Talk about second, third and fourth acts. At 73, Princess Ira von Furstenburg clocks in more air miles than people half her age. Jetting in from Jakarta and Singapore to Manila over the weekend but keeping a low profile – she didn’t call on her old friend, Imelda Marcos, this time – von Furstenburg dined at some of the city’s top Italian restaurants, including Caruso, and met with suppliers and craftsmen for her line of objets and bibelots, which she sells via private exhibitions around the world.
“We have a showroom in Marbella,” she said, “but we really need to expand that.” Marbella is the ritzy development in the south of Spain developed by her first husband, Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe, the jetsetting playboy who turned a sleepy fishing village into a glamorous resort in the 1950s.
“I’ve seen them all, from the first wealthy and titled Europeans who came to Marbella, to the Arabs and the Russians,” she recalled, smiling. “Even the Norwegians love to come to Marbella during the winter. It’s always sunny in Spain, you know.”
Once a movie actress, as well as Valentino’s PR, who was also romantically involved with the widowed Prince Rainier of Monaco, von Furstenburg’s passion for the last “oh, 10, 12, maybe 15 years” has been creating objects for the home: Vases, crosses, boxes, animal figurines, and even chandeliers and urns, combining materials such as onyx, rock crystal, bronze, enamel, amethyst, prophyry and even shell, much influenced in style by Neoclassicism. There are, for instance, carved onyx bowls set in a pedestal holder made from cast bronze wings, reminiscent of the statue of the Egyptian goddess Isis. A similar bowl features Chinese dragons instead of wings, which should be well-received at her exhibition in Hong Kong next week at the Four Seasons.
“Many years ago, a dear friend of mine – Esra Jah, the Princess of Hyderabad – invited me to go at Christmas and stay in her house. ‘We have Kirk Douglas, we have Sean Connery,’ she said. ‘We have all these people coming, so we have to get presents for everyone. So where to do we go? We always find the same things – Tiffany, Cartier…’ So I said to myself, I am going to do some presents for these elegant guests, so I started doing little things, a stone here…then I started doing more, working with this lady in Italy, and then it became bigger, and I started to like it, and we thought, why don’t we make a collection?”
The collection, known as Objects Uniques, debuted in Monaco. “Prince Rainier came, and he said, ‘oh, you should go on.’” Von Furstenburg now produces around 120 pieces a year.
From Hong Kong, she will head briefly to Dubai, then to Rome, which she still considers her base. After that, she will be travelling to the Ivory Coast, for yet another exhibition on Feb. 24 in Abidjan. She has created a set of rock crystal elephants, as well as palm trees, embellished with enamel and yellow gold details, which will be auctioned off to benefit the Children of Africa Foundation, of which she is the patron.