Nov 13 2023
Design Dispatch
The inimitable Pippa Garner talks gender hacking, Bulgari’s resplendent new Rome hotel, and anime-inspired dishes.
“I love questioning histories that we accept as true.”


Pippa Garner Talks Gender Hacking, Selling Yourself, and American Ingenuity

In 1982, a weird little book dedicated to what it called “the spirit of American ingenuity” began circulating. Part surrealist prank, part Rube Goldberg invention, part proto–Sharper Image paperback store, the Better Living Catalog included products like the “Video Vanity Mirror” that exist, others like a couch full of leaves that should exist, and odd puns like a pen-knife that is both pen and knife. It was the work of Philip Garner, now known as Pippa Garner, who embodies her own spirit of American ingenuity.

Born in 1942, she grew up obsessed with car culture; was drafted into Vietnam, where she says she was exposed to Agent Orange and today is battling the leukemia it caused; began making work like 1974’s Backwards Car flipped-chassis sculpture that appears to drive in reverse, and a midriff-bearing men’s suit to wear on Johnny Carson. She began transitioning in 1984, refuting binary thinking to make her own body into art.

Her prescient work feels tailored for the present, and indeed the world is finally paying attention. This year, Art Omi has mounted a survey exhibition, Primary Information reissued The Better Living Catalog, and the two groups collaborated on a magnificent catalog called $ell Your $elf and accompanying line of T-shirts and hats emblazoned with slogans like “Obscurity Guard.” In October, OCD Chinatown installed her show-cum-tattoo parlor, “Pippa Garner: I’m With Me,” while this month, White Columns is bringing her traveling exhibition “Act Like You Know Me” to New York.

And yet somehow it feels like an evaluation of Garner’s work has only just begun. On Veterans Day, Surface called her in San Francisco to talk about consumerism, bodyhacking, and making a new T-shirt every day.


What Else Is Happening?

Check-Circle_2xDavide Renne, the newly appointed creative director of Moschino, dies suddenly at 46.
Check-Circle_2x Helen Frankenthaler’s nephew is suing her foundation for “destroying” her legacy.
Check-Circle_2x The Sunset Strip will get an orb-shaped broadcast studio à la the Las Vegas Sphere.
Check-Circle_2x The global wellness economy hits a record $5.6 trillion with signs of further growth.
Check-Circle_2x Brooklyn Museum workers ratify their first union contract, narrowly avoiding a strike.

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The Bulgari Hotel Rome Is a Celebration of the Maison’s Heritage

Bulgari’s second Italian hotel arrives in the city where the brand was itself founded some 140 years ago. What’s more, it’s housed in one of Rome’s iconic rationalist buildings, completed by Vittorio Ballio Morpurgo in the 1930s. Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel restored the building and devised the interiors, including the 114 rooms and suites in palettes of white, yellow, red, and green. Each offers views over Piazza Augusto Imperatore or Villa della Frezza. A material palette of ochre travertine marble and burnt red brick connect the hotel back to ancient Rome; the marble mosaic roundels and handcrafted Murano glass and lights keep things up to date. The 4,500 new plants across both the interior and exterior areas, from birds of paradise and gum plants to herb and fruit gardens, promise a verdant future.

Fittingly, the Bulgari Spa soaks up the influences of local Roman bathing culture, including a green onyx bath for spa treatments and a Baths of Caracalla-inspired mosaic pool from which marble columns rise. The foyer boasts five annual exhibitions of rotating selections from the Torlonia Collection—first up, a seated Augustus as Jupiter in Pentelic marble, holding a globe and scepter. Modern goddesses might want to don Bulgari’s new “Ospitalità Italiana” necklace made for the hotel’s opening, with precious stones symbolizing the nine Bulgari Hotels and a rare ancient Roman coin dating to the first century.

Where better to wear it than one of the six dining options curated by Real’s Niko Romito, including a Bulgari Lounge and Champagne Bar and, overlooking Augustus’s tomb, the Il Ristorante–Niko Romito, which serves up the celebrated chef’s classics like potato ravioli with octopus sauce on Gio Ponti plates.



