Friday, January 25, 2013

Carol Fertig

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch

Carol Fertig
has worked as a fashion designer, a stylist and a style editor and now, in addition to creating her website Object-Lesson she designs her own collections of objects and works as a consultant specializing in branding to a raft of luxury clients including Sotheby’s, LVMH and Harry Winston. She also makes really good Indian food because she served us leftovers from her dinner party from the night before and it was great! (There are some real perks to this job, chilled bison-grass flavored vodka from Vincent Wolf’s fridge; homemade cookies from Tracey Zabar, proper chai served by Samir Shah … the list goes on.) Anyway, it was good to have some sustenance after a fairly energetic conversational workout, veering paradoxically back and forth between bemoaning the loss of authenticity in an increasingly homogenized world and admiring the cleverness of certain brand-builders …

Oh dear, I’ve left my notes behind—I only have the questions from the previous interview and one of those is “When was the last time you went out with a cowboy?”

Oooh … I like those questions!

Well, I do remember something I read on your website about the homogenized modern world and I wanted to talk about that.

Oh, I’m so glad you said that because it’s sort of my new thing—that is my new rail. I can’t believe you said that. There’s no sense of discovery in the world anymore. I was in Paris in September and I haven’t been to Paris in like, two years. So, I love Paris and I’ve been a lot but this time I was so struck by … “what’s the point?” You don’t have to go there anymore; everything’s the same. One of the joys of going to Paris for me was that I would go to Ladurée for lunch. It was something I would so look forward to—it was so French … and now—you know they were bought by Paul’s Bread or something and there’s Ladurées everywhere. They’ve done a nice a job of the branding but I don’t want there to be Ladurées everywhere!
The entry way to Carol's apartment. The "column" cabinet is one of Carol's designs. The hanging metal leaf globe is from a cafe in Switzerland, c 1970.
Carol found this dramatic mirror, based on all the signs in the zodiac, at a flea market in NYC. The globe lamp is from the '60s, and was found in at a Paris antique shop. The white sideboard acts as storage for pots and pans. "It's a placeholder until I can find a serious piece to replace it with," says Carol.
The kitchen is actually a hallway to the living room punctuated by appliances and some decorative arts.
A Fornasetti plate and poster hang above a kitchen shelf.
One of the challenges of the kitchen was to make it practical for cooking — a favorite pastime, while maintaining continuity of decorative pieces.
Looking past the open kitchen towards the front entryway.
Strangely, that’s part of the problem—it’s often very well done.

And now because it’s so big they can make special Ladurée cups and special Ladurée napkins …

Isn’t all this a bit ironic from your standpoint because you’ve done work for these kinds of franchises like Anthropologie?

Totally! But there’s still no reason to go to a place to feel like you’re away, like you’ve been transported. I was in Istanbul and I did feel some sense of discovery there.

Why is there no such thing as a small good thing? Quirky places used to be left alone, the Left Bank, Haight Ashbury … when did they become commodified?

I think it has to do with the Internet. You know I just wanted to go back to what you were saying earlier about Anthropologie and one of the reasons that Anthropologie is as successful as they are because they kept the façade. It’s really a kind of trick in a way, which is maintaining the sense that when you go in there, you’re going to find stuff you’re not going to find anywhere else.
The library/guest room/storage area. Carol wanted a cozy space she could read and peruse picture books. The color infused room acts as a counterpoint to the restraint of the living room.
The antique suzani was brought back from a trip to Istanbul, the small area rug made of woven tape measures was found on holiday in Vieques.
The faux bios canvas boxes under the shelves house files.
Carol's collection of Hermes boxes serve as a reminder to her respect for quality and classic roots.
Carol's over-flowing inspiration board traveled from her former studio.
The stool is by Walter Albini, the leopard garden stool was found in an overstock outlet.
So they’ve created that sense of “discovery”? Even that too can be branded!

