NEW YORK — While many of New York’s social ladies have only recently embarked on their own businesses, Princess Ira von Furstenberg has been creating small objets d’art for the last 11 years. That this is not a new endeavor for von Furstenberg keeps her circumspect about what she does. Work, alas, doesn’t get in the way of pleasure.
“It’s half a business, half a hobby,” she says at The Chinese Porcelain Company on Park Avenue, which is exhibiting a selection of her latest pieces through Saturday. “It’s fun. It gives me a little satisfaction. I don’t want to kill myself for work. You have to do it with a relaxing attitude.”
The business started when von Furstenberg — who in her lifetime has been married to the German-Spanish Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe and the Brazilian industrialist “Baby” Pignatari and worked as an actress under contract to Dino De Laurentiis — was looking for hostess gifts to give to friends. Cartier and Tiffany didn’t have anything original, in her opinion, so she decided to make animal sculptures herself. Those pieces have since become her most popular. The current presentation includes such beasts as a rock-crystal elephant with emeralds, a rock-crystal dolphin with ruby eyes holding an enameled ball and a rhinoceros made of turquoise with a gold chain decoration.
“Everything is just mass produced,” she explains of the kinds of crafts around these days. “I’m one of the few left who do one-of-a-kind.”
Von Furstenberg likes to keep her prices relatively low, too. The aforementioned animals run between $1,500 to $2,500. The most expensive item in the show is a $45,000 pair of crystal candlesticks, but most are below $4,000. “They don’t ruin you,” she insists.
Having 11 years under her belt has given von Furstenberg an eye. While she spends much of her travels socializing, she has the added impetus of shopping, since she’s always on the lookout for things that can be remounted. “You can’t buy objects that are too overdone already or too expensive,” is a motto.
Desired destinations change over the years. Turkey, where she’s found many pieces in the past, has become too expensive. Having mined many of her sources in Morocco, she’s over it. “India is the place now, I think.” She plans to spend two months there at the end of the year, after she’s moved to her apartment in Rome, the city where many of her objects are now produced.
This story first appeared in the May 17, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
But she doesn’t collect her pieces herself, much preferring to visit them at the houses of friends who’ve purchased them. (Lynn Wyatt, for instance, is a friend and client.) “I enjoy making them and getting rid of them,” she explains. “I’m quite happy, because I like to make money to create new things. I don’t want to spend my own money to do this, but to spend the new money I’ve earned.”