The Swankster -- James Mont
In House Beautiful's December 2012 issue, my favorite decorator Meg Braff said: "I'm wild for everything James Mont. Designers know about him, but this may be the year that everyone else gets to know his over-the-top, theatrical furniture." Bring on the drama!
James Mont was a notorious, flamboyant, mid-century decorator whose client rolls included gangsters Lucky Luciano, movie stars Bob Hope and Lana Turner and composer Irving Berlin. Mont had a red hot temper and was sent away to Sing-Sing for assaulting a colleague who subsequently committed suicide. And then there was that nasty business of his wife who mysteriously died after 29 days of marriage. Yes, he was a scoundrel, but also a design genius -- seriously swanky with a flair for the dramatic. Todd Merrill wrote a wonderful article about him entitled "The Gangster's Favorite".
Mont's mark on mid-century decorations, his exotic sense of style and relentless self-promotion made Asian-style modernism popular. 'Chinese modern is chic again, and nobody did it better than Mont. Such a dangerous man, but oh, what taste.'' Although Mont is credited with popularizing the mid-century fusion of Asian effects and Miesian (think glass & steel buildings) silhouettes, his interiors were rarely ever photographed. The New York Times, The Godfather of Exotic Modernism, Oct 6, 1996. This was probably due to the fact that his criminal clientele wanted to fly under the radar. Mont said that his Asian esthetic was driven by his background, ''I am an Oriental,'' said the designer, who claimed was born in Constantinople in 1904. To him, ''the delicate touch of Oriental spice...is just as necessary in furniture design as it is in fine cooking.'' He was a con artist, a womanizer, a gambler and always about one step of the tax collector. But wow, his furniture is just so lavish and chic.