LONDON — David Collins, the native Dubliner who cut a swathe through London with his richly decorated, luxe interiors for hotels, restaurants and fashion stores, has died after a short illness. He was believed to be in his late 50s.
This story first appeared in the July 18, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
A message posted on his company Web site said, “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of David Collins following a short but valiant battle with cancer.” The cause was complications from skin cancer that was diagnosed three weeks ago.
Collins, who loved fashion, socializing, navy blue and the novel “Gone With the Wind,” died early Wednesday surrounded by friends and loved ones, the company said.
Collins was best known for his atmospheric, evocative interiors — often with Art Deco-inspired touches — for restaurants in the Rex Group such as J Sheekey, The Wolseley, The Delaunay, Brasserie Zédel and Colbert.
He shunned minimalism in favor of mood, and visitors to his restaurants would often whiff the air of a Central European café, a rollicking French brasserie or a bar where Jay Gatsby might have sipped a gin and tonic. Collins’ warm, rich interiors also relied on natural, tactile materials such as wood, silk and cotton.
“David understood restaurants so much more intuitively than almost any other interior designer,” said Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, the restaurateur founders of Rex Group, in a joint statement.
“What was perceived as his arrogance was actually born out of a deep and endearing insecurity. Even when the plaudits were ringing in his ears, it was never reassurance enough for him. Unlike many of his peers he continued to fret, tinker and change long into the life of a project — a kindred spirit to ourselves.”
It wasn’t just Rex tapping into the Collins magic, though. The Fountain Restaurant at Fortnum & Mason, the Artesian bar at the Langham Hotel, Massimo at the Corinthia Hotel, Claridge’s Bar and the Blue Bar at the Berkeley were all designed by Collins.
Collins was born and raised in Dublin, the son of an architect, and studied architecture himself before moving to London and making a name designing restaurants, including Britain’s brasserie-style Café Rouge chain.
Restaurants, hotels and bars have been a mainstay of the business he founded in 1985 — as has fashion retail. He recently created the new generation of Alexander McQueen stores alongside the brand’s creative director, Sarah Burton.
“David played a vital role in realizing the vision of our stores,” Burton said in a statement to WWD. “We have worked together for over two years, and not only was he an inspiring collaborator, David was also amazing company and a wonderful storyteller. He was a dear friend, and I will miss him enormously.”
Collins was also in the midst of executing the new retail concept for Jimmy Choo. The first Jimmy Choo store designed by David Collins Studio will open next spring.
Another of his latest projects is the new flagship for Kent & Curwen, which is opening this summer next door to Gieves & Hawkes at 2 Savile Row. He was also producing a book of his work, due to be published next year by Rizzoli.
Collins, who counted Madonna, Tom Ford and Mario Testino among his friends and clients, loved to socialize, but friends say that he was also a man with great depth.
“He was a modest, profound, engaging person, and he had very good values,” recalled Philipp Wolff, a fashion communications veteran who first met Collins in Paris in the early Nineties, and who celebrated New Year’s Eve with him in Cape Town.
“He was a very social person, but he was not superficial,” Wolff said, adding that among Collins’ professional gifts “was creating a real atmosphere, and a very good sense of lighting — everyone looked wonderful in David’s lighting and design creations.”
And he was always up for a laugh: Last September, he swooped into a dinner to mark the opening of the Berluti space at Harrods.
“I’ve come on EasyJet — to Harrods!” he said in his singsong Irish accent, having returned to London from Mykonos shortly before the dinner.