Ahead of the launch of a book celebrating his work, Selina Denman speaks to the influential designer Alidad, whose rich, bespoke designs are the toast of Middle East royalty and British aristocracy alike
"I'm a details man," says interior designer Alidad, whose renown in the industry is such that he goes only by his first name. "I'm a perfectionist."
He may well be a "details man" when it comes to his projects - his distinctive style is textured, intricate and unashamedly opulent, and he admits to being "obsessed by proportions" - but when I ask for specifics on some of his high-profile clients, he is thin on details. Unforthcoming, even.
This is unsurprising given the calibre of his client list, which includes British aristocracy, Middle Eastern royalty, Russian oligarchs and wealthy businessmen and women from around the world. He has designed a number of homes for Sheikha Fatimah JA Al Sabah, a member of the Kuwaiti royal family, and in the UK was responsible for a restoration of Lord and Lady Faringdon's neoclassical Buscot Park home.
The award-winning designer, who was included in House & Garden's 2012 directory of the 100 leading designers in the UK, prides himself on creating beautiful, bespoke spaces that are timeless but also comfortable. Embracing elements of Neo-Classicism, Orientalism, Baroque, Regency and Hollywood glamour, his projects are rich, layered and multifaceted - the very antithesis of minimalism. Every millimetre of a space is meticulously considered.
Originally from Tehran, the 58-year-old Alidad moved to London, where he is still based, when he was 15 years old. He spoke very little English when he arrived in the British capital, which, when he went to school, made subjects like maths and statistics far more accessible and appealing. A degree in computer science and statistics at University College London seemed like a logical next step, but within a week of starting the course, Alidad knew it was not for him. Nevertheless, he attained his degree and went on to secure a place on a postgraduate course at the London School of Economics. "Then I went to my parents with these two pieces of paper in my hand, my degree and my acceptance letter, and said, 'I want to do something different'."
While for many Persian families this would have been anathema - "You have to be a lawyer or a doctor or people look down on you," Alidad says wryly - his parents were open-minded enough to support his decision to enlist in a one-year Works of Art course at Sotheby's. "It was very difficult to get on to. Caroline Kennedy had just done the course so every good girl wanted to do it. It was a very visual course and I was like a sponge."
On completion of the course, Alidad was one of five people selected out of a pool of 50 to be offered a job by the auction house. He went on to become Sotheby's youngest departmental director, specialising in Islamic works of art and textiles, and was heavily involved in every aspect of the sourcing, cataloguing and selling process. Quite often, on the eve of an auction, he would be found locked in a room painstakingly putting displays together. "I realised I was more interested in this than in the actual objects," he says.
After eight years with Sotheby's, having just turned 30, Alidad decided that it was time for a change. "I was aware that if I didn't leave at the right time, I would never leave. And I wanted to do something of my own."
While Alidad didn't study design (and actually feels like this would have restricted him and the evolution of his signature style), he had years of experience dealing with original artefacts, artwork and textiles, and had seen the insides of countless beautiful homes over the course of his career. "When I look at a new fabric, I know exactly where it's come from and what it's been inspired by," he says.
In 1985, he launched the eponymous Alidad Ltd. His first project was a nightclub in London, with a budget of £5,000 (Dh28,000). That was his first and last club; nowadays, he sticks to high-end homes and the budgets that he works with are considerably higher. "I've been really lucky," he says. "Things really worked out for me. But I do my absolute best for each project. I'm a 150 per cent kind of person."
His success lies in the fact that he creates bespoke homes that cater completely to his clients' individual needs and also take into account how their lives will evolve in the future, he says. "Decorating a home can be quite traumatic - sometimes I'm more of a psychologist than a designer.
"I try to get as much information as possible about my clients. Who are they? Where do they come from? How do they live? My clients get a very personalised service. I need to create a rapport and if I don't feel like I can get that rapport, I won't go through with a project. People have to trust me. I also try to create a timeless look that doesn't change that much. I design for the next 10 to 15 years."
For those who love Alidad's look but "don't want to take it that far" or are a little more budget conscious, he recently launched Studio Alidad, a "ready-to-wear" service targeted at a younger audience. "This is quirkier, younger and fresher. You still get something different but it is not so bespoke," Alidad explains.
He has also designed a sophisticated collection of Neo-Classical and Baroque-inspired velvet furniture, in partnership with the furniture maker Thomas Messel, and teamed up with Pierre Frey to launch the Mauresque Collection of fabrics, which is inspired by the bold, rich patterns of 13th and 15th century Hispano-Mauresque designs. He has worked with Chelsea Textiles to develop two collections, Bosphorus, which was his first foray into embroidered textiles and consists of eight Ottoman-inspired designs, and Medici, a range of linens that draws on Italian Renaissance velvets. A book showcasing Alidad's work, Timeless Designs, is due out in October and will present a number of never-before-seen Alidad projects in all their glory.
Among these will be a number of properties that he has designed in the Middle East. "I feel very much at home in the Middle East," he says. "It's very instinctive; I have that core information," he says.
"The reason I still love my job is because there are so many facets to it. I have been everywhere and dealt with so many different types of clients. You have to switch 180 degrees and do it without thinking. I like that extreme variety."
For more information, visit www.alidad.com.
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