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Peter Marino: Fashion’s Most Connected Man via [Harper’s Bazaar]

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Peter Marino: Fashion’s Most Connected Man

The industry’s hot-shot architect might just be his own greatest

Inducing sartorial insecurity in the big guns of Paris fashion —
particularly Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano, with their iconic visual
status — is no mean feat. But their good friend Peter Marino managed it
at the unveiling of his renovation of the flagship Christian Dior
boutique in Paris in 2007.

“Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano came,” starts Marino, sitting in
his expansive office, Steven Meisel photographs on the wall, a huge
David LaChapelle image of him on a Harley-Davidson in the corridor.
“John, as you know, dresses quite out there, and he came wearing a
leopard vest and a leopard hat. Karl came all in black, a shirt with a
very tall collar. And I came in a sleeveless leather shirt, leather
trousers, and my leather cap. John turned to Karl and said, ‘I don’t
know, baby. We’re going to have to get a bit further out there. Peter
has really gone a stretch.'”

Galliano couldn’t have said it better. In the past decade or so,
Marino has gone a stretch and then some. He’s become the fashion world’s
architectural adventurer, transforming our notions of luxury retail
with his work for Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, and Fendi. His take on
flagship stores, like Chanel’s 10-story tower in Tokyo’s Ginza district,
with its high-tech glass facade, has turned boutiques into artistic
objects as well as priceless marketing tools, and he was doing it long
before the likes of Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron deigned to
be commercial.

Simultaneously, he has renovated his own physical form as a Tom of
Finland drawing made flesh. Along with Marino’s extensive wardrobe of
S&M-tinged leathers, exclusively in black, there are his bulging
muscles — the result of five weekly gym visits — and some rather
wonderful tattoos: a vivid Chinese dragon that goes over his shoulder
and a sleek Japanese panther on his left forearm. It’s a stark contrast
to the button-down shirt and occasional tie he wore 35 years ago to his
first solo job: the renovation of Andy Warhol‘s townhouse. (He went on
to design the third Factory in New York at 860 Broadway and interiors
for such luminaries as Yves Saint Laurent and the Agnellis. In 1986, he
created the template for luxury department stores at the original
Barneys New York.)

peter marino

Today, he’s in full-on biker-boy gear. We’re meant to be chatting
about the collection of 16th-, 17th-, and 18th-century French and
Italian bronze sculptures he has amassed over two decades. Marino is an
obsessive collector of everything from Depression-era cookie jars —
something he began buying on fiea-market trips with Warhol — to Roman
antiquities. Thirty of Marino’s bronzes will be installed this spring at
the Wallace Collection in London for the show “Beauty and Power:
Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes from the Collection of Peter Marino.” On
display will be Samson and the Philistine, attributed to
Baccio Bandinelli, Antonio Montauti’s seductive Diana, a pair
of rare and beautiful high-baroque vases, and Bacchus and Ariadne
by Corneille Van Clève.

Marino is a bona fide lover of art. For his stores, he has flown in
artists like Michal Rovner, Jean-Michel Othoniel, Paola Pivi, and the
late François-Xavier Lalanne to do site-specific installations. “Other
firms bring in art; I bring in artists.”

Now, however, he starts cataloging the contents of his array of
leather fashions, which he has built up since rediscovering his love of
motorbikes. There are black leather straps to hold up his trousers,
straps to hold his wrists straight when he’s on one of his many bikes
(Harley-Davidsons, a Ducati, and his beloved Triumph), and arm straps of
which he jokes, “Because they help my veins come out when I need to
find them.” There are also Red Wing motorcycle boots, leather
neckerchiefs to block the wind from his chest (“I kind of invented it”),
skullcaps, and New Jersey patrolman hats.

“I started off with all Harley-Davidson clothes: leather jacket,
leather vest, leather trousers,” Marino explains in a lisping, almost
cut-glass English accent, though he hails from Queens. “And then,
because I’m in the fashion world, I had some gear made for me by Hedi
Slimane when he was still at Christian Dior. Really good gear: jackets
and coats. I still wear them. I can’t tell the other bikers that I got
them made by Hedi. It sounds so gay. I just say, ‘I got it from some old
catalog.’ I can’t say, ‘Oh, I got it custom-made in Paris by Dior.’ It
is beyond gay.” He chortles.

Marino also has Dior summer and autumn jackets with extended cuffs
and zippers. “I love zippers,” he says. “And Hedi’s summer pants are
paper thin. They are like wearing nothing. So I have change-of-season
leathers. Not many bikers have that; I’m a biker who is into fashion.”
All in all, Marino has about 25 pairs of leather trousers. “I have a
house in Aspen and a house in Southampton, so I keep a few pairs in each
of those.”

It turns out the architect even has his own leather tailor, found
once he started going to police and military shops in New York and
needed alterations. “They called me Policeman Pete in the office,” he
says. “I also got Amsterdam cop and Berlin cop uniforms.” Of course,
law-enforcement suppliers, even of the European variety, aren’t exactly
Hedi Slimane. Marino’s tailor made the pants tighter and added zippers
at the bottom and a stripe down the side. “That has become my signature
look,” he says. His wife, Jane Trapnell Marino, is a costume designer
and, according to Marino, “a big help.”

