A natural passion for life
Switzerland harbours an important number of internationally renowned, out-of-the-ordinary personalities. Sometimes, a stroll down Bahnhofstrasse or Rue du Rhône suffices to discreetly recognize some of them.
As of this issue, Swiss Style will collaborate with artist and “man of words”’ Daniel Ybarra to identify some of these hidden pearls from throughout the country.
We begin this first in a series of lifestyle portraits with an exceptional personality, whose main focus in life is family, friends, a banking career and, of course, art: Carlos Esteve, founder and CEO of Geneva-based Banque Heritage.
Enthusiasm and passion
Although on the surface Carlos Esteve appears calm and composed, it is impossible to ignore the enthusiasm radiating from him when he discusses topics that are close to his heart.
“Some people go through life without a passion for things. I have a passion for my friends, my four daughters, for banking and for art.”
It is exactly this dedication that makes Carlos Esteve the ideal first candidate for this new Art of Life feature. His impressive collection includes works by many contemporary artists and his approach to collecting is totally unpretentious.
Nomadic merchant origins
Carlos Esteve has business in his blood. He comes from a family of Spanish merchants who have spread across the world since the 19th century. “The traditional family business has always been agro-industry. For the past two centuries, my family has moved wherever their business has taken them.”
Nomadic blood seems to be quite dominant in the Esteve family and Carlos is no exception. As a true world citizen, he holds three passports – Spanish, Swiss and American.
In 1986, Carlos created a small family office to manage the corporate treasury of the various family companies. This small office would eventually grow into a financial institution that manages assets outside those of his immediate family. When asked what sets Banque Heritage apart from other private banks, Esteve has this to say: “We always thought of ourselves as a family office. Today we probably have a similar offering to most reputable private banks. The big difference, however, is that we have stayed true to our origins and run the institution as if it were still a family office.”
Being a private banker, Carlos Esteve concentrates his career on creating wealth; this would also imply a certain attitude when collecting art. Or would it? “I have always questioned myself about the merits or the futility of collecting art. What is it for? There is no real answer to this question. I simply enjoy looking at beautiful art. Is it an investment? Not conceptually. If it becomes one, that’s fine; I’ll be delighted. But I collect because I like being surrounded by beautiful work. I don’t follow trends, I buy what I like.”
When it comes to friendship, Carlos Esteve has a very clear picture of what this should mean. The most important aspect of friendship is simply getting along with someone. “Friendship doesn’t necessarily have to mean ‘intensity’. I have friends I do not see that often, but they still mean a lot to me. When I see them again I just feel like being with them or hugging them! And more times than not, I won’t really know why I want to hug somebody! But I know instinctively that I share something with this person. The ability to share friendship is not something that everybody has. It is truly a blessing.”
On the road
Being the CEO of a private bank, Mr Esteve travels a lot for business, yet this does not stop him from travelling in his free time. “I love Europe. I don’t need the Seychelles with its sandy beaches. When it comes to vacation I am a city man. I enjoy travelling to cities with a strong historical presence.”
At the top of this list is Paris, closely followed by Istanbul and Rome. “The French capital has the best hotels in the world, such as the Ritz.” In Paris, Carlos Esteve enjoys discovering. “Typically I go to small new restaurants, run by up-and-coming chefs. Given the number of restaurants in the cities, I hardly return to the same one twice.”
When in Istanbul, Mr Esteve’s hotel of choice is the luxurious Çıragan Palace Kempinski. “Istanbul is not a city I really know that well, I just let my friends lead the way and I am never disappointed.”
His travel philosophy highlights an important aspect of his nature: “I am all about discovery. I would rather discover something new than always go back to the same place or do the same thing.”
Wine and dine – business and pleasure
One of the aspects of being involved in private banking is entertaining. Carlos Esteve has about 250 lunches and between 100 and 150 dinners a year in restaurants. When eating out so often, “you are not going for the elaborate and sophisticated menu, but for something light, especially when you don’t do sports!”
Given his extensive dining experience, what restaurants does he recommend in the city he resides and works in? “There are so many nice restaurants in Geneva. I am particularly fond of Le Vallon, Il Mirtillo and l’Auberge d’Onex. I also like Le Châteauvieux, but that’s for complex. My preference, nevertheless, is to eat at home; my cuisine, however, is of the more simple nature.”
With a little help from my friends
Carlos Esteve is not a traditional art collector. “I have no particular approach to art. As a child I was surrounded by traditional classical art. Then I met artists of more contemporary movements. I like to see traditional work in museums, but I would never contemplate buying such a piece. At home I prefer to have contemporary art.”
Through his friendship with Daniel Ybarra, the co-founder of the Abanico Foundation (an organization focused on creativity and specialized in the creation of multidisciplinary and intercultural exchange projects), Carlos Esteve gained a deeper insight into the world of art and befriended many artists.
With a little help from his friends, Esteve developed a more refined sense of what contemporary art is: “We would go to art fairs and discuss the works that were presented. I have the necessary curiosity and my friends have helped me develop discipline in controlling emotions and establishing what it is that I like and don’t like. Upon seeing a painting I liked, I would say, ‘I Love it!’ My friends’ answer would usually be, ‘Why don’t you sleep on it?’ It didn’t take me long to understand what they actually meant.”
Living in art
Carlos Esteve doesn’t just love art; he lives in art. His house, which hosts his extensive collection, is a masterpiece in its own right. His brother Richard Esteve and Andreu Fatsini, a mutual friend of Mr Ybarra and Carlos, were the main architects leading the project. In order to make sure the house would provide the perfect setting for his collection, the artists that feature in it also contributed to creating elements of the house, such as the walls, shutters, windows and even the garage doors! The house is full of natural light, which only highlights the beauty of his pieces and includes some one-of-a-kind features: Situated in his basement, his wine cellar is a cube-like construction made of glass and wood that, like many elements in his residence, deserves to be in a museum.
Teaching and sharing by example
Carlos Esteve is a man of many passions with a very free spirit. Yet at the end of the day, his friends and family are the centre of his universe. “The transmission of values and of joy to children and friends is one of the most important aspects of human existence. Some people do not know how to like or love. This is something that can be taught by example. And I do my best to transmit this to my daughters as well as my friends.”
Concept by Daniel Ybarra / Interview by John Béguin / Text by David Sidler / Photos by Philipp Schiller