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There's a sense of drama about everything Anouska Hempel does - whether it's designing a hotel room, landscaping a garden, or writing an email. The London-based designer and hotelier is known for her modern minimalist design - stark yet striking, clever and clean.
"You can tell when I've turned my hand to something. Whether it is all or nothing, whether it is minimalist, or whether it's an extravaganza of a bounty of beautiful things. It's just the way I am, really, " says Hempel, who has designed private homes, hotels, restaurants, clothing, furniture, products, gardens and even jets and yachts.
The 71-year-old is looking forward to giving the keynote address at the second edition of the India Design Forum on March 15 and 16 in Mumbai. India isn't new to her and she counts the Maharani of Udaipur, her daughter Princess Padamja Kumari and Parmeshwar Godrej among her friends. "I would like to come to India many more times but work has taken me in another direction. I love your country, everything about it, the big smile, the no smile, the tiny feet in the fields, the tiny feet on the street, the tuktuks and the whole thing. "
Designing hotels, homes, restaurants, food, gardens, products and clothes go hand-in-hand. "The same people seem to like the same things so nothing is a departure. It's a following through of one thing into the other. It all dovetails, " says Hempel, who is working on hotels in Santiago, Morocco and Lisbon, the Pera Palace in Istanbul, and private residences in Lugano, Lichtenstein, Singapore and London. She's also working with brands such as Baccarat and De Beers.
She counts the world's richest and most famous among her friends and clients now, but Hempel grew up in Australia on a sheep farm and moved to London in the 1960s and soon became an actress. Her role in the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service as one of the angels of death (the 12 beauties who were brainwashed by the villain) seems to slip neatly as a footnote into her racy personal and professional life.
"I didn't really like what Bond was doing in those days, it didn't appeal to me. That's why I didn't continue as an actress. I liked the whole magic of the thing but I was busy designing the sets and clothes for the cast in my mind all the time whilst I was up there saying my three words. "
She did a few more films and television series, some of which would never, ever manage a U/A rating. In the late 1990s, she bought the rights to them all to stop their distribution and screening.
She turned her hand to design in 1978, and created Blakes Hotel in London. Blakes is described as one of the first luxury boutique hotels. Hempel says she isn't too concerned that boutique hotels are no longer one of a kind. "The conception of the boutique hotel is a one-off. Boutique hotel chains are obviously a little bit of a misnomer but it doesn't matter. The fact is that what I started has become a global phenomenon, something that I never thought would happen, " she says.
Hempel's signature seems to be touches of black that creep and burst into her work. "I do like to use black quite a lot. It borders and bands things. It can stabilise things. If you're doing floaty, airy things as I did at the Hempel (her hotel in London), one would not border it in. I would use it in a contemporary minimalist situation, when I think black is relevantly beautiful in a big slab, " she says.
She believes one is born with an eye for design. "Your eye and your definition of that eye (makes great design). Complete discipline of that eye. You can't really put your finger on it. "
During this trip to India, she's hoping to find time to get inspiration for tableware and other products. "I want plates. I want all kinds of things for the table. Beautiful, beautiful things have been done in India. I would head down rather a simplistic route of exaggerated shapes and styles, " she says.
For people who want to live with beautiful design but don't have the money to hire her or buy like her, there's some advice: "Just be like me, look at magazines, pick up what you like for yourself. Don't be fancy if you can't, and stick to simple things. Be a collector. Start building up little things around yourself. Some money, no money, it doesn't matter. "
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