The leather-daddy look is one he gradually started adopting 12 years
ago, when he revisited his adolescent fascination with motorcycles
around the time his parents passed away. “No reason not to do what you
want to do anymore,” he says. “My wife was cool about it. She’s Scottish
— tough as nails.” At first, Marino would wear leathers to ride to work
and then change into a shirt and pants, which soon became a bother. “I
said, ‘I’m tired of changing into office clothes’ and started leaving my
leathers on. That was all. If I’m covered in mud now, we have some
hoses out there,” he says, winking. “And then, of course, I became
identified with leathers and I thought, why not?”

Others have not reacted as well as his spouse has to the newish
improved Marino. On a recent foray out in Paris with Marc Jacobs, he was
met with stunned silence. But Marino clearly delights in telling the
tale. “Marc and I went to a dinner about six months ago at a bourgeois
restaurant called Le Duc. The dinner was for the artist Andreas Gursky,
and both Marc and I collect him,” he says. “I walk in, ooh, in urban
drag, and Marc came in on my arm wearing a plaid miniskirt and boots.
The cutlery just dropped. Marc is like, ‘I don’t know, dear, we’ll just
have to get to the seat over there. No, we better go out now for a
smoke.’ I said, ‘We can’t go outside. We just walked in!’ It was a
horror, even though it was quite funny. Gursky, he’s German, so he
didn’t find us amusing. I was talking about photography. Stone silence.
It was hilarious.”

The parents and teachers at his daughter’s private school in
Manhattan weren’t much more receptive. “I wasn’t really a big hit with
the administration at the school,” Marino says. “Every time something
happened with my daughter, it was ‘What do you expect? Look at you.’ I’d
say, ‘What do you mean? I don’t understand.’ I let my wife take care of
the education after that.” There was little love from the school’s
mothers either, even though he designs the luxury stores many of them
shop with gusto. “Put it this way,” he says. “None of them ever talked
to me. New York is completely tribal. It is much more provincial than
people think, particularly in that world of private schools.”

Still, his leathers finally came in handy just as his daughter, now
18, was about to graduate, at her post-prom party. “I appeared in full
policeman’s drag with a very large baton. And I went like this,” he
says, making a light whacking gesture, “on the backs of [kids’] legs
when I saw any of the naughty kids drinking or doing something.” He
continues, “They have the rep for not behaving, because they just want
to get drunk. So I was Patrolman Pete in drag. I whacked a few backs of
thighs.” Of his daughter, Marino says, “She’s a bit of a rebel herself.
She is a chip off the old block. She looked like this at 16,” says
Marino as he shows me a Steven Meisel portrait of her. “She was a very
fast kid. Very fast. Who at 16 gets her photo taken by Steven Meisel as a
birthday gift? She was going to Paris couture shows at four years old.
That is not a normal upbringing.”

It sounds a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. Marino was
gallivanting around New York’s club scene and the Factory while barely
out of his teens. He has a reputation for living life at full throttle —
excuse the pun. As his dear friend John Galliano puts it, “Sometimes
when I go out onto the runway at the end of my shows, people debate
about my look. But it’s a show look to reflect the mood and the moment.
Peter is his own greatest creation, and it’s not limited just to
finales. When you go to an event with Peter, he pushes ‘total look’ to a
new extreme. I thought the fashion designers pushed the boundaries, but
when it comes to dress codes, Peter goes that whole extra mile! He is
great fun and a law unto himself. He makes you want to push yourself to
extremes, in your mind as much as with your own styling.” Galliano adds,
“With him, anything goes as long as it inspires him.”

Which brings us back to our original subject: Marino’s art
collection. “I’m obsessive about everything. It is just the way I am,
dude. I don’t know why,” he says, immune to the irony of using the word dude
while discussing a multimillion-dollar cache of works. “I collect
antiquities, I collect photography, I collect antique party books [from
the] 17th century.” Antique party books? “If Louis XIV visited
Strasbourg, the town would make a book with prints and [lists of] all
the party arrangements of each meal and everybody who went,” he
explains. “I have as many of those as I can get. I have the party book
of when William and Mary arrived in London. [It has] everybody who was
in their party and everybody who met them and what they were wearing
every day and at every meal. These are amazing. I really like them. I
used to be a party boy.”

And of course there are the 30 bronzes headed for the Wallace
Collection, which Marino describes as “magic.” French furniture expert
Thierry Millerand tells me later of Marino’s pieces, “There is a nice
diversity in this collection. You have small bronzes, you have big ones.
You have pairs, you have single ones. There are major masterpieces. It
is a great survey. The most important is by French sculptor Corneille
Van Clève: Bacchus and Ariadne. It is a major, major piece. The
size and the composition, the sculpture. Whichever angle you look at it
from, you find no mistake. The patina is another important element in
the appreciation of bronzes. And this is a beautiful, beautiful thing.”

Says Marino of his prized pieces, “It’s everything I love: great
artistry combined with great technical prowess. I love the depth and the
patina that gets better with age. You are supposed to touch bronze; it
is very sensual. The more you touch them, the better they are. I really
like the finishes, most of which are black. Someone once asked me what
my favorite color was. I said you have got to be joking.”