The Aesthete: Axel Vervoordt talks personal taste

Designer and antiquarian Axel Vervoordt, one of the world’s most revered tastemakers, is known for his minimal, texturally rich interiors

Axel Vervoordt at home near Antwerp
Axel Vervoordt at home near Antwerp | Image: Jake Curtis

My personal style signifier is my collection of purple scarves. Some of my favourites are pashminas that my wife May has brought back from India. If I have an important meeting or I am giving a talk, I will wear a purple tie or cashmere shawl; it is the colour of good judgement.

Vervoordt’s Issey Miyake jacket, £1,090
Vervoordt’s Issey Miyake jacket, £1,090 | Image: Jake Curtis

The last thing I bought and loved was a Shigaraki ceramicvase from the 16th century. I found it in Japan, where I bought it privately. It’s very rough and has stains from the firing – for me, it looks almost like abstract art made by nature. It’s that art tempo idea: art made by time.


And the thing I’m eyeing next is another Gutai painting – although I don’t have a specific one in mind; I am always looking. I buy from the artists themselves, or from collectors or dealers who look for me. When I first started to collect this kind of Japanese art in 2005 – the movement lasted from the mid-1950s until the early 1970s – I bought pieces easily, but now they are very, very difficult to find.

Miyamasou ryokan in a mountainous area near Kyoto
Miyamasou ryokan in a mountainous area near Kyoto

My favourite room in my house is my wabi room, which is silent and serene. There’s a tokonoma, a small platform with a bronze piece by Lucio Fontana, and there’s a black and white painting by Shiraga. It’s a good place to go with friends for serious discussions.

Vervoordt’s 8th-century terracotta Dvaravati monk’s head
Vervoordt’s 8th-century terracotta Dvaravati monk’s head | Image: Jake Curtis

The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a reversible blue jacket from Issey Miyake that I bought in Tokyo. It’s very, very simple with a Korean-style collar. I like Japanese designs, but I also wear Giorgio Armani and suits from Huntsman on Savile Row, which I started ordering when I was young. £1,090;

An appetiser of grilled scallops at Antiche Carampane in Venice
An appetiser of grilled scallops at Antiche Carampane in Venice

An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is a wonderful old ryokan called Miyamasou, which was once a temple, in a mountainous area close to Kyoto. Some of the rooms have terraces that hang over a river and the food is the best in Japan – they forage for herbs in the forest. It’s so humble but somehow the most refined place you can imagine.

The wabi room in Vervoordt’s home outside Antwerp
The wabi room in Vervoordt’s home outside Antwerp | Image: Jake Curtis

And the best souvenir I’ve brought home is one that has just come back to me. Forty years ago, I sold one of my favourite terracotta heads of an 8th-century Dvaravati monk. It was beautiful, with a sweet smile, and the lady I sold it to said, “One day I’ll send it back to you.” Last week a parcel arrived from Dallas; she is now 93 and kept her promise.


If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose Antwerp. I do very little shopping, but once a year I go into the city with my wife or my sons. We go to Dries Van Noten for the beautiful collections – he is a friend and I love his style – and we’ll visit Coccodrillo, a great shoe shop for men and women. In Kanaal there is a wonderful supermarket called Cru, which has the best food from all over Belgium – and I like Poilâne for bread. Coccodrillo, Arenbergstraat 2, 2000 (+323-233 2093; Cru, Stokerijstraat 15, 2110 Wijnegem (+323-355 6100; Dries Van Noten, Nationalestraat 16, 2000 (+323-470 2510; Poilâne, Stokerijstraat 15, 2110 Wijnegem (+323-353 8928;

The person I rely on for personal wellbeing is my dressage trainer, Mariette Withages. When she is in Belgium, I might have three lessons in a week. Dressage is like a meditation – being one with the horse.

If I didn’t live near Antwerp, the city I would live in is Venice: it is unique in the world. My favourite place is Palazzo Fortuny. It’s a gothic palazzo with Renaissance parts and lots of old textiles – it’s very much an artist’s home, with his personality. I like Da Mario alla Fava, a trattoria with classic Venetian dishes, but my favourite restaurant is Antiche Carampane: it’s small, with very good food and really fresh ingredients. I love the crudi [raw fish], and grilled shrimps served in a cornet as a canapé. Antiche Carampane, Sestiere San Polo 1911, 30125 (+39041-524 0165; Da Mario alla Fava, Calle Galiazzo 5242, 30124 (+39041-528 5147; Palazzo Fortuny, San Marco 3958, 30124 (+39041-520 0995;

My favourite apps are Headspace, a meditation app that I use a lot, and iTranslate, which I use for my work.

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