His signature look is full-on biker: black leather pants, boots, and cap, with a tight black T-shirt over bulging biceps, and often a pair of black shades. Architect and designer Peter Marino is a big motorcycle fan and a big New York personality. He got his start in the mid-’70s, renovating the Upper East Side townhouse of Andy Warhol and the third “Factory.” Today, Marino is one of the biggest names in buildings. He’s designed more high-fashion boutiques in high-fashion capitals than any other architect in the business. The 59-year-old Marino won an AIA Institute Honor Award in 2007 for his semi-transparent Louis Vuitton boutique in Hong Kong, but he has received just as much attention for his Chanel Tower in the Ginza district of Tokyo, for which he introduced a new form of LED embedded glass. One of the secrets behind the man in black is his rare approach of treating design as an all-inclusive, one-stop shop: inside, outside, and everything in between gets the full Marino treatment. Lately he’s been working in the Middle East, where an influx of money and progressive aesthetics have allowed him to press his ideas into new shapes and heights.
One of his artistic collaborators and good friends is Brazilian artist Vik Muniz. Muniz recently visited Marino in his midtown Manhattan office and, sitting high up over the city at sunset, the two got down to discussing the failures of art museums, why there isn’t enough talent to go around, and why Marino feels most at home on his motorcycle.
VIK MUNIZ: I had to do a bit of a crash course on you today because you’re so prolific. You collect my work and come to my studio and we talk about art, but we seldom talk about architecture.
PETER MARINO: You also made a portrait of my daughter out of chocolate.
MUNIZ: See. That has nothing to do with architecture . . . And you never hear people talk about architecture. It seems to be a social taboo.
MARINO: No, because it’s a profession. Do you really want to sit next to a kidney expert and hear him talk about kidneys the whole time?
MUNIZ: Well, now you have to. Let’s start from the beginning. You were a product of the cultural environment in New York during the ’60s and ’70s. Is there a pop influence to your work?
MARINO: Well, I simply loathe the crude 1960s distinctions between commerce and art. For me, Warhol and pop obliterated all of those separations—that was the whole point of the Brillo Boxes and Campbell’s Soup Cans. And believe it or not, in 2009, moronic journalists are still saying to me, “Your work is so commercial.” Didn’t we cover that 50 years ago? Where have you been? It’s so pathetic. If you do a museum, that’s sacred, and if you do a store, that’s profane. I just say, “Oh, please, get over it. I don’t know what rock you’ve been living under, but you have to crawl out.” So, in a sense, I do have a Warholian thing going on. I loathe when architects only analyze architecture in intellectual, nonvisual ways. I really love direct response, and that’s very pop. I don’t want to discuss abstract transparencies with a bunch of kooks. [laughs]
MUNIZ: What was the difference between Warhol the artist and Warhol the client?
MARINO: As a client, Andy’s taste was so Catholic. I mean, only he could collect early American furniture, French art deco, modern -paintings . . . [sighs] His taste was so varied, which is great because so many artists and architects have such narrow fields of vision. I find it embarrassing for them. Working for Andy opened up a lot of doors and allowed me to like a lot of things that they tell you in architecture school you aren’t supposed to like.
MUNIZ: Beyond Warhol, you have an impressive list of high-profile clients—huge personalities. Is it different to design for these people?
MARINO: One of my first fashion clients was Calvin Klein. We did his first freestanding stores. He was very exact and precise. But talk about high-fashion people who brand themselves! I remember showing him a chair for the boutique that I was designing—which is the hardest thing in the world to design, by the way, a chair. Calvin always had an entourage around him, and I was there alone. So I presented the chair, and Calvin immediately said, “Well, what would Calvin think about this chair?” I got all weirded out and went, “Last time I checked, you were Calvin.” But he was considering Calvin Klein as a brand beyond him. [laughs] So, yes, these people do have very large-scale personas outside of their human flesh and blood.
MUNIZ: And how does Peter Marino feel about that? [laughs]
MARINO: I don’t talk about myself in the third person. When I start doing that, you’ll know I’m having an out-of-body experience.
MUNIZ: But you also work more intimately with some of these personalities.
MARINO: I started off residential, and now only about 30 percent of my work is residential, but I still do residences for the high-profile people. Residential work is extremely difficult, because it is much easier for Karl Lagerfeld to say, “The image of Chanel is x, y, and z.” That’s clear in his head. When you design someone’s house, it’s actually painful. I never say, “This house will be a total reflection of you and any defects in it will make you look defective.” [laughs] But people do expect their homes to be reflections of themselves. So what I say is, “Just pretend this is your eighth home. By then you won’t care.” People start loosening up around number five. It’s no longer a reflection of them—they can just have fun with it. But the first one is excruciating.
