Nicole Farhi tells Rebecca Willis about her favourite places, several of which have a French connection ...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Spring 2010
Born in Nice of Algerian descent, Nicole Farhi launched her own fashion label in 1982. She now does interiors too and has restaurants in New York and London, where she lives with her husband, the playwright David Hare.
BEACH: Nice, France
I have chosen the hard pebbly beach in Nice, my home town. It starts from the airport and follows the curve of the Baie des Anges for three miles and ends at the port. I spent every sunny weekend there and sometimes I’d go from school and have my lunch sitting on the pebbles. My mother went to the same spot when she was growing up, the same families went there generation after generation, and all my school friends too, so we’d always know about 30 people on the beach. It is quite hard to get into the water because it shelves steeply and there’s quite a strong drag, and to get out too as the pebbles are sharp.
WORK OF ART: Giacometti’s “Woman with Her Throat Cut”
My introduction to sculpture was at the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence over 30 years ago. I went to a retrospective of Alberto Giacometti and I was totally struck by one of his early sculptures called “Woman with Her Throat Cut”. When I first saw it lying on the floor I just got goose pimples. It represents a woman but it’s animal-esque. It’s probably his vision of the human condition, it’s extremely painful and it had an incredible impact on me. Many years later I took up sculpting and it all came from that piece of sculpture. I think I became a better designer when I started sculpting—before I used to draw flat, but afterwards I worked much more in three dimensions. I am drawn to three-dimensional works of art—even if it’s a painting, I like it to have texture.
HOTEL: San Pietro, Positano
The San Pietro is built into a cliff above the sea, with a magnificent view of the Mediterranean. It has an amazing lift in the rock which takes you down to the sea. It’s quite secluded, but it’s outside Positano so you can go into town if you want to. The restaurant is fantastic—I remember particularly eating fabulous sea bass baked in salt, which is one of their specialities. Even a simple tomato salad is incredibly good, everything is so fresh. I’ve been there two or three times to celebrate a special occasion. They have steps down to the sea, and swimming is gorgeous when there are no jellyfish. I speak a bit of Italian and I feel at home in Italy.
JOURNEY: A hike in the Atacama, Chile
A few years ago we went to Chile and climbed one of the Atacama volcanoes. We started the hike from the little town of San Pedro de Atacama and we went up to the top of an extinct volcano at 5,000 metres. On the way up I suffered from altitude sickness. I was shivering, not breathing properly and my eyesight was bleary. We were with a guide, and he said, “You’ve come so far, you’re not going down!” and made me do some exercises. Then we started walking very, very slowly—moonwalking—and I did get to the top. I overcame vertigo, my fear of altitude, and it was pretty cold too, but looking back I think how fantastic to have done it.
I realise that practically everything I’ve chosen goes back to my French roots. Paris is the city of my student days. I love everything about it and go as often as possible. When I suddenly feel I need to go to Paris and buy antiques for my shop, I think that’s because I am missing it. I buy fabric there and go to all the fabric and homeware fairs. If I’m not working I’ll meet my friends and have breakfast, lunch and dinner in a café, go to the cinema and exhibitions, walk on the banks of the Seine…I have kept my apartment there and my first car, an old Beetle, and it still works. Paris feels much closer now the Eurostar is quicker than when it started, and I am senior enough to make it cheaper, too!
BUILDING: Eiffel Tower
Everyone knows it was done for the world fair in 1889, and I like the idea that it was the anniversary of the French revolution. I just find it heart-stopping in its simple beauty. I like its child-like design, its monumental assembly of 18,000 pieces of iron. To me it resembles an enormous construction of Meccano, which my brother and I used to play with. It is iconic—if you see a picture of it you know at once that it’s Paris. I haven’t been up for many years now, but one of my aunts lived in the Champ de Mars and we would walk up, to save money, and the view is so exciting—I didn’t have vertigo then, I started to get it as I got older.
VIEW: The Mediterranean from her bedroom
We have a little house between Marseilles and Toulon, and I can see the sea from my bedroom—from my bed, actually. I built a very large picture window and through the meander of the pine trees in the garden you can see the deep blue colour of the sea. It’s a magnificent way to wake up every morning, I don’t have shutters or curtains, and the first thing I do is open my eyes and look at the sea. I’m a morning person more than an evening person. I don’t have shutters in London, either—I wake with the day.
(Rebecca Willis is associate editor of Intelligent Life.)