Peter York has a fascinating essay over at Politico, about the shared aesthetics of dictators. Florid, overblown, excessive, and so on. Within this rather limited aesthetic, York identifies 10 defining dictator chic rules obeyed by most dictators, and he wrote a book about Dictator Chic. Just a bit here:
After my book Dictator Style came out, friends and editors would call me to alert me to the latest tranche of pictures to be released: unverified photos of Robert Mugabe’s plutocratic-looking house in Zimbabwe, the sacked Qadhafi compound in Tripoli and the Yanukovych palace in Kiev. Each time, I felt as if I could predict every last chair cover and golden heroic beast. Come on, I’d think, surprise me!
Then, in late 2015, I came across a set of pictures with no identifying text. They appeared to show a gigantic apartment in what looked, from the windows, very much like New York. But I know Manhattan and its sophisticated style pretty well, and at first glance, you would think the place didn’t belong to an American but to a Russian oligarch, or possibly a Saudi prince with a second home in the United States. There were overscaled rooms, and obviously incorrect-looking historical detailing and proportions. The home had lots of gilded French furniture and the strange impersonal look of a hotel lobby, with chairs and sofas placed uncomfortably far from one another. There were masses of gold; there were the usual huge chandeliers, branded relics of famous sportsmen like Muhammad Ali, and mushroom-colored marble floors. There was relatively little in the way of paintings, but otherwise, the place reeked of dictator chic.
As it turned out, this familiar yet unfamiliar apartment—a familiar style to me by then, but in an unlikely location—belonged to Donald Trump, who by then was running for president. This was the penthouse of the potential leader of the free world. The design work, I have since learned, was started by the late Angelo Donghia, a decorator better known for a chic Manhattan look. But the substantive current design had been done by one Henry Conversano, who designed extensively—and perhaps unsurprisingly—for casinos. No matter how you looked at it, the main thing this apartment said was, “I am tremendously rich and unthinkably powerful.” This was the visual language of public, not private, space. It was the language of the Eastern European and Middle Eastern nouveau riche.
Why does all of this matter? Domestic interiors reveal how people want to be seen. But they also reveal something about the owners’ inner lives, their cultural reference points and how they relate to other people.
Head over to Politico for the full article, recommended!