MUNIZ: It’s a lot of negotiation?
MARINO: The older I get, the less I negotiate. [laughs] When you first start out, it’s 90 percent negotiation and 10 percent suggestion. When you get to a certain point, those figures reverse.
MUNIZ: Do you make a point of not designing first homes?
MARINO: It’s generally to be avoided, and that’s no joke. People’s first homes are always disasters. It’s like the first time you have sex. It’s never as good as later on. It always gets better. Virgin clients are going to experience some pain, you know?
MUNIZ: But there must be some difference between designing residences and designing stores. For a store like Chanel, you’re dealing in desires.
MARINO: Yes, we’re trying to create desire from the very first moment a person walks in. You’re trying to make them buy everything in the store.
MUNIZ: I remember going to your house and seeing Galli da Bibiena drawings of opera settings, and I was completely taken aback. I wondered if you design thinking in terms of stage settings.
MARINO: I don’t think of my work that way. What we do is permanent and so expensive. I’ve done stage sets in the past, and it’s about being temporary and being seen from very far away. The difference is crucial. In stores, the public is one inch from everything. I never use fake stuff. What I do is real—you need to be able to touch it, to reach out and grab it. My reason for collecting Bibiena is that I loved the whole one-stop shopping aspect of former monarchs. Because they could hire a family and say, “I need an opera house for my 50th anniversary. We’re going to put on three operas and we need sets.” So the nephew would do the sets, the uncle would do the house, etc. I love that. You can’t do that today. You would have to go to 400 consultants to get it done—consultants, architects, theater designers, lighting specialists . . . Or you just hire the Bibiena family.
MUNIZ: But you’re—I don’t want to say a one-stop shop—but you’re an architect and a designer. How do you differentiate your roles as architect and interior designer?
MARINO: For me, there’s absolutely no difference. If I’m drawing a pool or a telephone or a chair or a building, it’s all the same.
MUNIZ: There’s no inside out, outside in?
MARINO: I don’t have a different approach. I know some people do, but I don’t. It’s supposed to be about which side of your brain your mind uses . . . Look at my office: If you go one way, it’s 100 architects. If you go the other, it’s 40 decorators. The whole point of this office is to use both sides. I never thought I was special, but I’ve been in business now for more than 30 years, and I can’t find too many other people who do what I do in that one-stop approach.
You’re one of the most-sought-after architects on the planet. You were brought up in Queens, but I can’t quite place your accent. It sounds vaguely European.
My parents spent a lot of money so I wouldn’t sound like I came from Queens. I went to speech class.
To get rid of your accent? Or did you have a speech impediment?
No. Move on.
You’ve been called the king of luxury for designing hundreds of stores for the likes of Chanel. You’ve done homes for billionaires like David Koch and Stephen Schwarzman. How do you feel about Occupy Wall Street?
I kept wanting to be sympathetic, but when they interviewed the poor little things, their agenda was simply: “We’re going to protest!” A Wall Streeter said to me: “I’m so tired of hearing about a growing divide. If you’ve got one million dollars and the other person owes one million, the divide is going to grow.”
Andy Warhol gave you your big break — you designed the third incarnation of his Factory and his town house on East 66th Street. What kind of client was he?
Andy had, like, three expressions: “Gee whiz,” “great” or “not at all.” But he was quite clear about what he wanted. He was pretty tightfisted, because he had started with nothing and made every single penny himself. I remember when the estimates came in, he asked Philip Johnson, “Philip, is this normal?” And Philip said it was O.K.
You were once known for wearing Armani suits. Now your office has a large photo of you in full chain-mail armor.
Motorcycle garb is the way I looked to Warhol. Then came the Armani suits. Andy said: “Look at you! What did you do?” I said: “I’ve had Giorgio Armani as a client for eight years, and I got a great number of gorgeous free suits. Hello!” After I finished with Armani, I said: “I’ve got to get rid of my duds. I’m just going back to my motorcycle clothes.”
I assumed from the biker look that you were gay, but you have a wife and daughter. Do many people make this mistake?
I wouldn’t know. I’m a very happily married man with a gorgeous 20-year-old daughter at N.Y.U.
A 2004 New York Times profile described you as tyrannical. Accurate?