The thing with the Internet, everything is everywhere immediately. Style has turned into something else. It used to be if you had a Bohemian style it was because you wanted to be in a certain kind of group. But now it’s like so dumbed-down. Like fashion, it’s all one: it starts from the street and it bubbles up or starts from couture and it bubbles down … I don’t know whether it was good or not but we once had a kind of structure and now, I don’t want to put value judgment on it but it’s all over the place. And because it’s all over the place there’s so much stuff out there … way too much stuff. And, people are spouting about it all the time, but the next level is curating or editing.

But you’re in the thing-business …

That’s a good way of putting it.

Doesn’t it overwhelm you? You have a very discerning eye.

I don’t know that I would say that it’s overwhelming … it’s more … for example I remember when Christian Louboutin did those shoes that had the studs all over them and now they’re on Canal Street and I have to ask myself, why would somebody want to buy the Louboutin ones when they can get them for $20 and not that many people know the difference. That’s more the problem for me. I know the difference.
When Carol moved to this apartment she decided that the largest sunniest room in the apartment would double as her workspace and entertaining space. The built-in units offer an abundance of storage to make this possible.
In the living//dining room Carol mixes a variety of styles. The chair in foreground is by Bruno Mathsson; the chandelier is Barovier and Tosso from the late '40s. The marble Knoll table acts as both conference and dining table. The chairs were a 'great buy' on Ebay and the rug is one of Carol's deigns. The built-ins on the left provide lots of space for a variety of objects. Several of which have been featured on object-lesson (www.object-lesson.info).
The poof in the seating area is covered in a Verner Panton fabric.
Carol changes the still lifes standing atop the cabinets changes often, depending on a new purchase, a seasonal whim or shift in design focus.
The stack-of-boxes are from the F E R T I G paper collection and house a variety of writing papers. The tree trunk lamp was purchased in an antique shop. Carol had the shade made so that the lamp looked like a miniature tree.
The drawing and frame were found separately in an antique market in Buenos Aires. The candlesticks are by Bjorn Wiinblad.
What I feel is that nowadays something that is edgy so quickly becomes safe.

Exactly. Also the speed at which it happens. Now I want the most classic things because then people that really know, will know that it is authentic.

We’re reaching infinitesimal levels of refinement …

Well in another way you go back to basics. Like jeans … I want Levi jeans. Why would you spend $400 on a pair of jeans when they’re not the real deal? Yet [to your point] one of the things that I find is how people, just on a primal level, are drawn to decorating … whatever it is, whether it’s decorating themselves or their objects.

Yes, they’ve found Neanderthal objects now that were most likely jewelry. I remember talking to another designer about this, Mark Zeff, I think it was and he said he reckoned that impulse was the impulse to self-brand.

Yes, exactly and it’s very, very primal. But now everything is a brand.
The view from the windows provides a sweeping look at the layout. Carol devised the sculpture over the sofa. It's made from hundreds of gold plastic leaves. The lamp is Arbus.
The sofa is covered in a crewelwork bedspread found in a local market. The large pillow is made from ikat silk velvet found in Istanbul.
Carol designed this miniature screen as a maquette for a larger version. A still life table features a variety of objects collected throughout Carol's life.
Harry Fertig, Carol's beloved Bull Terrier who knows that the sofa is his.
Harry Fertig carries a metal bowl with him all the time. He has devised a game of flipping a tennis ball out of the bowl and catching it mid air. His favorite pastime.
Harry inviting JH to join him.
Can you train yourself to have an eye or is it just instinctive.

I think that people have it or they don’t but you have to build on it.

And if you haven’t got it, you’re not going to learn?

There’s no way. I’m sorry. A couple of people have said to me, “You have such amazing style, can you teach me?” And you can’t.
Carol at her work area. Her print to the right is from a limited edition hand silk-screened series.
Does it drive you nuts that people ask your opinion all the time?

No, I love giving my opinion [laughs]. What’s not to love?

Can you talk a bit more about your work in branding?

