furniture that he designed for Herman Miller. That’s when I really understood that designing a chair can be as difficult as designing a building. With all of the ergonometric parts, there’s nothing harder than designing a chair. It’s a real challenge.
Whatever you build you haven’t changed much over the years, have never been pretentious about your work. Do you get the same feelings you had at the beginning?
I feel so blessed to be where I am. I’m really no one from nowhere. There’s nothing to be pretentious about. I’ve been given that opportunity. What a blessing from God that I was given that opportunity. I am not formally religious but I am a very strong believer in God.
And you’re an organised man with a lot of discipline?
Discipline is very important. I wish I had more but I go in and out of periods. Let’s say I’m very tough and have a project due in seven days. It’s very strict, working, designing and pressuring yourself. Then I need to go off radar. It’s not a constant discipline. I could get much more work done if it were constant.
You’re also a man of passion?
My favourite thing is to become obsessed by a work of art or something. When you say passionate, I call it obsession. I can become obsessed about a new rose. It gets really exciting if you realise you’ve created something unbelievably beautiful. I won from the American Rose Society a huge silver cup this year for my divinely pale pink rose called Heritage. It’s an English shrub rose. I’m obsessed by beauty, and obsession is the basis of all great art. I’m so convinced you cannot be a dilettante and produce great art. It’s impossible.
Do you still have the same passion you had in the beginning when you have a new project?
The architect’s saying is your best day on any project is the day you’re hired and it’s downhill from there, because then all the grief starts. So your high is always at the beginning, and then you get a little high at the end when it’s open – but I’m not somebody who dwells on my own projects. I am mad about the Tiffany that I did, but the fact that they’ve commissioned me to build four new ones around the world is much more exciting. The most exciting project on the boards is Louis Vuitton just bought a building on Champs Elysees next door to the existing one. It will be double the size of 101 Champs Elysees and it will be the world of Vuitton. These are no longer worlds but universes! The universe of Vuitton as Pietro Beccari, the new head of retail, said when we were going over the programme of restaurants, a health club, a hotel element, two museums.
Is there anything else you wish to mention?
My growing African art collection, and artists like Sanford Biggers who are combining African art with Western art. This new meld is the best, the healthiest sign of our culture of black and white uniting and not being different. This is so strong a movement that’s happening. Sanford Biggers really needs to be looked at. He came to my foundation and gave an unbelievable talk. It’s through art that black and white will unite. It is through art.
Art is your flag?
It’s my flag. It’s my philosophy.
Thank you, Peter.
Portrait of Peter Marino:
Peter Marino in his studio, in front a sculpture by Tony Cragg, from his collection.
Photo credit Manolo Yllera
ENJOY THIS INTERVIEW? SHARE IT WITH A FRIEND.