The parallax of genius

Beauty, luxury and timelessness are the three defining qualities of the British prolific designer Clive Christian. Plus the boldness to try out visual shock therapy. When he started designing kitchens with chandeliers in the late 1970s, it was primarily a passion-driven operation. An eccentric venture and one that would lead to success and advances in the most unlikely sections of the market.

Clive Christian, the man for interiors

Looking back at his beginnings, Clive Christian, who was born in Dundee in 1951, mentions Hardy Amies of Savile Row, who like himself was a self-taught man. The designs and styles produced by Amies were also pushing the boundaries at the time.

He was a man who was known for what he said as well as what he created – a man who was an amazing contradiction of establishment and anti-establishment and a good example of how innovation can lead to openings in many different sectors of the market for luxury articles. He, too, was like a zebra with spots or as Christian prefers to call it, a striped leopard. One can sense his admiration for Amies coupled with his own innate and complete trust in the face of those who advised that acquiring a 5-year degree, studying the classic order and the history of design was a prerequisite for a career in interior design.

But Clive Christian knew his target group already and was ready to go straight to the top.

The heart of the matter

Revolutionary at the time, he started in the kitchen, celebrating it as the relaxing and entertaining hub of the home it should be. By breaking down walls, opening up the space, retrieving the kitchen from the basement, taking it up into the light and giving it a touch of grandeur – hence incorporating chandeliers – he started to break down the established order. “Cooking was becoming more attractive, people were beginning to enjoy it as an experience and generally, houses were too small for a social kitchen,” Christian explains. With this objective in mind, he bought Lancashire Fine Wood Inc. Owning his own furniture company enabled him full control of the design, manufacture and distribution, from the purchase of raw materials, even the bare logs, to all aspects of production. He then extended his reach to the other rooms in the home, moving from kitchen to bedroom and bathroom design with his in-house architectural panelling division and exclusive design schemes for wallpaper and fabrics. A natural progression.

However, having effectively dealt with the whole home, he realised he had to address other disciplines. By now, however, he already had brand fame for design and furniture, so Christian was aware that whichever route he chose to pursue it would be vital that he take carefully measured steps. With his down-to-earth wit, he describes his caution as being “a bit like a moon-shoot – you only need the tiniest little thing to go wrong and you have an Apollo 13!”

The Empire dining-room strikes back

A Christian dressing room for people with lots of dress;

The smell of success

The smell of success

Having decided on luxury as the path to take, Christian had to decide whether he wanted to enter the world of jewellery, leather, fashion, luxury accessories or perfume. As it happened, the Crown perfumery became available and he seized the opportunity. He reasoned that it was a completely different discipline, poles apart from interior design. “Leather and luggage would have offered a more straightforward transfer,” he suggests casually, “but the idea was, if we could make perfume work, from that position we could go anywhere.”

As far as Christian is concerned, high quality perfume is the absolute luxury. One might wear luxury underwear next to one’s skin but perfume on the other hand, is applied directly onto the skin. In his eyes, it was completely underrated. It had lost its identity as a quality product.

Single-mindedly, he waded into the perfume business with the same zeal he had applied to interior design. Picking Crown may not have been entirely by accident maybe. As the Fates would have it, while doing renovation work on his Cheshire home many years before, his daughter unearthed a tiny bottle of Crown perfume. “It was one of those charming co-incidences – we now owned the company that produced that little bottle which my daughter Victoria found 20 years ago,” he says with a broad smile.

The moral of the story

Nothing has changed in Clive Christian’s original approach. He has maintained a crystal-clear vision of creating brand icons, ones that are generic with British luxury much like Rolls Royce. That has enabled him to move gracefully from one discipline to the next. All of his products are made without a reference to cost; his goals have never been commercial. Aspiring to a brand that will survive the sandpapering of time, he offers only articles of utmost quality that possess those reputed “classical” characteristics that simply do not date.

Speaking with Clive Christian, one is aware of his uncompromising commitment to excellence, bordering almost on intolerance for anything that is not “the best” – be that the highest quality ingredients possible for perfumes, the most suitable design for building condominiums, gated communities of about a dozen luxury domiciles, or in his selection of a possible partner with whom to collaborate in the development of a timepiece. The objectives are clear. And he will make sure he was complete control over every aspect of production. He sums up his philosophy in a few words: “Only deal with people and objects you love; handle them with due respect and the rewards will be without compare.” Of course, having talent helps, if not a touch of genius.

A Christian kitchen

Architectural kitchen with the Clive Christian’s signature chandelierswith lots of dress; below: toned-down ivory and oak for restful nights

It is a bright day, late winter as Boris Jeannet, Clive Christian’s associate in Switzerland, meets me at the threshold to the Aladdin’s cave of their showrooms in Zürich. A January sun hits the cut glass of a chandelier that plays its magic, creating shards of light that lead my eye across the sumptuously papered walls. Kept in warm raspberries and creams, the wallpaper, depicting romantic miniatures of country scenes, is signed by the master himself. Details, that make it clear right from the welcoming moment, that this is indeed all about exclusivity. Moving from room to room, a natural passage, a line of design held faithfully, from the entrance through to the study, where most men’s heart miss a beat.

Beneath the limed oak dresser, a grand Westminster desk awaits, with golden rimmed inlaid black leather, an inkwell – one can almost smell the sweet mingling scents of peppermint and pipe tobacco (if it is politically correct today to even mention the word pipe). The associations are without a doubt, of a gentleman’s domain. This is a place to sit back and relish one’s accomplishments, to feel at home with one’s life, to know deep down – this is my very own individual space. A study. Perhaps an old-fashioned concept but one that still holds great nostalgic charm, I realise, as my hand strokes the leather of the table, for a woman too! Leading from the study, the kitchen beckons. A bright airy atmosphere, in creams and ivory marble tones. Above the cooking island, the infamous kitchen chandelier. Being labelled as “eccentric” some 20 years ago, it is now the most copied classic design in the industry.

What’s more – it works! The chandelier is the shining centre-piece of the room and assumes the former welcoming function of a hearth. A good thing, because this room is all about social activity. This is where people meet and chat – drinks are served and the scent of freshly cut fresia in a crystal vase creates the impression of a nearby kitchen garden. It is often said that the kitchen is the heart of the home. A Clive Christian kitchen is, most definitely. From the kitchen through to the bedroom, the senses are addressed once again. Surrounded by materials and textures that appeal and comfort, this is the place to relax. A television built into the foot of the bed is readily hidden at the click of a switch. The en-suite, its traditional fittings, built-in closets and a wall coverings which echo the design of the bed linen, all enhance the inherent charm and validate meticulous attention to detail. The scent here is of course that of the world’s most expensive perfume. Three flacons are displayed nonchalantly beside the lavabo and add a touch of worldly luxury to this intimate space. Boris Jeannet explains that since the official opening in 2009 with Victoria Christian, the company is enjoying a growing reputation here in Switzerland and receiving a lot of attention also in Eastern Europe and Asia, which goes to prove that not only an English man’s home is his castle.

Article by Frances Vetter