Style | The Aesthete

Alasdhair Willis talks personal style

Alasdhair Willis shook up the contemporary British furniture scene when he founded Established & Sons in 2005.

October 03 2009
Maria Shollenbarger

My personal style signifier is my Rolex Explorer II. It was the first thing of real value I bought myself when I started earning money, and I never take it off. It’s much cited in my professional community as a great, even iconic, design – though I actually didn’t know that when I bought it. There’s the Daytona as well, another piece that’s beautiful. But the Explorer has a simplicity to it; it doesn’t shout. Explorer II, from £3,690;

The best gift I’ve given recently was a very rare piece of Venini glass designed by Ettore Sottsass, called the Medusa; it was the last one in its edition. I met with [the people at] Venini recently about a potential collaboration, and they had kept one for the archives, which they were willing to sell to me. I gave it to my wife.

And the best gift I have received was four fruit trees from my family, for my last birthday. They’re all local to the Worcestershire area, where our country house is. The kids gave me three different types of apple, and my wife a type of cherry tree, which I believe is called a Stella.

The last item I added to my wardrobe was a beautiful new umbrella from James Smith & Sons in preparation for an autumn in London. 53 New Oxford Street, London WC1 (020-7836 4731;

The one artist whose work I would collect if I could – which is a rather cruel and impossible choice to be asked to make; there are so many – would be Holbein because, well, it’s not going to happen, so why not just go for it? And because he made incredible figurative paintings.

My favourite websites are, a great example of the internet being put to its best possible use. In a short time, I get so many news stories and opinions, and it’s beautifully designed and totally intuitive to navigate. And; a photographer friend swore by it as having the most comprehensive and intelligent selection of books on photography.

The last meal that left me truly impressed was at Le Grand Véfour at the Palais Royal in Paris. The food, surroundings and history (Napoleon, Jean Cocteau and Jean-Paul Sartre all dined there) are quite beyond what’s normally available as a restaurant experience. Rue Beaujolais 17, Paris 75001 (+331-4296 5627;

The books on my bedside table are Trains and Buttered Toast by John Betjeman, Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck and Battle for the Ashes by David Frith.

The people I depend on for grooming and style include Henry Rose, who has been my tailor for years. My barber is my wife – she does a great job with the kitchen scissors. Henry Rose, 30 Bruton Street, London W1 (020-7518 3114;

In my fridge you’ll always find Calpol, because we have three kids under five. And a good Roquefort. Actually, these two things kind of sum up life at home for me right now: at the end of the day I need a decent bit of cheese to go with my bordeaux, and I need something to alleviate the screaming.

The last music I downloaded was via Napster, so it’s more a matter of what was the last thing I streamed. That would be Neil Young’s Harvest and some Elgar. And at a shoot recently in LA, we played a lot of Johnny Cash; it really set the mood.

The last thing I bought and loved was a painting by the artist Neil Gall. I was at college [the Slade School of Fine Art, London] with him. There’s a very strong sexual nature to his work, but the way he delivers and paints it is so exquisite, you see there’s tremendous beauty in what normally makes some of us uncomfortable. At David Nolan Gallery, 527 West 29th Street, New York 10001 (+1212-925 6190;

And the thing I’m eyeing next is an Aston Martin – to take advantage of the recession sales.

If I didn’t live in London, the city I would live in is Rome – it’s the most beautiful city in Europe, and it’s not sanitised. There are buildings that have God knows how many decades of grime on them, but they’re incredible bits of architecture. However, I would find it pretty impossible to live anywhere apart from London. If someone said, “You have to live somewhere else,” I’d say, “Fine, but for how long? How long before I can come back to London?”