New Paper Tigers

Super-salaries in the City have helped to create a trend for rolled paper everywhere. But these days, says Denna Jones, the banknotes are being traded for a more sophisticated display of wealth – money-no-object wallpaper

The 8th of January, 2007 was ‘B-day’ – Bonus day. Some 4000 City workers shared a pot worth £10.9bn. It was the largest bonus payout in the history of the Square Mile – London’s equivalent of Wall Street – and the same scene played out in New York and other financial centres across the globe. The windfall centred on Goldman Sachs investment bank, where employees now fall into one of two camps – the ‘haves’ and the ‘have yachts’. In August The Guardian repeated the news that this figure had soared even higher to a record £14bn.

In the past five years, as such salaries have been going off the scale, it’s the ‘have yachts’ with money to burn who have helped create a booming market for high-end luxury goods. In this market, price is the crucial deciding factor. The higher the price, the more attractive the product, with the added bonus that if you, Mr Gatsby, can afford it, then it’s unlikely anyone else can.

Über luxury-living has sparked a sub-trend for limited edition design. One-off or ‘editioned’ works by living designers are promoted in art galleries and at auction houses. The inherent speculation that underpins the financial markets is the motive for many purchases. Almost $1m (£496 000) was achieved at auction in 2006 for the aluminium chaise longue prototype by Australian designer Marc Newson. Within six months, the anonymous buyer flipped the chaise by placing it with a dealer at $2.5m (£1.24m).

Does it matter that sales are driven by investment strategy? Perhaps all that matters is that bespoke makers benefit. The trend for high-end luxury allows specialist or moribund crafts and techniques to be resuscitated, renewed and reintroduced to new audiences, and
new materials and techniques to be explored. The handcrafted wallpaper of Wouter Dolk is an example of a highly specialised technique, fetching highly specialised prices. His medium – egg tempera on gesso – is ancient and uncommon, but produces luminosity unachievable with oil paint. Without the rise of 21st-century patrons, and in the absence of adequate public sponsorship for the
arts, the market for makers such as Dolk would be limited.

That said, it is encouraging to know that the wallpapers of Dolk, Fromental, Linda Florence and Virgil Marti aren’t limited to their patrons. Each designer has work on display in public buildings – boutiques, restaurants and hotels – where the public can appreciate it. New wallpaper installations by Fromental are soon to be seen in the Mary Norton boutique in Charleston, US (the recently opened Mary Norton in Los Angeles already features Fromental Chinese Sparrow in a custom colourway), Fortnum & Mason in London, the new London Hotel in Los Angeles and the Langham Hotel in London (the last three in association with David Collins Studio). Fromental designs start at £125 per metre. Dolk’s papers begin at £750 per meter, excluding installation. Prices for Florence’s work vary according to the medium, but range from £600 per drop for her ‘chocolate gold on suede’ to £700 for a small wall of ‘grip flock’ and upwards for her laser-cut steel pieces. Marti’s work is priced on application to the Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York.

Virgil Marti
The wild card of the wallpaper world, Virgil Marti is an atypical artist, rather than a designer. His wallpapers are a smörgåsbord of references, from Baroque, Pop Art and Rococo to chinoiserie and cult films. Marti merges these elements to create wallpaper with the intensity and exposure range of a high-dynamic-range digital image, with especially subversive styling. Not for everyone is Mr Toad’s wild ride of imagery, hand-screened with DayGlo inks, tweaked in Photoshop, embellished with velvety black flock (to intensify the illusion of innerillumination) and brought to life with the black light bulbs beloved of 1960s college students and head shops. But Marti’s panoramic landscapes of palm trees, mountains, waterfalls and man-made monuments – bordered with a hot-rod, ankleburner, flame dado and magic mushrooms – have a loyal following.

Private collectors have snapped up Marti’s wallpapers, but the public can experience his landscape paper in a ground-floor public gallery at the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Or visit the men’s toilet at the Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia and do your business facing Marti’s Bully paper.

It’s no coincidence that Marti arranged his 2004 installation at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery like James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock room. Whistler conveniently forgot to get permission before he transformed a client’s sober leather-lined room with gold leaf, blue paint and gold peacocks.

Linda Florence
‘Flat patterns for flat surfaces’ – or so advocated Augustus Pugin, the strident 19th-century architect, designer and wallpaper reformer. What would he make of Linda Florence’s wallpaper designs? Florence has no allegiance to flat walls or paper, for that matter. An inquisitive innovator and materials junkie, she pushes beyond the confines of two dimensions and installs the outcome anywhere from walls to floors, interiors and exteriors. Some of her exquisite papers conform to the sizing and process of traditional wallpapers – she prints by hand and tones with as many as six hand-screened layers – but thereafter the designs veer into territory that might be described as Harajaku Girls meet Pugin Gothic.

