architect, interior designer.
Over an artfully arranged lunch, the Greek born, self-proclaimed alien, architect, interior designer and barn dweller discusses how she revolutionized the New York retail landscape working as Senior VP of Store Planning at Bergdorf Goodman and, later, as Senior VP of Store Design at Calvin Klein. Her third act? The pioneer of rural loft living in the heart of upstate New York.
Interview by Mark Connolly
Photos by Kate Orne
This feature was originally published in Issue No 1 - Sold out. Other issues are avail here.
MC: So, Angela, who are you?
AP: I'm an alien. (laughs)
MC: With that accent? (laughs)
AP: I was born just outside of Athens, by the ocean, that's the only thing I miss living over here…
MC: I heard that there is some ‘OO7’ in your background.
AP: Well…some of my family worked as CIA agents and my husband did work for the American Embassy in Athens. We met at a glamorous ball, married and moved to the States soon after. We travelled all over the world, basically living the Embassy life before I got involved in my design career handling visuals for Dayton’s department store in Minneapolis.
We moved to New York, where Bloomingdale’s was the place to shop –– I was just dying to work there! So, when a friend told me Bergdorf’s was looking for a director of visuals I almost dismissed it. The place smelled, it was stuck in a time warp, like 1948 all over again, ...Ugly, ugly! And the clothing –– Hideous!
Regardless, my friend persuaded me to go for an interview with Dawn Mello, the President.
MC: So how did it go?
AP: She's so charming and wildly enthusiastic, telling me about all these dreams that she and Ira Neimark (the Chairman) had. When she finished, I asked, "Do you know anybody at Bloomingdale's?" She replied, "I know a lot of people, but I'm going to get you, because you are going to totally revamp this store."
MC: It obviously took a strong vision to convince you
AP: Ira’s vision was to make Bergdorf's the best store in the world within the next 5 years. I asked him "How?" and He replied, "Well, Dawn is off to Europe to find the best couture and hottest designers, you collaborate with them to create their boutiques within the store. They will be your inspiration."
When I got home I said to my husband, "Honey, I have to tell you, I hate the store, but these two people really sold it to me and the money is so incredible. And, right then, I made the decision to go and join them.
MC: You successfully reinvented Bergdorf’s as the premier department store in New York and created a stellar reputation for yourself, why make the move to Calvin Klein?
AP: Calvin had approached me many times because I designed his first ever boutique at Bergdorf's. We had the same eye: warm, sensual, using clean lines. So, when Dawn and Ira left Bergdorf’s, Calvin called me when he needed help with CK and his first Calvin Klein store.
MC: What was your biggest influence for the store’s design?
AP: The newly opened Picasso Museum in Paris was a major influence –– it conjured a spirit that has remained with me. I loved how the new and the old connected. The architects respected the walls of the old Parisian building and then they floated contemporary walls in front it was incredible! At Calvin, I didn't apply the old, I just took him the floating walls idea and he loved it. It became a CK signature all over the world. Working with Calvin put me on another level.
MC: Where did the idea of rural loft living come from?
AP: I resigned from Calvin after ten years and spent a whole month by the sea in Greece, which is where I came up with the first design of my barn. I took inspiration from the whitewashed walls of the Greek villages and I was inspired by the bungalow that I was staying in and by my old chicken coop, back home, that was made of corrugated steel. As a result, I made my first corrugated steel barn.
MC: Why do you love barns?
AP: First of all, I love them because I love animals and nature. I wanted to show people that they could live less complicated lives. One can live simply in a barn yet with all the modern amenities. It doesn’t hurt that they are economical to build and very energy efficient.
MC: What is it that you love about living in this octagonal barn –– your most recent project?
AP: The most incredible thing is to witness the 4 seasons transform nature through my barn door windows. It’s like having a living canvas right in front of my eyes! When the snow arrives the tree trunks turn into beautiful sculptures. It’s truly magical!
MC: Are there any challenges to living in this modernist, yurt-like space?
AP: The design of the octagon always inspired me. Unlike my other barns, which have doors to close, at first it was a challenge to live in this open plan space. Now I love it. My dream is to make the octagon into a glass house with the help of my wonderful contractor of 14 years –– Jim Romanchuk.
MC: What’s inspiring you at the moment?
AP: Well, I have been getting inspired by the local produce stands in the area and all those fresh veggies make me want to experiment. I’ve become obsessed with food presentation, food as architecture, the visual feast.
MC: Is there, perhaps, a book in your future?
AP: Yes, with no recipes. (laughter)