I watch political television and they go, “Well that’s not good for the brand.” How did that happen??! It’s a quicker way of talking about identity. But there are couple of ways in which to do it well and the people that do it well know exactly who they are, they are consistent in their messaging, across everything and they have a big idea, an emotional resonance.

Give us some examples.

Apple is a great example. Target is a really good example—and they have a really good, big idea, which is “Expect more—pay less.”
The hallway to the bedroom features a large antique mirror found while in Argentina. The vase is Italian ca. 1960s, and the dice have been collected over a period of time for their graphic quality.
The bedroom is painted in a dark grey called appropriately, "day's end". The large wall hanging was a teaching tool in French elementary schools in the '50s. The antique suzani was found in Istanbul.
Carol designed the oversized hanging silk shade to act as a glowing light for her "nerve center" dressing table. The stools are by James Mont, and the pastel portrait above was a market find from the south of France.
A close up of Carol's dressing table. The tray is Venetian glass.
Harry Fertig's crate acts as a television stand. Carol created the murals covering the interior walls.
Harry at rest. Notice he has his own Armorial.
Bruno, Carol's Maine Coon Cat is the boss of everyone.
We seem to be having a rather paradoxical conversation here: on the one hand we’re bemoaning the loss of discovery and talking about the homogenized world and on the other we’re talking about how well companies brand themselves.

I understand what you’re saying but [these companies] have a real point of view to what they’re doing. In Apple’s case, I think there is a sense of demography, in a good way, a positive way. When I go into Uniqlo I think this is what the Gap should have morphed into and they’re eating their lunch, so I have respect for those companies. I just see the balance of that changing worldwide. I just want more of the other [unique] stuff. I’ve decided that the next trip I take has to be somewhere I haven’t been before.

Where would that be?

I want to go to Copenhagen; I want to go to St. Petersburg. I want to go to Brazil. I want to go to Barcelona.

Oh, there was this fabulous show on HGTV all about expat living in Barcelona. We are both addicted to HGTV—do you watch it?

I tried and failed. It’s not why I watch television. But I am addicted to TV. It’s horrible but that is one of the things I learned during Sandy. I chose to stay here and my friends now refer to me as MacGyver. There was no heat and no hot water. I walked up 30 flights of stairs with the dog. It took half an hour to get up. I learned a lot about myself. I’m very proud of myself.
Views across Carol's Suzani covered bed.
The Saarinen table next to the bed sometimes functions as an auxiliary office. Ms. Fertig keeps her laptop and research materials close at hand for working into the night.
A photo of Ms. Fertig's grandparents, both artists. A box from Carol's paper collection stands atop the brass table/footstool. The photo is early 20th Century.
The table on the right is actually a carriage footstool from the 19th century. The table to the left found in an antique market in Ct. The print above was brought back from a trip to Rome.
The master bath functions as a spa on weekends. The print is from Carol series of limited edition hand silk-screened prints. The view into the master bedroom from the master bath.
Tell us what you learned.

The first thing I realized is that I’m a creature of habit. I have to have a routine and if I don’t I get discombobulated. I developed a routine around the day like pioneers do. I had gas, so I made my coffee. I had bottled water that I had brought in. I hadn’t filled up my bath so I went to friends of mine on the 27th floor who had but who had left, and bring up a bucket of water: my daily flush. Then I would look at some books or magazines that I hadn’t time to look at and then I would do housekeeping.

Everything is sparkling now because I’ve Windexed vases and things that I never get to do. Then I would get dressed and figure out what I needed to do in the outside world because I wasn’t making more than one trip. I would go to friends to charge my computer and my phone and I would download a movie to watch at night. I was eating from my freezer, so I would come home at night, light all the candles and I have one of those little Grundig radios. Then I would get into bed and watch a movie and take a sleeping pill. The thing that I realized throughout this whole ordeal was the thing that I missed most was television. I admit it, I’m really addicted. Horrible! Horrible!