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My personal style signifier is my collection of purple scarves. Some of my favourites are pashminas that my wife, May, has brought back from India. If I have an important meeting or I am giving a talk, I will wear a purple tie or cashmere shawl; it is the colour of good judgement.
The last thing I bought and loved was a Shigaraki ceramic vase from the 16th century. I found it in Japan, where I bought it privately. It’s very rough and has stains from the firing – for me, it looks almost like abstract art made by nature. It’s that art tempo idea: art made by time.
And the thing I’m eyeing next is another Gutai painting – although I don’t have a specific one in mind; I am always looking. I buy from the artists themselves, or from collectors or dealers who look for me. When I first started to collect this kind of Japanese art in 2005 – the movement lasted from the mid-1950s until the early 1970s – I bought pieces easily, but now they are very, very difficult to find.
My favourite room in my house is my wabi room, which is silent and serene. There’s a tokonoma, a small platform with a bronze piece by Lucio Fontana, and there’s a black and white painting by Shiraga. It’s a good place to go with friends for serious discussions.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a reversible blue jacket from Issey Miyake that I bought in Tokyo. It’s very, very simple with a Korean-style collar. I like Japanese designs, but I also wear Giorgio Armani and suits from Huntsman on Savile Row, which I started ordering when I was young. £1,090; isseymiyake.com
An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is a wonderful old ryokan called Miyamasou, which was once a temple, in a mountainous area close to Kyoto. Some of the rooms have terraces that hang over a river and the food is the best in Japan – they forage for herbs in the forest. It’s so humble but somehow the most refined place you can imagine. miyamasou.jp
And the best souvenir I’ve brought home is one that has just come back to me. Forty years ago, I sold one of my favourite terracotta heads of an eighth-century Dvaravati monk. It was beautiful, with a sweet smile, and the lady I sold it to said, “One day I’ll send it back to you.” Last week a parcel arrived from Dallas; she is now 93 and kept her promise.
If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose Antwerp. I do very little shopping, but once a year I go into the city with my wife or my sons. We go to Dries Van Noten for the beautiful collections – he is a friend and I love his style – and we’ll visit Coccodrillo, a great shoe shop for men and women. In Kanaal there is a wonderful supermarket called Cru, which has the best food from all over Belgium – and I like Poilâne for bread. Coccodrillo, Arenbergstraat 2, 2000 (coccodrillo.com). Cru, Stokerijstraat 15, 2110 Wijnegem (cru.be). Dries Van Noten, Nationalestraat 16, 2000 (driesvannoten.be). Poilâne, Stokerijstraat 15, 2110 Wijnegem (poilane.com)
The person I rely on for personal wellbeing is my dressage trainer, Mariette Withages. When she is in Belgium, I might have three lessons in a week. Dressage is like a meditation – being one with the horse.
If I didn’t live near Antwerp, the city I would live in is Venice: it is unique in the world. My favourite place is Palazzo Fortuny. It’s a gothic palazzo with Renaissance parts and lots of old textiles – it’s very much an artist’s home, with his personality. I like Da Mario alla Fava, a trattoria with classic Venetian dishes, but my favourite restaurant is Antiche Carampane: it’s small, with very good food and really fresh ingredients. I love the crudi [raw fish], and grilled shrimps served in a cornet as a canapé. Antiche Carampane, Sestiere San Polo 1911, 30125 (antichecarampane.com). Da Mario alla Fava, Calle Galiazzo 5242, 30124 (ristorantemarioallafava.it). Palazzo Fortuny, San Marco 3958, 30124 (fortuny.visitmuve.it)
My favourite apps are Headspace, a meditation app that I use a lot, and iTranslate, which I use for my work.
My style icon is a personal friend of mine, Herbert Kasper. He is 92 and is always well-dressed, never over-dressed, with an informal, nonchalant chic – and I love his humour. He has great taste in classical things, but despite his age, he is still interested in contemporary art and young people. His collection ranges from Old Master drawings to Picasso, Gutai paintings and contemporary photography.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Lucio Fontana. He really gave body to emptiness before anyone else – he created a third dimension – and it was something I hadn’t seen in any other art before. I bought my first Fontana through the artist Jef Verheyen when I was 21 years old.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is usually something that I have asked my wife to read and then I ask her which bits I should read; I have so little time to read unless I am studying. I’m in the period now where I would rather talk to interesting people than read a book. Having said that, I’ve worked on my memoirs [Stories and Reflections] in the past year with my son-in-law Michael. Every time I thought of a story I put a title in my phone, and then I started telling him all the stories. It’s nice for me but also nice for my grandchildren to read later, and I like to share it with young people: I think there are a lot of lessons in it about how simple things can have an enormous influence in your life.
The best gift I’ve given recently was a ceramic I made myself for a client in Tokyo. Someone on our team teaches me different techniques. I like the idea of taking earth and making something in which every gesture is there: if you are angry it will feel angry; if you are peaceful, then you feel that too – and then the fire decides.
An indulgence I would never forgo is my horse, Raio. I like to ride as much as I can. I’ve been around horses since childhood, but I didn’t ride for a long time because I was working too hard.
The best gift I’ve received recently is a DNA test that my son-in-law Michael gave to me. I did the test but we haven’t seen the results yet. I am very curious to see what comes back.
The last music I bought was Franco Fagioli’s Handel Arias with the Il Pomo d’Oro ensemble. It’s so festive, and the way it’s sung is unbelievably good; it really captures the spirit of Handel. We hosted a concert here for Franco at Kanaal in March. kanaal.be
A recent “find” is Wagner’s Parsifal, which I recently saw at the Antwerp opera house – I loved it. The production was under the direction of Tatjana Gürbaca, and it was a very pure, austere performance: I found it to be an almost meditative experience. The American tenor Erin Caves and the German mezzo-soprano Tanja Ariane Baumgartner were fantastic in the leading roles. Vlaamse Opera Antwerp, Frankrijklei 3, 2000 Antwerp (operaballet.be)
In my fridge you’ll always find tomatoes and a vegetable or green soup. I like all fresh vegetables. And champagne, sometimes from Ruinart or Dom Pérignon. We only drink champagne with guests; I would never drink it on my own. domperignon.com. ruinart.com
The last meal that truly impressed me was a wonderful dinner with a few artistic friends that my son Boris arranged recently when I was in Moscow. It was in a beautiful private apartment with a lived-in, personal atmosphere, and it was dressed with a mix of various objects, artworks and furniture that I’d designed especially for them. There was wine, caviar and lots of candlelight.
An object I would never part with is my iPhone, as I am never away from it. But also a pencil and a rubber, because wherever I am I like to start drawing – normally architecture. From £449; apple.com
If I weren’t doing what I do, I have no idea what I would be. I have always loved what I am doing and it evolves all the time.
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