Pierre Durand, a financier and director of Adair Capital, also “moonlights” as owner of The Chinese Porcelain Company, a gallery on Park Avenue. His 5th Avenue home was one of the most exquisite we have visited and the pictures, we hope, are an absolute treat for NYSD readers. He himself is, and we don’t want to gush, a gentleman, Old World-by-way-of-the-New World for he was born in Lima, Peru of French and Italian parents. He has impeccable manners but is neither stiff nor formal and impeccable taste that is neither stuffy nor predictable—perhaps we are gushing … although we did, at one point inelegantly shriek “What a life you’ve made for yourself!!” as we discovered that not only does he have this apartment but that he also has an apartment in Paris and a modern house in the hills of Los Angeles.
We tried to hunt you down on the internet but there’s nothing! There is a painter of the same name who was born in 1913, so we didn’t think that could be you …
There is a famous professional rider of the same name … it’s quite a common name.
Oh yes, the showjumper – we were wondering about that too. So maybe you should tell us about yourself …
Let me tell you about me. I wasn’t born in New York, I was born in South America, in Peru. I have a French father and an Italian mother. I grew up there until I was 17 and then came here, to Cornell for my undergraduate, and then two years at business school in Columbia. I got my first job at Chase.
How long were you a banker?
The last firm I worked for on Wall Street was in 1996. I started my own firm in 2000, called Adair Capital.
And the gallery, when did you start that?
I was thinking about that this morning … it must have been about 25 years ago. I started it with my partner, Khalil Rizk, he was both my business partner and my boyfriend. He passed away ten years ago.
Was that something that you ever envisaged doing in your life, running an art gallery?
How has it changed things for you?
Er … I was always interested in decorative arts but it’s been a learning curve, a learning experience. It’s a very personal business. Over the years it has evolved a little bit into my taste.
What are you looking for?
The gallery is looking for quality and some scholarship behind it—those are the two themes. But it is very hard to tell … I mean I’m very interested in French late 18th century and early 19th century art and decorative art. I’m very interested in Chinese export ceramics. And that’s how we started out but over the years we have moved a little bit more to the twentieth century because we’re following the taste of what people want.
Oh you’re also doing that … [Note to readers: this column is not overly fond of mid-century modern…]
Well, we’re doing a little bit of that but we’re trying to be complementary to the 18th century. A lot of the inspiration for the 20th century design came from the 18th century. We’re not doing the 1970s because that’s not complementary to what we do.
So why are you so hard to find out about?
I don’t know! I’ve never Googled myself.
You must be the last person left on the planet who hasn’t Googled themselves! Do you think we live in a world of relentless self-promotion?
If anything, the people who work with me complain that we are “under-publicized.” With me, I really do my financial business and I’ve always felt that promoting this part of my life could hurt my financial business.
Do you really?
Some people might think ‘he’s not really a financial person, he’s a serious arts person.’
I can see that you’d hate to be called a dilettante.
[I am] a financial investor.
What is exciting about business – apart from the money?
For many years, when I was on Wall Street I had a specialty. I traded bonds, traded currencies, traded stocks, always looking at one thing. What my business allows me to do right now is really to look at the whole universe. We invest in hedge funds but we don’t have any specialty in terms of a strategy. We get to work with very talented people.
What makes for a talented investor?
In my mind, somebody who can make money. And somebody who understands the nature of the risk he is taking. It could come from different angles but once you’ve discovered that somebody has something special that allows them to make money with a controlled amount of risk, then that person is talented.
What does money mean to you?
Phew … what does money mean to me? I really think of money, well obviously a certain amount of money, as what return you can get on your money and how much risk you have to take to get that return.
How do you like be characterized as the villain of the piece? You are part of the world that has been so derided. Did you deal in any of those exotic financial instruments?
I think a lot of the criticism is well-founded. We have certain rules. If we don’t understand what they’re doing, we don’t invest.
How did you get along with the culture of Wall Street, that whole competitive, macho culture?
Um .. I sort of did what I was supposed to do. I paid my dues. I think I was relatively successful from a monetary point of view, but it’s an issue of ‘how long can you do it for?’ You get up one day and think, ‘I just can’t do this anymore.’
Does everyone come to that point?
No, I think some people can do it their whole lives. I got to the point where I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Are you a worrier?
I am a worrier but people that know me say it doesn’t show. But I think about [my business] all the time. It’s always with me.
Are you alone now?
No, I have a boyfriend and we have been together for the last five years. He actually lives and works in Boston so he comes here on weekends. It’s kind of perfect arrangement.
What sort of connection do you still have with Europe and Peru?
I still have some of my family in Lima. In France, I just have an apartment in Paris, a block away the Elysee. I love going there. I love Paris.
Did you see the Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris? Do you like going to the movies?
I did—I liked it! If Woody Allen had been 35 years younger he would have played the main character. Owen Wilson was a perfect Woody Allen. I love movies. I see everything. I didn’t see the second Hangover but I saw the first one.
[We laugh] We can’t imagine you liking The Hangover! You’re so refined!
I thought it was the funniest thing I’d seen in my life, just fantastic.
I have to go back to the question of what money means to you. I meant it more philosophically.
Philosophically money means comfort. Being able to be comfortable … to be able to be a little bit protected from the world.