Design & Living / Culture Talks

Fashion's Favoured Interior Designer on the Allure of Velvet

India Mahdavi’s talent for sweet spaces and plush textures has seen her become a go-to for high-fashion boutiques and gourmet greats alike

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The Gallery at sketch ┬® Rob Whitrow O62A6959_2
The Gallery at Sketch© Rob Whitrow

Crowned the “reigning queen of colour” by Architectural Digest, India Mahdavi is an interiors maestro with an eye trained to contemporary society’s sweet tooth. Having lived a well-travelled youth, her projects combine the cartoon colours and strawberry milk of her stateside childhood – what she refers to as a kind of “Pop Orientalism” that stems “almost sub-consciously” from her Iranian and Egyptian heritage. Though she pools inspiration from the cities she’s inhabited and the films she’s delved into (Mahdavi had hoped to be a filmmaker and upon leaving high school spent a year watching three films a day at her local ciné in Paris), it is instead her perpetual foreignness to which she owes her success. Always being the new person primed Mahdavi with a sense of adaptability that allows her to read people and places, rapidly. In our digitized world, Mahdavi explains, “we need tenderness”, which is why our Instagram feeds are filled with her invitingly plump, velvet-lined nooks from The Gallery at Sketch to the new REDValentino store on Sloane Street. As she launches her latest venture, Ladurée Quai des Bergues in Geneva, Mahdavi tells AnOther all about her attraction to the plush, piled fabric that’s filled the catwalks for several seasons, while outlining each of our favourite spots.   

Ladurée Quai des Bergues, Geneva

Having seen her masterly confection at Sketch, Ladurée came to Mahdavi wanting to move their ubiquitous Versailles-worthy style forward. Cue Geneva’s new “garden of delights”, which opened last week. For the Four Seasons location, the designer swapped Ladurée’s trademark pistachio for a deep, grassy green and substituted the tea room's typical gilt edging with gold macaron-studded satin walls. Velvet banquettes in violet and moss frame the rooms, their silhouettes seeming part landscape, part lips. “Velvet gives you the widest range of deepest colours,” Mahdavi says of her signature surface. “So if you want to have a deep purple, it’s pretty difficult to find a cotton. If you have a cotton, it’s flat: there’s no depth to it, there’s no reflection. Velvet is going to look rich; it’s going to feel rich. A lot of my furniture is what I call sensual. It has texture. It’s supposed to make you feel good; to feel happy! And I think that today, we spend half of our lives in front of a screen, so anything that engages your senses is interesting.”

The Gallery at Sketch, Conduit Street, London

The Charlotte chair – a beautifully scalloped cocoon of a seat – was invented especially for Sketch. The chair gets both shape and name from the French sponge finger dessert and serves to lend the ultra pink space its gourmand glamour. “There’s something very sweet about it,” explains Mahdavi; “you already feel like eating a cake when you go into Sketch.”

When asked to design the room for the black and white David Shrigley art-filled space, Mahdavi told Sketch’s owner, Mourad Mazouz that the room should be all pink. “He said, ‘I don’t like pink but go ahead and do what you think is good’,” she explains. “So we built on the idea of what a brasserie is; I wanted this to be a super feminine brasserie.” Naturally, pink velvet flows through the room, “because I also wanted to have that 40s feel. I wanted it to feel like a movie, like the big ballroom in The Shining. The night of the opening, everybody came and everyone looked so beautiful. Everyone looked a little pink, like they had a three-day suntan. Everyone was glowing, as the lights came up from the table. Everyone looked so glamorous.”

REDValentino store, Sloane Street, London

At the time of commissioning, Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri (this was before the latter departed the label to take the helm at Dior) presented India Mahdavi with a description of their REDValentino girl: “she’s young, she might be an aristocrat, but she might be rebellious” Mahdavi says. “You see, these girls, they all want to dream. Sometimes they want a sweet dream and sometimes they want a rough dream.” The result is a debutante’s parlour room of dreams. The store’s soft and saccharine silhouettes are offset by harder lines: sharp-edged moon-like mirrors, plump building blocks of cushions, brushed brass details and solid walls of velvet-coated ceramic tiles. Wherever you go in the store, “whatever you touch, it’s velvet, it’s soft. It’s like having a friend around you. Like a pet, you can touch it, it’s warm – we need warmth, we need softness. We need tenderness and it’s a tender fabric. It’s sincere to things that I think are important today.”

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