My name is on the door, and I care very much about the design that gets put out. I’m sorry, but it has to be my way. You learn that by working for people like I. M. Pei. You think he isn’t a design tyrant? Is Calvin Klein a tyrant? When it came to his dresses, he had to be. He’s not going to listen to 28 assistants and go, “Yeah, that’s great, let’s try that, and I’ll put my name on it.” It doesn’t work that way in design.
You work all over the world. How much do your Middle Eastern clients differ from your Western ones?
I had a wonderful interview once with a fantastic Saudi princess about doing a large home. I said, “You know, we Westerners are very pretentious, and we don’t really want to work if it’s going to be in the Arab taste, all white and gold and mirrors.” She said: “I know exactly what you mean, and I can’t believe that you had the you-know-whats to say that to my face. That’s precisely what I want!” So I said no.
A Louis Vuitton Lockit GM bag sells for about $3,200 in the store you designed in Shanghai. That’s an average annual salary for a Chinese worker. Does that give you pause?
People in Shanghai make a lot more money than the farmers in the rice paddies. The rice-paddy farmers are not buying Louis Vuitton bags, but the upwardly mobile ones in Shanghai, who are all working in Wall Street-type firms, are infinitely better-dressed than people in the West. Their women take this fashion thing seriously.
You’ve seen China’s economic expansion firsthand. How frightened should we be?
I opened this major Chanel in Shanghai, and there was a bloody highway like the F.D.R. Drive going right along the river. They said, “Highway very bad along the river.” I went six months later, and the highway wasn’t there. In the West that might have taken 40 years. Shanghai is about 23 million people. I come back here, and New York feels like Iowa.
When the Elevators open onto the 36th floor at Peter Marino Architect, the first things visible are multiple Damien Hirst dot paintings and a stainless-steel skull with bullets for teeth by Joel Morrison. There are also several massive black-and-white photographs of the principal of the firm, Marino himself, standing always with legs slightly apart and a black leather policeman’s cap pulled over his eyes, looking like a cross between a Hells Angel and Karl Lagerfeld. By the reception desk, there is a Han Dynasty horse carved from an enormous block of sandy stone, and there is one wall of Warhol lithographs in bright, saturated colors—and there has also been delivery of a gleaming new KTM motorcycle. The next morning Marino will leave for a ten-day motorcycle trip across the American West. “Live to ride and ride to live, dude!” Marino says. He is 62 years old and has a trim, jet-black Mohawk and goatee. He is wearing a sleeveless leather top that is open on the sides except for three straps secured by shiny silver buckles, a pair of low-rise leather pants that lace up the backside, a snug leather codpiece, and leather motorcycle boots that cause him to walk with his legs open in a V, just like in the pictures. “This is my summer leather,” he says and raises his bare, tattooed arms to the sky, showing a thick strip of muscly midriff. “Air conditioning!”
He is looking forward to this break for the chance to stare, for hours on end, at a white line on a black highway. Sometimes, when he is riding, he plays Wagner’s entire “Ring” cycle through in his head. After his ride, he’ll go straight to Paris for the opening of the Louis Vuitton boutique he’s just redesigned, and then he’ll go to Beirut to check in on a luxury-condominium and hotel complex he’s been working on for the past year and a half. After Beirut comes Shanghai, where he’ll attend the opening of the company’s largest store ever—the largest store he’s ever designed. “I’m like a sleep-hibernation camel, dude,” Marino says. “I’ll go on four hours a night for a while and then I’ll come home and be asleep for 72 hours straight.”
In the past twelve months, Marino has been far more awake than anything else. In addition to the enormous Vuitton openings, there have been new boutiques for Chanel, Céline, and Zegna, among others. And then there is the work he does on the private homes of Bernard Arnault, various members of a Middle Eastern royal family, and other members of the international superrich, like the English jeweler Laurence Graff, who has hired Marino to design a whole new kind of chalet on a hillside near Gstaad. He’s just signed with the Shinsegae corporation, which means both commercial and residential projects for the majority shareholding family. Marino’s firm, which has a staff of 150, completed 100 projects in 2011. None had budgets under $5 million, and only ten had budgets under $10 million. It can feel, at times, like Marino designs everything. Or, as he puts it, “I fucking do everything!”
Marino has been an architect for a long time—ever since he graduated from Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning in 1971. But it’s never been quite like this: Marino has become the No. 1 designer of the luxury landscape, the man who best understands how to move a customer on any continent through salons full of leather and lipstick and straight to the register. He knows how to work for any number of competitors—walk down 57th Street near Fifth Avenue: That’s Marino’s Vuitton, Marino’s Chanel, Marino’s Christian Dior—while keeping the brand identities intact and the sales figures brisk. Luxury, after all, has had a banner year despite absolutely everything else, and Marino is delighted. “Using ‘the Pedro’ produces very large profits,” says Marino, referring to himself, wagging a finger that is covered, like all the rest of his fingers, in an enormous silver ring. He agrees that luxury is on fire these days, and, he says, “I feel very much a part of that growth.”
