It's a Saturday evening in Venice and Waris Ahluwalia, jewellery designer, actor, entrepreneur, philanthropist and tireless world traveller (to the point where his House of Waris website has been known to display the current temperatures of the four cities he frequents most), is holding court at the newly restored Gritti Palace hotel, overlooking the Grand Canal. Guests including Tilda Swinton and Haider Ackermann are taking in the view from the hotel's lavish terrace, a vista that's also drawn the likes of Sir Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway, since the 1525 building was converted into a hotel at the turn of the 20th century.
The Venice Art Biennale may still be in swing (it packs up on November 24), but it's another collection of curios that has brought this art-minded party back to Venice. For the next year and beyond, the Gritti Palace will host the 'House of Waris Rare' installation featuring a collection of limited edition handcrafted treasures, curated by Ahluwalia as part of the connector's latest project with The Luxury Collection tied to the hotel and resort group.
In the spirit of Wallpaper's Handmade collaborations, and inspired by Venice's illustrious trading heritage, Rare unites 40 independent artisans and historic brands from more than 14 countries around the world, resulting in a precious grouping of eclectic items that range from objects d'art to fine scents from a talent pool that includes jeweller Delfina Delettrez to artist David Wiseman.
To display the collection, the palace's Explorer's Library has been transformed into a den of antiquity (well, let's be honest, no transformation needed there), where each piece, ranging in price from 100 to 10,000 euros, is linked to its origin – whether that be Haider Ackermann's yak scarves, the yarn historically used by Chinese Emperors, or patchwork quilts hand made in India for APC.
We spoke to Ahluwalia (pictured above with Delettrez) during the course of the festivities…
W*: Why did you embark upon this project?
Waris Ahluwalia: I've been working with craftsmen for almost a decade now. My first goldsmith was in Rome – it's where I fell in love and really understood the beauty of things made by hand. Over the years, I've worked with stone cutters, enamellers, carpenters, marble makers, weavers, loomers, batikers, silk screeners, embroiderers and the list goes on. This was a way to bring that all together – not just in my work but the work of countless other craftsmen and designers from around the world. It is a celebration of craft – not just the objects but also the rare breed of individual that devotes their life to keeping traditions alive in the modern age.
How long have you been working on the project and why partner with The Luxury Collection's Gritti Palace?
The project has been in the works for over two years now. It started with a conversation with the team at Luxury Collection and the GM of the Gritti Palace. We talked about telling stories and sharing experiences. The idea came to me the moment they said it was going under a major restoration. It's a hotel that I know well and has been my favourite for years. The Gritti is a magical place – you feel it the instant you step off the boat and onto the terrace. You feel it standing in the Explorer's Library. It's a storied place – steeped in history and lore. Rare makes the space come alive.
What was the criterion for selecting the artists/designers?
The criterion was rather simple – objects made by hand. Some of the artists are single person studios whereas others have been around for over a hundred years employing a team of hundreds. I found objects that imbue living with a sense of excitement, charm and wonder. Some objects were commissioned, some were selected from a body of work, and others I had the good fortune to create. It was all a very personal approach.
Did you know any of the designers beforehand?
I knew more than half of them before. Some I've worked with in the past on a much smaller and personal scale. The others I found on my travels and some came to me from friends. The journey of meeting these individuals and hearing their stories was itself an adventure... An expedition that brought me to the souks of Fez, the woods of Upstate New York, the streets of Paris. It affirmed my belief that craftsmanship is not a thing of the past, or a fleeting trend of today, but a timeless practice that connects mankind with each other, with the earth, and with the great unknown.