JAMES COVIELLO, TALENTED NEW YORK DESIGNER Finds Old Things at FLEA MARKTS, ANTIQUE SHOPS & GARAGE SALES all over the world, copies them in his ATELIER IN PERU. Or at least he does his crochet and knits in PERU. See: NEW YORK TIMES article (below) on him.
MR GARAGE SALE ! Antiquarian On 7th Avenue By WILLIAM L. HAMILTON NY TIMES
LITTLE is it known that H. G. Wells's time traveler lives in Brooklyn Heights in a two-room apartment above a tailor's shop across Henry Street from a Thai restaurant. With a two-day growth of beard, thin, tousle-haired and mildly mad-eyed, James Coviello looked tired if animated -- not because of his return from the 19th century, but because Fashion Week's tent shows in Bryant Park in New York are coming up next month. Mr. Coviello, whose work will be on the runways there, is a fashion designer inspired by a wide variety of pasts. If appearances offer any clues, he lives among them, too. Mr. Coviello, 36, likes to think that they are the future of fashion. His modern, romantic designs for women look like outfits worn by heroines in Zola or Hugo (occasionally Dreiser or Cather) trying to get into clubs in the East Village or to be seated at good tables at the right bistros in Paris. Mr. Coviello read ''Nana'' at 17 and renounced what he called a ''TV childhood.''
Francis, Mr. Coviello's trusty vanity-case-size affenpinscher, was ranging the amber-lighted apartment one snowy evening last week, securing it from enemies, when he discovered a large felt chicken and set upon it in a series of deadly squeaks. ''This is somebody else's chicken,'' Mr. Coviello said, separating it from Francis. Mr. Coviello gave a Thanksgiving dinner for friends with small dogs last year at his 19th-century weekend house in Taconic, N.Y. Six attended (12, if you count the people). ''This is Bean's,'' he said to Francis. Bean, a French bulldog, was a guest. Mr. Coviello's aesthetic is modeled on Freud's study in London, he said. ''His style wasn't that different than Emile Zola or Victor Hugo or any late-19th-century aesthete, whether he be a psychotherapist or a painter or a writer or a doctor or a lawyer,'' he said. ''To be cultured meant to be a collector. I really feel like I am a collector.''
Indeed, his apartment is a free association of civilizations and centuries. Mr. Coviello has been collecting since he was 13. His first acquisition, a brass Victorian picture frame with detachable brass maple leaves, sits on a Renaissance revival pier-mirror mantel, which he bought years ago on Greenwich Avenue for $250. ''They unscrew, which I think is fascinating,'' he said of the furled brass leaves. They frame a postcard of the catacombs in Palermo, a place Mr. Coviello has visited. ''When I was a kid, 14, I became interested in Aztec culture,'' he said. ''For a kid, it's like Indiana Jones. It's an adventure -- to be an explorer into lost worlds.'' He grew up in Fairfield, Conn. His father, a graphic designer, is American and his mother Swiss. Mr. Coviello removed a Chinese fly whisk, one of several flanking a portrait of Victor Hugo on a living room wall, and stropped himself gently on the back. ''Even for me today, it's amazing to be a modern person and to discover these things,'' he said. Below Hugo, a 19th-century American card table held an effigy of a Buddhist monk in a bell jar wreathed with a bride's wax-flower headpiece from the 1920's. There were also stereopticon slides of Indian elephants and a Chinese bamboo harvest, pictures of the last Chinese imperial family and, also in bell jars, photographs of Mr. Coviello's best friend, Irene, and his grandmother. A squeak of pure terror, high pitched and horrible, pierced the stillness in the museumlike space as Francis pulled the chicken from the place where it hid. In addition to designing his own collections (six since 1999), Mr. Coviello has a full-time job designing knitwear for Anna Sui, something he has done since her first collection in 1991. In the service of Ms. Sui, he has traveled the world, from South America to Southeast Asia, shopping wherever he goes and making diversions to cities with interesting markets. ''I went to Bangkok just to go to the flea market,'' he said, sitting by a casement window, lightly curtained with snow, on an amply bosomed green chaise longue. Mr. Coviello bought it in Quakerstown, Pa., driving through on his way to a friend's house.
A leopard skin with the head attached draped Mr. Coviello's divan, covering
a gaping hole in the upholstery, which looked, when revealed, like a
19th-century chest autopsy in progress. A straightened spring shot out
through the hole. The chicken pleaded weakly for its life in the next room.
''I stop at every little shop,'' Mr. Coviello said, as though it were a
basic breathing exercise. ''I leave no stone unturned. I will go anywhere
to look for anything. You just never know. You never know. That's my
Because his mother was Swiss and his father artistic, Mr. Coviello traveled
to Europe every year as a child, which gave him a head start, he said, at
being a worldly person. Since he first held a crayon, he explained, he
understood that he wanted to pursue a creative career.
