It is really hard, apparently, to come away in a good mood when you’re a freelancer charged with writing about starchitects’ hyper-deluxe modernist loft developments where the price per square foot is more than your fee.
In Vanity Fair, AA Gill does a whiny but funny but ultimately tedious takedown of the lifestyle purveyors like Andre Balasz and Ian Schrager [and their Nouvel and H&dM lifestyles, respectively], which, in turn reminded me of an article in Departures, the American Express magazine on nearly the same subject.
Curbed quotes Gill very well, so I’ll leave him be [but not without pointing out that he’s romanticizing our homeless street freaks from the cozy charmes of his apartment in London]; but Penelope Green’s AmEx article, though far more civilized, thank you very much, essentially validates Gill’s thesis that this extremely expensive, modern, luxe, minimalist lifestyle is not “about” New York; it’s a global phenomenon distributed along the flight ranges of Gulfstream V’s.
Below are some choice tidbits from Green’s piece [which may or may not be accessible online to non-Platinum and Centurion Cardmembers, so apologies in advance if you get stiff-armed for your demographic undesirability]. It all makes me wonder where all the billionaire freelancers are who can write about this stuff from a practical perspective, free of all the baggage of raging unattainability and deflated despair that inevitably creeps in. Please, billionaires, won’t you write more magazine articles?
Appropriately, the developers’ marketing tools are no longer brochures and offering plans. Now they are sold with glossy faux magazines written and produced by fashion branders (55 Wall and 485 Fifth), stylish videos with sound tracks (anything by Schrager), children’s books (M40), coffee-table books (The Plaza), and even concerts (John Legend, who won Best New Artist at the Grammys, performed at a party for 20 Pine).
“It was the first time I had ever done real estate in New York,” said Brenda Cullerton, a copywriter and brander (for products like Anne Klein, Vogue, Féraud) who was asked to tweak the first “magazine” produced by 20 Pine. “I had a brief to make it sexier, more seductive, so we tinkered. Later all I could think about was that 740 Park built its brand by being totally aloof,” she said, referring to the famously exclusive prewar co-op at 71st Street and Park Avenue. “It kept its mouth shut, whereas these guys…we’re talking megaphone.”
Perhaps the real reference points for these dwellings are Holiday Inns, which were designed by Kemmons Wilson in the same way Ray Kroc designed his hamburgers: to be exactly the same in every city, to wash clean and disconnect travelers from the scariness of the American road…
That sameness [among minimalist projects] can derive from the fact that many of them are not yet constructed—so instead of actual photographs, what one sees are fancy computer renderings.
“Certain projects almost seem designed to look good in renderings,” said Gustavo Bonevardi, an architect who is no stranger to computer animation. He and his partner, John Bennett, developed a five-minute movie for the Aqua development in Miami way back in the dark ages of this technique, which is to say just over four years ago. “There are certain things that really work,” Bonevardi said, “like clean broad surfaces with nuanced radiant lighting, simple geometric designs that accentuate the beautiful lighting technology that computer programs have today. So the medium becomes the project, in a way…”
[M40 salesman Wilbur Gonzalez]: “We’ve had more billionaires walking into our sales office at The Mercer than at any other office,” he continued, ticking them off euphemistically. He was speaking from his cell phone, in a taxi on the way to a showing last spring. “We had the richest man in France, I won’t say who, but you can Google him. Two, no, three billionaires from California, one from South Africa, two English ones, and then we had an Asian one who Forbes says is one of the richest people in the world under the age of 30. Yesterday we had Oscar-winning actors. Also someone in the music business, a world-famous photographer, and a super-model,” Gonzalez finished breathlessly. He is also an M40 buyer, of a two-bedroom he purchased a year ago for $3 million. It doesn’t even exist yet, but he said it’s now worth $4 million. Feeling a bit deflated, I asked him his age. “I’m thirty-two,” he said proudly. “I’ve been doing this since I was twenty. It’s the only job I’ve ever had and it’s just been amazing.”