Style | The Aesthete

Tobias Meyer talks personal style

Tobias Meyer has been worldwide head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s since 1997, and is principal auctioneer in New York and London.

November 09 2009
Maria Shollenbarger

My personal style signifier is, hopefully, good manners. Everything else is replaceable – I don’t have jewellery, I don’t really have accessories, my clothes for professional reasons are sort of interchangeable. What’s important, what’s distinctive, to me is consummate good manners.

The last thing I bought and loved was an 18th-century Chippendale library armchair in carved mahogany, bought at a Sotheby’s auction for our house in Connecticut. It’s the very height of craftsmanship, the height of design.

The books on my bedside table will most likely sound pretentious, but it is what it is. They are Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel by Edmund White and Gesammelte Werke, a collection by Fritz von Herzmanovsky-Orlando, a Viennese who wrote poetic, quirky stories about the Habsburgs and their staff. His style is like a Biedermeier version of the movie Brazil – really wild. There are also several issues of The New Yorker, which I read religiously.

The grooming staples I’m never without are few. I don’t really have grooming staples. Earplugs: that’s what I’m never without. I can sleep on a plane and in a noisy hotel room if I have them. And our housekeeper did recently buy me this rotating Oral-B toothbrush. It vibrates and cleans your teeth like nobody’s business.

An object I’d never part with – though ideally I’d like to be able to part with anything, as I try to practise detachment – would be a John Currin painting called Clairvoyant, from 2001. His work is beautiful and thought-provoking. I love any combination of intense complexity and intense beauty; it throws you a bone, and you have to chew on it for some time, and it’s usually tougher than you think. Sadie Coles HQ, 69 South Audley Street, London W1 (020-7493-8611;

The most recent addition to my wardrobe was a pair of running shorts from American Apparel. There’s a store next door to my house in New York, and they look very good.

The last meal that left me truly impressed was on a fishing boat just off the Greek island of Patmos. The fisherman brought up fresh sea urchins from the bottom, broke them open, cut up some tomatoes, poured a bit of his own olive oil over all of it, and it was just… wow! But because that’s not a particularly reproducible experience, I will say that, whenever possible, I take a meal at The River Café – the creativity of the kitchen is first rate. Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, London W6 (020-7386 4200;

The best gift I’ve received recently was a Kindle [Amazon’s eBook from $300]. I didn’t expect to love it, but I do. I can order any book when the urge strikes – if I want to revisit a certain passage of, say, Madame Bovary, to see if it resonates with me as it did when I first read it – and 10 minutes later there it is, downloaded.

The last music I downloaded was actually from Pandora, a subscription-based music-streaming service [currently only available in the US] that I’m very into these days. You enter “Radiohead”, for instance, and it streams Radiohead songs, and also other Radiohead-like bands. I like the delivery model and the fact that you’re getting new things. Pre-Pandora, the last thing I downloaded was Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, the latest album by [Icelandic band] Sigur Rós. Pandora, Sigur Rós,

If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose Mayfair. But not for shirts and shoes – more for the auction houses, for [art dealer] Danny Katz; for art books at Thomas Heneage, and jewels and beautiful objects at SJ Phillips, as well as all the galleries behind Bond Street. If you decide you’re going to be a true elitist, then that’s the grid of streets in which you can best practise your elitism. Daniel Katz, 13 Old Bond Street, London W1 (020-7493 0688; SJ Phillips, 139 New Bond Street, London W1 (020-7629 6261; Thomas Heneage, 42 Duke Street, London SW1 (020-7930 9223;

An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the last year is Big Sur in central California. I go every year to the Post Ranch Inn and stay in a little house. It generally feels that nature is much bigger there, which I love. And, unlike the East Coast of America, Big Sur as a place is not at all achievement-oriented. It’s about relaxing and cultivating peace. Post Ranch Inn, Highway 1, Big Sur, California 93920 (+1831-667 2200;

My favourite websites include – I check it several times a day – and YouTube. There was a German TV show in the 1960s and 1970s called Der Kommissar; the actors have disappeared, you can’t find it on tape anywhere, but here it is, preserved on YouTube. It’s a library of incredible, inane trivia.