TYLER’S CHANGE OF A DRESS
Byline: Eric Wilson
NEW YORK — The last thing buyers and editors should be looking at during Richard Tyler’s presentation Thursday is their surroundings, but they likely will, as it will be the first show for the designer in his new, modernist town house on Washington Street in the West Village.
While hemlines may change from season to season, nothing could mark a more dramatic departure at a fashion show for a designer than Tyler’s new venue.
Having moved this month from a lavish, 37-room Gramercy Park mansion to the more modest, three-bedroom West Village location, and profiting an estimated $10 million in the process, Tyler’s change of address will bring his venue from the ornate ballroom where he has shown since 1995 to a stark, lofty gallery space with a retractable glass roof and a glass-bottom reflecting pool.
The old place was built in 1884, with 13 fireplaces and a Stanford White staircase. The new home, with the exception of its facade, is younger than Tyler’s eldest son.
“This house has already influenced the way I design,” said Tyler, during an interview last week. “I have always been known for details, but already the collection seems a little cleaner. It is also more structural and architectural, but not as heavy as it was before.”
Tyler, whose evening and bridal designs have typically been influenced by a range of romantic or period costumes, happens to have a fond interest in Modern Art and architecture, particularly of the Bauhaus style and the work of abstract expressionist Barnett Newman, so when he and his wife and business partner, Lisa Trafficante, first saw the Washington Street property, they knew they had found a new home.
From the street, the building appears to be crumbling, but is actually the facade of the lot’s original construction, what was once a five-story brick building from 1910. During the Depression, when buildings were taxed by the floor, the top two stories were torn down. In the mid-Eighties, when the original structure was in ruins, architect Steve Mensch acquired the lot and constructed a modern brick building that abuts the ancient facade.
Inside, the split-level home is dominated by the lofty living room space and its glass ceiling, which is lined along either side of the roof by tall zelkova trees, ornamental Japanese imports that resemble small elms. The glass-lined reflecting pool is lined with miniature frog fountains cast from an 18th-century mold, set in Appalachian black granite with a flawed finish that runs throughout the house.
The pool also acts as a glass ceiling to the room underneath — a street-level studio that Tyler is currently using for his offices, but that could eventually be converted to a retail space or a boutique for custom-made orders.
Apart from those open spaces, there are a small master bedroom and bath, reached by a spiral staircase, that overlook the gallery, plus two bedrooms on a lower mezzanine. Tyler’s new kitchen is tiny, reached through a hallway that runs alongside the gallery that also houses a guest bath.
It might seem constricting in comparison to the excess of Gramercy Park, but this is a pied-a-terre, after all. Tyler and his family rarely spend more than two months of the year in New York, since they are headquartered in Los Angeles, where they live in a sprawling Italianate home.
That might change, Tyler said, as he is so enamored with the modern house that he feels he’ll be spending more time on the East Coast.
“This was love at first sight,” Tyler said. “The facade is very Romanesque and the inside is modern and clean. The exposed bricks are so precise. I like the whole feel and the Zen-like calm.”
Most of the ornate furniture from Gramercy Park has headed into storage, which is so expensive in New York that Tyler is already considering how to ship it all to Los Angeles. The West Village home requires little furniture — even the bed was built in to the master suite.
“I feel like I could have a trenchcoat and a suit and be done with it,” Tyler said. “It is so clean and minimal, that picking pieces for this house is going to be fun.”
It needs some nice artwork for the walls, and maybe some select modern furniture with an Asian feel to it, he said. He brought over a Le Corbusier chaise and a Noguchi lamp, but all of his old Chinoiserie just seemed a little out of place.
“We may have to have a garage sale,” Tyler said.
As for the new neighborhood, Tyler is just around the corner from Diane Von Furstenberg’s atelier and Calvin Klein is moving into the new Richard Meier building going up on West Street. He’s also looking forward to experiencing the burgeoning restaurant scene around 14th Street and bringing his seven-year-old son, Edward, to the renovated park that runs along the Hudson River, a block away, where he can have more freedom than the somewhat prissy confines of the gated Gramercy Park.
All this modern, optimistic feeling is being picked up in his fall collection — where Tyler is focusing on the construction both inside and out of the garments.
“Our clothing is all about what’s on the inside — the linings and handworks are filled with hidden surprises, much like this house,” Tyler said.
“I want to be in this house more even than Gramercy. It’s just more real.”