Tommy Hilfiger, designer 

“The fashion moment that changed everything for me was our ad campaign with Aaliyah in 1996, which was a real turning point for the brand. While it’s common to see such collaborations these days, this was one of the first big collaborations that merged music and fashion. It set the scene and the bar for what was to come.”

Hilfiger at home in Palm Beach
Hilfiger at home in Palm Beach © Josh Aronson

Rufus Wainwright, musician and composer

“Nina Simone singing ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’. I remember coming home from boarding school one summer, it was raining and very balmy, and I was having an awakening in terms of who I was and what I wanted to do. I listened to this song and my path was revealed: being a songwriter and trying to create work that has this intense drama, feeling and sentiment.” 

Nina Simone in 1964
Nina Simone in 1964 © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Hassan Hajaj, artist

“For me it was a portrait by my Grenadian friend, Dave Joseph, of his brother with his mates, all dressed in Fiorucci, taken on South Molton Street in London. Growing up in the 1970s, he was a tough street kid who happened to take these beautiful pictures. He’d have them printed, framed and on display. Art wasn’t otherwise a part of our lives; we were as far away from that creative world as you could be. He was the first person to show me how cool making pictures could be.”

Hassan Hajaj at Riad Yima, his home and studio
Hassan Hajaj at Riad Yima, his home and studio © Yoriyas

Thelma Golden, director of The Studio Museum

“A bust of WEB Du Bois by the artist Inge Hardison, who was a friend of my mom’s. Hardison was a sculptor in the ’60s who created busts of prominent African-Americans – Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Dr Martin Luther King. This piece was probably the first work by an artist that I seriously engaged with as a child.”

A bust of WEB Du Bois by the artist Inge Hardison
A bust of WEB Du Bois by the artist Inge Hardison © Inge Hardison. Photograph by Makeda Sandford

Nadia Rosenthal, scientific director of Maine’s Jackson Laboratory and chair of cardiovascular science at Imperial College London

“When I found the first enhancer in the human genome in 1983, while I was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health [the USA’s medical research agency]. Enhancers are DNA sequences responsible for turning genes on and off. At the time, we had identified enhancers in the DNA of viruses, but didn’t know if they existed in humans. I proposed that viruses had “stolen” enhancers from their human hosts to use for their own nefarious devices. It wasn’t a popular notion and it took me a year to investigate my hare-brained scheme, but I was right. The profound thrill I felt when I knew I’d discovered something really new and fundamental hooked me for life, and I haven’t looked back.”

Rosenthal at home in Maine
Rosenthal at home in Maine © Greta Rybus

Monty Don, gardener and presenter

“Six am one Saturday morning in 1974. I was working on a building site, having left school ignominiously – I thought I’d be a poet or some unformulated star – and I’d got into the habit of going out late and getting up late. But that morning, for some reason, I got up early. It was May and the sun was shining and I suddenly thought, I love this. I love the fact that it’s early in the morning, that it’s alive and that things are happening. And from that day I got up earlier and earlier, until I was regularly rising at 5am. I read and I studied – I retook my A-levels and did the Oxbridge entrance test. I found that was when my brain was clearest. It completely transformed my life because I suddenly had my own rhythm and I was using my time to maximum advantage. I am, 100 per cent, a lark. The downside, of course, is that I usually head off to bed around 10pm. I am the worst party pooper in the world.”

Monty Don in his garden
Monty Don in his garden © Max Miechowski

Tadao Ando, architect

“The collective work produced by the Gutai Group of Japan. They were extraordinarily prolific artists in the mid-20th century and have been significant influences in my life. From them, I learned the importance of thinking about things radically from their origins, and about materiality.”

Shitenno (Four Guardians), 1970s by Kazuo Shiraga © The Estate of Kazuo Shiraga. Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images

Marina Abramović, artist

“Duchamp’s “readymade” pieces, including Bicycle Wheel and Fountain. We must always look to the artists who changed the way society thinks. Duchamp was a master of this.”

Marina Abramović in her studio
Marina Abramović in her studio © Weston Wells

Adrian Sauvage, menswear designer and photographer

“Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me, coming out of the sea in the Lotus Esprit, wearing a navy blazer, a striped shirt and a blue tie: immaculate. He’s my style icon; he exudes that vibe of one plus one equals three. It’s the energy that carries over. In fact, the first suit I ever bought was a vintage Bogner all-in-one snowsuit in safari green. The owner, Willy Bogner Jr, worked as a cameraman for a few of the Jimmy Bond movies, which is why Moore was often wearing their sportswear.”

Sauvage at home in Beverly Hills
Sauvage at home in Beverly Hills © Graham Walzer

Sean Scully, painter

“Picasso’s Child with a Dove. It literally saved my life. I went to a terrible school in south London and there was a copy of this painting hanging in the assembly hall. It is so peaceful – it was very moving and inspirational for me.”

Sean Scully in his studio
Sean Scully in his studio © Jody Rogac
Child with a Dove by Picasso
Child with a Dove by Picasso © Alamy © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2022

Claudia Roden, cook

“The recipes that changed everything were those I started collecting when I was 20, which were from Jews leaving Egypt in 1956 after the Suez Crisis. They were recipes passed down in Jewish communities – a mosaic of families from the old Ottoman Empire and around the Mediterranean. Three of my grandparents had come from Aleppo. Every recipe was hugely precious and full of emotional baggage. And, yes, there was hummus and baba ghanoush, grilled halloumi and bulgur pilaf. The first ones I wrote down changed my life. They also changed the way people eat in Britain and around the world. Before A Book of Middle Eastern Food came out in 1968, there had been no cookbooks at all about this cuisine, no recipes in magazines or newspapers”.

Claudia Roden at home in London
Claudia Roden at home in London © Lydia Goldblatt

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