He gave his first show, of folded aluminum-foil animals, at 4, in a local
gallery in Connecticut -- as a young Calder.
''At 3, I made a goat or whatever,'' Mr. Coviello said. ''My parents
couldn't believe it. They started giving me foil every time I was at a
family function. That became my party trick.''
''Did you see 'The Ice Storm'?'' he asked. ''That was my childhood. I was
one of those kids, living in an upwardly mobile clique of parents who were
In the sophistications of that disaffected circle were the seeds of Mr.
Coviello's interest in fashion. His two best friends, he said, were
''Scott, whose father was a painter, and whose mom was a fabulous Russian
lady from, like, St. Petersburg,'' and Greg, ''whose father was a pilot,
and his mom was this beautiful woman from the South, but she looked like
she was from Mexico City, and she used to give him shots of B12 because he
was like 20 years older than her, and they used to have, like, parties."
Mr. Coviello slowed himself. A Rufus Wainwright CD played in the
background, a troubadour for the children of precocious parents.
''I think what attracted me to these guys were their mothers,'' he said.
''Their mothers were so exotic.'' They were women with style, who would
become Mr. Coviello's ideal of a client. ''Cultured, artistic and not
mainstream,'' he said.
Mr. Coviello compared his approach in designing fashion collections, which
have incorporated influences like 17th-century wallpaper, mattress ticking,
Art Deco paintings and the 1950's, to designing homes for his collections
''The displays are classically based, like the clothing silhouettes,'' he
said. ''Very symmetrical -- there's a 19th-century order to them, like
museum display or an early department store.''
Above Mr. Coviello's pre-Columbian textiles in the bedroom is a single
18th-century silhouette, topping them like a crest. The bed's tester, a
19th-century French baldachin that looks like a crown suspended from the
ceiling, is hung with a valance and draperies, which Mr. Coviello recut
into a canopy.
''I call it my movie star curtains because they're from the 1930's, and
they're green satin,'' he said.
At the end of the bed is a wild boar, mounted on wood in an inquiring
sniff, which Mr. Coviello bought on Portobello Road in London and named
Percy Bass, after an interior decoration store there.
Mr. Coviello opened a red quilted velvet daguerreotype frame, in which was
set a Polaroid of a young man standing against a wall of stuffed animals.
''That was a first date, actually, and I took him to a taxidermy place,''
Mr. Coviello said, smiling.
Mr. Coviello considers his farmhouse in Taconic, which he bought four years
ago, a work in progress. He has become interested in American antiques, as
a result of being resident in the Hudson Valley in a house built in 1846,
with all its original detail intact. He is buying fewer but better things
to furnish it, he said, including a tiger-maple spindle bed.
''I've become more picky than I've ever been,'' he said. ''It's taken me
four years to paint it.''
For the record, Mr. Coviello has never divested himself of anything he has
ever collected, nor has he deacquisitioned a single item, be it a
Philippine plaited-straw backpack or a baboon with bared teeth.
He is talking about opening a store, which would present his collections,
both clothing and cultural objects, in the manner of a 19th-century
emporium, with vitrines and glass standing cabinets, a kind of high-brow,
high-fashion infotainment for citizens of the 21st century.
Mr. Coviello described it with the kind of color that made it sound less
like a plan for the future than something he had recently seen on a stroll
through the streets of Edwardian London.
>From All The Basements In the World
IN 15 years, James Coviello estimates, he has visited 250 flea markets
around the world. (And you thought you liked to shop.) He looks for
indigenous things. His top price is $100, to reduce the risks of
inauthenticity or questionable provenance. He asks for a dealer's best
price, but does not bargain. ''I compliment them, instead of haggling,'' he
said, working on the ''more flies with honey'' theory.
Some of Mr. Coviello's favorite markets, worth a detour if you are nearby,
are the PORTA PORTESE market in Rome, where he found small
Renaissance-style portraits (inexpensive because they had been cut from
large decorative murals), and the MERCATO DELLE PULCI in Palermo, where he
bought vintage lampshades. On AVENIDA ALFONSO UGARTE near Kennedy Park in
Lima, Peru, he buys ''transition ware,'' made by Indian artisans in the
Spanish manner. (It is where he found the striped pre-Columbian whip coiled
on the table above.) At the KHAN EL KHALILI bazaar in Cairo, he found his
leopard skin. At the CAT STREET MARKET on Upper Lascar Row in Hong Kong, he
buys lacquer boxes and cups. On LIULICHANG STREET in Beijing, south of
Tiananmen Square, he found a coral floral arrangement. And at the WEEKEND
MARKET at Chatuchak Park in Bangkok, he bought Lucite Buddhas. WILLIAM L.
POSTERS' NOTE: IN LIMA HE MANUFACTURES HIS LINE OF CROCHETED
SWEATERS. Flies there all the time for design missions.
See his frocks at http://www.jamescoviello.com
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