Marino is an unusual high-fashion creature in ways beyond the codpiece. He has three distinct ways of speaking: There is the default speech, which bears traces of his native Queens accent (he had a childhood coach to lose it, but sometimes it’s there) and in which most sentences begin and/or end with an enthusiastic dude. Fucking is a top adjective. And then there’s the whole third-person thing, or “the Pedro,” which he adopted after an article in a Spanish magazine referred to him as Pedro el Grande, Peter the Great. That he’ll use in a variety of contexts, like when giving a tour of the Chanel boutique in Soho, where he curls up on a leather banquette in the dressing room and purrs, “The Pedro loves leather,” or when he is asked if he wears Chanel’s newest men’s fragrance and he answers, “Fragrance is not allowed in the clubs where the Pedro goes.” He also uses it to explain the 30-year absence he took from riding big bikes. “I wanted to wait until my daughter was a teenager,” he says, “in case the Pedro checks out.” And then, sometimes, he lapses into a full English accent. Not a posh one, exactly, but one that is more London, that calls to mind the swinging sixties along the King’s Road. He uses this one frequently when he’s talking about his wife, Jane Trapnell, and he talks about her a lot. “She’s gorgeous,” he’ll say. “Just brilliant.”
If Marino’s personal style is specific and indelible, his architecture and interiors are much harder to pin down. Marino’s boutiques do not instantly assault with their Marino-ness, like, say, Rem Koolhaas’s Prada store on Broadway and Prince. (“Where are the clothes?” Marino asks. “And by the way, has Rem Koolhaas ever been asked to design another store?”) It’s all very clean and spare on the outside. “I do really modern with materials that are so luxurious that they’re, like, baroque.”
Inside a Marino space, it’s all smooth-moving luxury, where drawers and doors close in perfect silence, and the elevator button is weirdly satisfying to push. They are well and flatteringly lit and, like Marino’s office, full of eclectic collections of art. They feel rich and full and calm. Because the bags are the number-one moneymaker for all these companies, they are always right up front, and they are always easy to see and touch and admire. “If something’s a high-margin product, I understand its importance to the store. If Karl’s going Byzantine, you’re going to want a new wall for jewelry,” he says. There are very comfortable places to sit when you’re trying on shoes, and the ready-to-wear tends to be tucked away, in upstairs salons that feel almost residential, private enough places to undress and assess. The genius of a Marino store might be that you move through it without being assaulted by anything specifically overwhelming and are instead overtaken by a feeling of affluence, efficiency, comfort, and calm. Marino deliberately avoids the news—“For me, it’s worse than religion”—but he is well aware that the luxury boom is coexisting with huge discrepancies in income, and he tries to be sensitive to that when he imagines these temples to cash. “I’m in Spain for Loewe,” he says, “and there’s 20 percent unemployment. You have to be very subdued.”
And for the new Céline store on Madison Avenue, he imagined a version of luxury congruous with that of the brand, which is to say incredibly quiet. At least one third of the space is taken up with a curved staircase, and, as Marino says, what is more luxurious than the ability to use space that way in that Zip Code?
In fact, Marino’s most important aesthetic motivation may be his claustrophobia. “Dude,” he says (slight Queens accent), “I can’t even take a shower.” Marino lives in a colossal apartment on the far eastern side of 57th Street. There is a stage in his apartment, and to celebrate big anniversaries, Marino and Trapnell produce operas. Next year is their 30th, and they are planning a production of Orfeo ed Euridice for 100 guests.
Because of his claustrophobia, Marino’s first mission with any space is to open it up and access all available natural light. “Ask any woman,” he says. “I asked my wife. She has a very humanistic take on things, and she’s like, ‘You need light.’ Look, I believe that women would crawl across broken glass to get a cool pair of shoes. But if you want to have a nice time, you need natural light.
“Nine out of nine architects start with a sketch and then they say, ‘What should we make it out of?’ ” Marino says. “I start from the bottom up, what should it be made out of, and then I worry about what should it look like. The material, the color of the material, the way it feels, and the way you respond to it is every bit as valid as the form or the shape.”
As Maureen Chiquet, the CEO of Chanel, says, “His finishes are sublime.”
So what materials interest him most?
“Leather,” he says, without missing a beat.
