Simon de Pury talks personal taste: Part Two

The chairman of auctioneers Phillips de Pury rounds out his list of likes.

Simon de Pury at Phillips de Pury, London
Simon de Pury at Phillips de Pury, London | Image: Richard Grassie

My style icon is Gianni Agnelli – the most stylish man I have ever met. I think his grandson, Lapo Elkann, is a chip off the old block, because he is very stylish, too. His own fashion line, Italia Independent, is amazing – they make the best sunglasses. www.italiaindependent.com.

The site that inspires me is my farm in the Val de Travers, in the Canton of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, which I inherited from my parents. It has a small forest, meadowland and cows. It’s a great place to go on hikes and there is no social life whatsoever, which is precisely its attraction. It rains a lot, so it’s probably the only area in Switzerland that has never seen a tourist. Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote most of Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire (Reveries of a Solitary Walker) there. It is a place with a soul. I spend less and less time there, but I still derive energy from it.

Häagen-Dazs Strawberries & Cream ice cream.
Häagen-Dazs Strawberries & Cream ice cream.

An object I would never part with is an early-16th-century south German wood carving of a Madonna who has slayed a dragon. I bought it in Vienna 20 years ago from an antique dealer called Reinhold Hofstätter. The carving is so intricate, even down to the pleats of her dress. It’s just incredible. It has a kind of aura as well as being a beautiful piece of art. It’s completely outside the areas I mostly collect – contemporary art, design and photography – but it’sprobably the one item I would least want to part with. Kunsthandel Reinhold Hofstätter, Bräunerstrasse 12, Ecke Stallburggasse, A-1010 Vienna (+431-533 5069; www.kunsthandel-hofstaetter.com).

The last meal that truly impressed me was a vegetarian meal at the home of a jeweller in Jaipur, Rajasthan. It was the best meal I have ever eaten; a meal of such refinement and variety that it appealed to all of my senses. Jaipur is such a beautiful place – the sensuality and the elegance of the whole experience was pure magic. Sadly, I do not recall the name of the jeweller. As Helmut Newton coined it, I suffer from CRAFT (Can’t Remember a F***ing Thing).

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An indulgence I would never forego is eating pasta. I could happily eat spaghetti alla Napoletana for lunch and dinner every day and be blissfully happy. There are a lot of indulgences you can live without, but life wouldn’t be so fun.

In my fridge you’ll always find carrot juice, to compensate for all the unhealthy things in my freezer. I have a passion for Häagen-Dazs ice cream, so we always have tubs of strawberry and cream ice cream. There are also mini Magnums, which, because they’re smaller, you feel much less guilty about eating. But, of course, it’s impossible to eat just one, so you end up eating three.

Simon de Pury’s farm in the Val de Travers, Switzerland
Simon de Pury’s farm in the Val de Travers, Switzerland

The best gift I’ve received recently is a pair of smiley-face platinum cuff links from my wife. She designed them and asked a jeweller called Stephanie Simon to execute them. Pall MallDeposit, 124-128 Barlby Road, London W10 (020-3235 0033; www.stephaniesimon.co.uk); by appointment.

If I didn’t live in London, the city I would live in is probably Los Angeles. It combines real professional life with a laid-back attitude and a fantastic art scene. Having plenty of sunshine all year round definitely doesn’t hurt. But it would be hard to choose just one city. I love urban life. I lived in Tokyo for a while. I love New York, Shanghai. I dream of going to Rio. I love travelling, and I get itchy feet easily; any city becomes provincial if I stay too long.

Gianni Agnelli
Gianni Agnelli | Image: crollalanza/rex features.

An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is Baku in Azerbaijan. It was my first trip there and we spent 48 hours visiting a lot of artists’ studios – which led to the exhibition we had here, Fly to Baku: Contemporary Art from Azerbaijan. It’s a beautiful city, bustling with life, and there’s a vibrant artistic scene. It has some great new architecture – Zaha Hadid is building the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre – and there’s an extremely well-preserved old town, and quite a lot of architecture from the early 20th century too, so it’s a great mix. You can feel the energy in Baku, it’s palpable. It’s a city on the move.

The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is one of the great masters of the past: Goya, Piero della Francesca, Fragonard, van Gogh, Picasso. There’s great art being done in any period, but it’s nearly impossible to find works by some of the great masters of the past because it’s all in public collections.

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My favourite room in my house is our bedroom. At the moment there’s no art in there at all. It’s not deliberate; we’ve just moved into an apartment, and we haven’t got round to it. Also, the bed has taken up such a dominant position in the room that we can’t put anything else in there. We got the measurements wrong and when the bed arrived it was so high it was like a joke – like the bed from The Princess and the Pea. You have to do a high leap to get onto it, but I love it now and wouldn’t swap it.

If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose Mayfair. There’s a tendency for all the top galleries to have spaces now in Mayfair. Equally, in terms of fashion, you have pretty much everything there, high and low, new and classic, the adventurous and emerging. I like Dover Street Market, the Apple Store and the tea section at Fortnum & Mason. Apple Store, 235 Regent Street, London W1 (020-7153 9000; www.apple.com/uk). Dover Street Market, 17-18 Dover Street, London W1 (020-7518 0680; www.doverstreetmarket.com). Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, London W1 (0845-300 1707; www.fortnumandmason.com).

The people I rely on for grooming and personal style? Well, I’ve never done any exercise and it would be far too dangerous to change this now, so I don’t have a trainer. Instead I walk a lot. And the person who cuts my hair is a cousin of our nanny who comes to our house once every six months.

If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be a musician. I’m obsessed with music; besides art, it is my greatest passion. I became a DJ three years ago, much to the embarrassment of my four adult children, who said, “You can’t be a DJ, that’s too embarrassing for words.” I spotted them dancing feverishly at my first DJ gig in Berlin, however, and so perhaps they were embarrassed but not enough not to dance. I follow contemporary music as closely as I follow contemporary art. My ultimate musical hero is Prince; I think he is a real, true genius.

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