“It’s a mess!” was Camilla Deterre’s refreshingly honest evaluation of her apartment, when I asked her about its decor. “When I visited the apartment wallpaper was falling off the walls, everything was falling apart. I said to the broker, ‘perfect, I’ll take it, I love it’. I went through a phase when I had no money, so I made all my furniture. Now I have a proper couch. I’ve never had a proper couch before.”
Coco Chanel’s well-known quote “elegance is refusal” comes to mind when observing Deterre, a model and designer working in downtown New York. Elusive and uncompromising, she focuses on labours of love; collaboration with friends offers her the luxury of choosing to engage only in meaningful projects.
Deterre is the daughter of the owner of Pravda, a now-defunct Soho restaurant and New York institution. Unsurprisingly, this made for a natural interest in restaurants – she is now responsible for the laid-back-yet-sexy vibe of West Village bistro Mimi – but Deterre started out as a photographer’s assistant for Mario Sorrenti and Annie Leibowitz.
“I was approached by friends [to design Mimi],” she says. “It was not a decision, it was more like a familiar accident. I’m comfortable in that world.” But she does not consider this shift a career transformation: “I am not a-model-turned-designer, I still model. I just do things I feel like doing. I think you can be taken seriously in doing more than just one thing, as long as you have the force and drive to do whatever you want to do. If it feels like work, I don’t want to do it.”
Her approach to space is organic and instinctive. Primos, Deterre’s latest venture, is a bar hidden inside of Frederick Hotel in Tribeca. There, she mixes Italian Art Deco with the essence of the Mediterranean coast. “I’ve been trying to make the all things a little bit more eclectic – not just so hardcore Art Deco, nothing obvious. It is more about designing spaces that will make you feel a certain way... where you will be transported.”
Transported we are. The brand new space – it opened at the beginning of May – is half-lounge, half-glam hangout that exudes the promise of novelty, with its mix-and-match textures and a collection of signed objects and furniture. These pieces range from chrome 1960s chairs and André Lurçat side tables to Achille Castiglioni lamps and a Stilnovo chandelier. The In the Mood for Love-style backroom offers an enveloping atmosphere: velvet banquettes and wood-panelled walls. Keeping things off-balance is a Deterre trademark.
“I do get a bit stubborn. Everyone has their own idea of what they think is good,” she says. “And I have my own idea. I did not want to hang art at Primos. Only Conie Vallese’s painting worked perfectly with the space. She’s a friend of mine. Her work is amazing.” If there was one dream collaboration, though, it would be Miuccia Prada. “I just love her. I think I would cry if I ever meet Miuccia,” she says. “She can be very creative on a commercial scale and still, somehow she’s the best. Nobody compares.”
Navigating the worlds of fashion, photography and interiors, Deterre has designed a creative life that needn’t be defined or limited. The whole world offers her a room of her own.