The French architect and designer embraces the grandeur of the past
As an aspiring aesthete and latent Francophile, one of the most unforgettable memories from my younger, globetrotting days was arriving at the Hotel Costes in Paris in the summer of 1997. It was the era of minimalism: fashion-wise, the heyday of Prada and Jil Sander — think Tilda Swinton in I Am Love — and the cleanlined interiors of Philippe Starck, Andrée Putman and Christian Liaigre. (Even Anouska Hempel, queen of the ‘boutique’ hotel, was abandoning the extravagance of Blakes for her new, white brand of Zen at The Hempel.) Passing through the front doors of the Costes, however, was an altogether different experience. As my eyes adjusted to the low-lit interior, I was immersed in the buttoned and bullion-fringed world of Napoleon III. A series of small but opulent salons and conservatory-like galleries exuded personal style as they wrapped around a Neo-Renaissance courtyard. The cool tunes of emerging French DJs were played in this courtyard for which, among a plethora of other attributes, the establishment became internationally renowned. I didn’t know it at the time but I’d just had my first beguiling brush with the work of French architect and interior designer Jacques Garcia. His illustrious career was already decades long but the Costes was a seminal project. Not only had he taken Napoleon III, what is essentially a French version of high Victorian, and made it sexy and cool, his opulent crafting of its interiors sparked a style revolution that has reverberated across the design of luxury hotels, restaurants and private homes ever since. Steeped in the French tradition, Garcia’s aesthetic moves back and forth between the evolving grandeur of the 18th century (he is the go-to person when the furniture needs to be rearranged at Versailles) and the Belle Époque. His sophisticated palette, of course, involves forays into the exotic. One example is the ancient world, as evidenced in his recent restoration of the Pompeii-inspired Villa Astor on the Amalfi Coast. Another is Orientalism, at Paris’s opium den-like Maison Souquet — touted as the most romantic hotel in the world — and in his redesign of the iconic La Mamounia in Marrakech. There are even pared back (for Garcia) touches of Art Deco and ’30s modern at the NoMad Hotel in New York, and another version, albeit more Italian, at its recently opened sister property in Los Angeles. The most typical version of Garcia’s eclectically cultivated style, however, usually embraces, in varying measures, all of the above. ››
Other recent projects include his first London hotel, L’oscar, a tribute to Oscar Wilde; hotel Selman Marrakech; and his reworking of Monte Carlo grand dame the Hotel Metropole where, according to Garcia, the “rocker and the duchess” are thrown together. And then there’s the legendary brasserie Le Fouquet’s — home of the César Awards gala dinner — and Hotel Barrière Le Fouquet’s, on the Champs-Elysées, neither of which required much work as Garcia had ‘done’ them before. “Interiors are similar to human beings,” he says. “The better they are, the less we need to touch them.” The ‘personal style’ of the Costes is a running theme throughout Garcia’s oeuvre but two projects seem especially close to the designer’s heart: Château du Champ de Bataille, the grand 17th-century country house he bought in a state of virtual ruin in 1992, now so lovingly restored it gives Vaux-leVicomte a run for its money; and his more recently developed and self-named ‘resort’ in Noto, Sicily. The château is Garcia’s masterpiece. Rarely, if ever, is the restoration of so extensive a historic property done with such passion and finesse, including his complete rehabilitation of the garden, according to original sketches attributed to King Louis XIV’s landscape architect André Le Nôtre. There is, of course, a twist: the garden hides an exquisite Mogul Empire folly — an entire second, pavilionlike palace made up of a multitude of architectural components, some from 16th- and 17th-century temples that Garcia salvaged in the years following an earthquake in Rajasthan. Noto, on the other hand, is lighter and quintessentially Mediterranean, albeit ever so slightly more erudite — and always romantic, à la Garcia. The great news is it’s available to rent, and sure to elicit the same wonderment as the Costes, all those years ago.
RIGHT French architect and interior designer Jacques Garcia with his mother, Jeanne Garcia, and their dogs Olymph and Leon.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT Château du Champ de Bataille in the upper Normandy region of France. The NoMad Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Selman Marrakech.