How an abandoned embassy came to host Cartier’s finest jewels
Faced with the challenge of turning a neglected brutalist building in Madrid into the site of a luxury showcase, design star Jaime Hayon reached for his colour box.
Growing up in Madrid, Jaime Hayon was friends with children of the staff from the British Embassy. The building, a couple of streets away from his home in the district of Chamberi, was unforgettable. Designed to resemble a bullring, its 1966 brutalist modernity and round shape ensured it stood out among the neighbourhood’s palaces and apartment buildings.
“It’s very Madrid,” Hayon says of the structure, designed by architects WS Bryant of Britain and Luis Blanco-Soler of Spain. “Some areas of the city have these kinds of buildings that are a bit Le Corbusier, but it’s very bizarre to see it in this part of town and especially in a circle shape. I call it the pineapple.”
From his youth immersed in skateboard culture and graffiti art, 48-year-old Hayon is now in demand globally as a multidisciplinary artist. Through his studios in Valencia, Barcelona and Treviso, Italy, he has designed furniture, lighting and home accessories, hotel interiors, boutiques, a line of ceramics, shoes and timepieces.
And now, he has returned to the Madrid neighbourhood of his childhood, with an assignment to bring that “pineapple” back to life.
Last year, French luxury house Cartier called on Hayon to design the showroom and private viewing salons for the launch of its 2022 high jewellery collection, Beautés du Monde. Cartier’s location scouts had chosen the embassy for the showroom, where media and VIP clients flown into Madrid from around the world would first see the creations.
His brief was to design a space that would befit the collection, 250 unique pieces of jewellery, worth more than $100 million.
“Finding the language to do something like this is a big responsibility,” Hayon tells Life & Leisure in an embassy meeting room on the day of the launch. “I mean, this is super important for Cartier. When you get this kind of brief, you basically just look at the floor for five minutes and go, ‘OK. Should I, can I, do this in such a time and with such constraints?’”
Those constraints included the fact the embassy building was in disrepair. It had not been used since 2009, when the British government moved its staff to bigger premises. It had low ceilings, tiny offices, and it was confusing.
“The first day I entered, I said: ‘It’s beautiful, but you have a problem. You lose yourself in all the circles.’ So number one was to leave some windows open, which brings nature in and helps you to know where you are. And second, we had to bring softness to it, and more light, more calm – because this building is heavy. It’s brutal.”
To help Cartier’s guests find their way, Hayon segmented the jewellery-viewing into colour zones, and introduced archways, a common motif in Spanish architecture. “We were inspired by the collection, which is full of colour and references the mineral world, the sea, leaves, flowers, rocks, planets, reptiles. So, we used soft and organic shapes to create a magical atmosphere where light and colour create a dreamlike environment.”
Hayon was encouraged to take risks, too. Cartier told him many of the VIP clients viewing the jewels would be “young and cool” and “wearing sneakers”.
“We were really happy that Cartier was willing to do something different and new,” he says.
He believes Beautés du Monde could mark a turning point in the way jewellery brands convey their image. “Fashion made it possible, and people accepted it,” he says of brands such as Celine, Prada and Loewe, which introduced colour and bold design into their boutiques. “Now it’s a moment for jewellery, in which the biggest players like Cartier can also do something very interesting.
“Cyrille [Vigneron, Cartier CEO] is not an easy guy to please, but he trusted us, and he’s happy. And his clients are happy. And we’re happy because it represents us. It’s the kind of project we do.”
The building meanwhile, privately owned since 2016, is ready for its second act.
Jaime Hayon’s guide to Madrid
– Lose yourself in the streets of the old part of Madrid, from the Austrias to the Alonso Martínez.
– The Salesas neighbourhood [the city’s smallest] has great cafés, restaurants and old-school galleries.
– Walk to the Plaza de Colón via El Retiro park, the lungs of the city. In the Retiro, there is a beautiful UNESCO world heritage site, Palacio de Velázquez, which hosts great exhibitions.
– El Rastro market on a Sunday is charged with energy and has great antique stores. I like Casa Josephine [an interior design studio and shop].
– The Goya and Jorge Juan neighbourhoods are where you’ll find luxury and high-end fashion.
– I adore Ruda Café [a coffee shop in Calle de la Ruda, near el Rastro].
– For art, visit the Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía museums, but Galería Yusto/Giner [for contemporary art] and Galería Juana de Aizpuru [contemporary art and sculpture] are among my favourites.
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