Like so many of the eccentrics who still dot the fashion world, Marino’s career started with Andy Warhol, whom he met through Pat Hackett, who was a friend of a friend of his from architecture school. He started lurking around the Factory on weekends, and eventually he became part of the crew. This was during the seventies, when Warhol was doing lots of society portraits, and the Agnellis and Rothschilds took a shine to Marino, and, as he puts it, someone had to design their houses. Warhol hired Marino to do his own house, on East 66th Street, in partnership with Jed Johnson, and then to design the Factory when it moved to the north side of Union Square. And then came Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé, who had an enormous apartment in the Pierre, and then eventually the Pressman family, who were in the process of converting Barneys, their bar-mitzvah-suit company, into something fashionable and fantastic. Who better than the architect of the Factory?
“The important thing to understand is that now people say, ‘Oh, let’s go see that new store, it’s so cool,’ but in the seventies, doing ‘dress shops’ was the dog end of the architecture business. No serious architect would ever touch a ‘dress shop.’ It’s a giant OMG when you think about it now, but I was really the first person to do it. And that was really the beginning of my career.”
With the Barneys job, Marino started meeting people. He flew to Milan to meet Giorgio Armani and Carla Fendi, to Paris to meet the Hermès people. Eventually, he attended the ready-to-wear shows, standing on his tiptoes in the back of the house. “There’s so much effort in a fashion show,” he says. “There’s so much beauty. They’re these kind of massive, mixed-arts things. They rarely achieve the overall beauty of a painting, but the humanity is off the charts. They’re collaborative; they’re operatic.”
Marino had found a home in the fashion world, and by the early nineties he was designing boutiques for Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, and Donna Karan.
Marino did not always dress like a Village Person. He started out in jeans and a T-shirt—“like a total pig,” he says—and then, during his years with Armani, favored a well-cut Italian suit. But twelve years ago, he had a life-altering conversation when he went to his doctor for a checkup. “He said, ‘If I told you right now that you had cancer and a month to live, what would you do?’ And I said, ‘I would get a bike and ride, and if it was painful I’d go off a cliff and die happy.’ And he said, ‘You better start doing that right now.’ For the first 30 seconds, I was like, Where are we going with this?, and then he was like, ‘You don’t have cancer, but you’re getting to a certain age, and I want you to enjoy your life.’
“He’s from Argentina. He’s, like, smoking while he’s telling me this. And I’m like, ‘Okay, so I don’t have cancer? How about you? You have to stop smoking and you have to start working out.’ ”
So he waited until his daughter was in her teens, he dug out his old chaps, and he got a new bike. It all just took off from there. These days, most of his leather is custom-made by a tailor named Felix, and Marino even wears it when he’s at his house in Southhampton, where hydrangeas flank the gravelly drive. Trapnell—who Marino is quick to point out is “a very, very, very elegant Wasp. Literally, like, a Mayflower Wasp” (English accent here)—even gets involved. “And by the way, I need her to dress me in the morning. She’s like, ‘Dude, why don’t you just get a valet?’ She’s a very elegant woman. Wasp meets Southern Italian boy, instant attraction. Both sides.” (Of his wife, Marino explains that they share “deep karmic chords. She’s a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford. My advice is, marry someone who’s smart. Sex is great for twenty years, but then you’ve got to talk to her.”)
In the past couple of decades, Marino has changed, too—he’s become an icon. “When I first met Peter, that was not his look, but my look was not kilts, either,” says Marc Jacobs. “We both went through a physical transformation, and I think we both get off on the persona we’ve created. And, you know, it seems perfectly normal to me. In the world that we all run in, I don’t find anything odd. I think of a musical number from Gypsy where the strippers are all saying, ‘You’ve got to have a gimmick.’ You look at Karl, you look at Peter, and that’s what’s expected at the top of your game, that your identity and your lifestyle become as much of interest as the work you create. I get a lot of attention for showing up in a lace dress, or for who I’m dating. There’s no separation of you as a person and the work that you do; it’s all this performance art of life.”
Marino is a great show—but inside his boutiques he knows who the stars are. “I do believe that merchandise totally rules,” he says. “And I believe that the primary function of what I’m doing is to move merchandise.”
Twenty years ago, the architect Peter Marino vaulted onto the style world’s A-list with his limestone-clad design for the Barneys New York flagship, helping ignite a mania for luxurious retail environments that endures to this day. Hundreds of boutiques later, for clients like Louis Vuitton and Dior, Marino has nearly doubled his business in the last two years and is riding higher than ever — more often than not on a Harley-Davidson.