Florence’s fixation on new materials and pushing the industry into new ways of thinking inspired her to create ‘grip flock shapes’. Fascinated by the flat, flexible, abrasive gripmaterial used on skateboards (and before she located a supplier willing to provide bespoke longgrip lengths), Florence bought multiple board lengths of grip from a skate shop in London’s Covent Garden, printed it with black flock for a contrast of rough and smooth, and then cut it into standalone shapes. The grip shapes are fixed to the display surface in as tight or as expansive a pattern as the designer and client agree on. For Ted Baker shops in Richmond, Surrey, and Costa Mesa in the US, Florence designed powdercoated, laser-cut steel shapes as a declaration that wallpaper need be neither flat nor interiorsbased. Ted Baker Costa Mesa competes for attention at the upscale South Coast Plaza with a variety of high-end brands, including Tiffany, Gucci
and Prada.

In a nod towards the ever-clement southern- California weather, Florence starts the show on the sidewalk, and extends her hoops, palm trees, roses and swoops from the interior walls to the exterior, where the collective size (each shape is up to 1m wide) of the design can be seen from a distance. The three-dimensional effect is exaggerated by pegging each shape so it stands proud of the wall, with surfaces finish-dipped in either gold or black.

For the Ted Baker shop in Richmond, the lasercut steel is shaped to a traditional wallpaper-drop panel size, and ceiling-mounted in display windows and in front of walls. The filigree pattern allows the window drops to cast interior patterns when the sun shines at just the right angle, giving Ted Baker and his clientele two bespoke ‘wallpapers’ for the price of one.

Wouter Dolk
Somewhere in New York’s Manhattan, a gentleman awakes to perpetual springtime. Giant blue hyacinths, tulips and violets carpet his bedroom walls. Late spring blooms – blue dahlias and blue roses – paper his office. True-blue flowers are rare in nature, but rarer still are wallpapers created by Wouter Dolk. His wallpaper is – like all Dolk’s hand-made, bespoke paper – a labour-intensive, highly specialised creation.

Despite the enormous scale of many of his patterns, Dolk starts small. After an initial site survey, he builds a 1:10 scale miniature. Doors,
windows, corners and furniture are plotted, and Dolk’s preliminary drawings are adapted to fit elevation vagaries or layout problems. Next, industrial, acid-free packing paper is primed with multiple (as many as 30) layers of gesso. Each layer takes three days to dry. The more layers, the more visual depth to the finish, and the greater the sense of trompe l’oeil magic. The pattern is then transferred to the gessoed paper and handcoloured by Dolk with egg tempera. The completed work is backed with fabric, frame-mounted and installed.

Don’t think about making an impulse purchase. Dolk’s method is deliberate, his materials unconventional and his output limited. Like many artists, he controls output by working without assistants. A commission can take up to a year to complete, but for patient (and wealthy) commissioners the reward is un coup de foudre – love at first sight. Dolk’s wallpapers aren’t all hidden in private residences. His paper for the penthouse suite of the Art Deco style Hotel Victor in Miami, US, takes a tropical cue and displays an eclectic flock of
orange birds roosting in grisaille branches. Visit the famed Autostadt in Germany, and stacked rows of butterflies on Dolk’s paper greet visitors. The butterflies subtly mimic the apparent uniformity of the cars displayed in the 20-storey glass towers. Each butterfly may appear
the same, but each is unique, just like Dolk’s bespoke creations.

Steve Wynn isn’t a successful hotelier for nothing. He knows stratification – price points for the haves and the have-nots – is vital for sustainable success. The Wynn Las Vegas Resort has selfcontained villas to shield celebrities from paparazzi, haves, and have-nots. The B-list gets 650m2 villas. A-listers luxuriate in 930m2 minipalaces, with bedrooms decorated with chocolate mint-chip Fromental wallpaper, hand-embroidered with stripes and butterflies.

The beauty and quality of Fromental wallpapers is apparent at first glance, but closer study provides a further reward. Hand-painted and handembroidered in China, to designs created in London by the studio of Tim Butcher and Lizzie Deshayes, Fromental papers have the sublime subtlety of a venerable luxury brand (although the company was founded in 2005), while avoiding the ‘look at me’ embellishments that stud many highend products.

The design, not the designer, is the focus. Painting and part- or fully-embroidering on silkbacked panels, artisans use as many as 14 shades of each thread to create the non-repeating patterns, and spend up to 600 hours embroidering each drop. In the same manner that Wynn stratifies product to widen consumer access, so too are Fromental papers tier-priced, from the painted papers to part-embroidered to fully embroidered.

If you have the desire, but not the recognition to stay in a Wynn villa, experience Fromental embroidered, standalone, silk wallpaper panels in the Gordon Ramsay restaurant at the London NYC Hotel, Manhattan. Importing Blighty to the Big Apple, the panels interpret quintessential features of English life – landscape, architecture and Hyde Park.

Embroidered chinoiserie Fromental wallpaper decorates a private dining room at the London NYC, but with a twist. A blood olive colourway flips expectations of chinoiserie, and completely modernises the traditional. In London, the Blandford Street Restaurant and China Tang at the Dorchester Hotel are lined with Fromental papers too.

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