Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Living It to the Max; More Was Never Enough for Designer Tony Duquette. Now Collectors Can Buy a Piece of His Baroque, Extravagant Style

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Living It to the Max; More Was Never Enough for Designer Tony Duquette. Now Collectors Can Buy a Piece of His Baroque, Extravagant Style

Article excerpt

Byline: SUSAN MOORE

WHO needs marquetry when you can have Duquettery?" proclaimed the legendary American Queen of Style, Elsie de Wolfe. The indomitable, long-lived Miss de Wolfe, later Lady Mendl, was a pioneering interior decorator long before anyone had thought up the term; her influence, eerily, is still all-pervasive (she had a penchant for chintz and chinoiserie, mirrors, trellis, animal prints, stripes and all things French).

Tony Duquette was a young Los Angeles designer. After admiring a theatrical table decoration he had confected for a Hollywood dinner, she summoned him and ordered a meuble. The awed Duquette duly discovered that she meant a grand piece of furniture, and transformed a black-lacquer secretaire by painting the outside dark green, lining the interior with mirrors, encrusting the drawers with enormous glass emeralds and decorating the doors and interior shelves with shells and blackamoors made of his own recipe of gesso and glue. Mounting the top was a series of sculptured sprites that Lady Mendl came to call her household gods. She declared him a genius, the new Cellini, continued to patronise him - and insisted that all haute Hollywood did so too.

Duquette made her grapevine console tables and candelabras out of feathers, gesso figures, ribbons and branches. Her wild-child prot?g? went on to be the first American honoured with a solo show of sculpture at the pavilion Marsan at the Louvre in 1951, and to design interiors, furniture and fabrics for Elizabeth Arden (an Irish castle), Doris Duke and J Paul Getty. He designed fantastical sets and costumes for MGM musicals, opera, ballet and Broadway shows, and jewellery for the Duchess of Windsor - and, latterly, Tom Ford at Gucci. His individual and instantly recognisable style hinged on his ability to recycle and reinvent - he was one of nature's scavengers, but one, unusually, also blessed with a baroque sensibility. Duquette was nothing if not a maximalist. More was never enough.

Extraordinary environments were created for himself as well as for others.

At one time he and his wife, muse and collaborator, the artist Elizabeth "Beegle" Johnstone, owned 10 properties, as well as the studio they opened in 1956 where peacocks joined guests for tea and Tony, resplendent in, say, the robes of a cardinal, sat on a throne from the Chapultepec Palace in Mexico.

Dawnridge, for instance, evolved piecemeal alongside a jungle garden above a ravine in Beverly Hills; Cow Hollow was a Victorian birdcage of a house in San Francisco. At his 156-acre Malibu ranch, they built 21 pavilions - follies of Chinese pagodas and Georgian pavilions carved out of an ever-fertile imagination and architectural fragments of old Hollywood. Thus Greta Garbo's bedroom window was incorporated into one of the guest houses; recycled materials like lemon juicers were used as finials, while a Federal sideboard found itself serving as a base for a kitchen sink. …

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