Una Malan Opens a Design Dreamhouse in the Hills

West Coast design fans have called Una Malan’s La Cienaga showroom home since it opened in 2016. Now, they can venture just up into the Hollywood Hills to her 1930s mansion tucked behind Bougainvilleas and hedges. She’s calling it Una Casa Privada. With its kitchen of Monogram appliances and bathroom fixed with Kallista, it functions like a dreamhouse, and hosts a full calendar of creative and wellness events. But it’s also a gallery, as evidenced by art advisor Carlos Antonio’s careful selection of contemporary work. That includes 40 vendors and collections including Rose Uniacke, Gabriel Scott, Designs of the Time, Loro Piana, and tailored sofas, chairs, and beds made in-house.



Yves Béhar Is Buying Back Fuseproject

In 2014, news broke that Chinese conglomerate BlueFocus Communication Group was buying a 75 percent stake in Fuseproject for a reported $46.7 million. Nearly a decade later, as recession fears loom and venture capital wanes, founder and industrial designer Yves Béhar is buying the design agency back. The move will enable Béhar, who has held steady as CEO since the acquisition, to transform Fuseproject into an entrepreneurial design powerhouse by collaborating with startups as equity partners or co-founders. He has also taken on the role of chief creative officer and co-founder of electric vehicle startup Telo, working on a compact EV pickup truck with Fuseproject as an equity partner. Sporting a compact build, the vehicle seeks to provide an alternative to the hulking “death machines” on the road today.



Performa’s Opening Night Gala Put On Inimitable Shows

This month, the creative cognoscenti flocked to SoHo for Performa’s Opening Night Gala, which kicked off the biennial’s tenth edition. The evening included a series of one-off performances, including Gaetano Pesce’s studio creating an eight-foot-tall resin chandelier in a live workshop. The evening paid tribute to gallerist Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, a Performa board member; Derrick Adams for his participation in three Performa editions; and Pesce, whose six-decade career mirrors Performa’s experimental ethos. The evening raised half a million dollars for the pathbreaking organization.

When was it? Nov. 1

Where was it? Performa Hub, SoHo

Who was there? Connie Butler, Shirin Neshat, Cindy Sherman, Nate Berkus, Julien Creuzet, Laurie Simmons, Maurizio Cattelan, Moses Sumney, Dustin Yellin, Kimberly Drew, and more.



Donna Huanca: Venas del Capullo

When: Until Dec. 23

Where: Sean Kelly, New York

What: With her latest installation, the Berlin- and New York–based artist gets meta by referencing the states of transformation and waiting intrinsic to the creation process. A womb-like membrane envelops the gallery, and within, Huanca has staged kaleidoscopic oil paintings, chrome sculptures, and live performances. Her sculptures, adorned with piercings and braids, reference the human body’s constant state of metamorphosis and Huanca’s own Bolivian heritage. Her work’s interdisciplinary nature shifts the focus from monetary value to the irreplicable experience of witnessing an artistic feat as it unfolds before one’s eyes.



Member Spotlight: Society Awards

Society Awards is the premier designer and manufacturer of awards. Collaborations with world-renowned artists such as Kehinde Wiley and Jeff Koons, along with acclaimed jewelry designers such as David Yurman and design brands like Nambé and Baccarat denote interdisciplinary excellence.

Surface Says: It’s no easy task to craft a commemorative heirloom to mark a feat of artistic excellence, but Society Awards has distinguished itself as the go-to for some of today’s most discerning names.



Today’s Attractive Distractions

Ugly Betty took us on a design journey through gloriously maximalist spaces.

A researcher has identified the mystery man on Led Zeppelin’s IV album cover.

Nadine Estero brings anime-inspired dishes to life on TikTok and Instagram.

Bryan West landed a job reporting on Taylor Swift—and now faces the internet.


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