Designer Francis Sultana on Cary Grant, pistachio ice cream and his hometown of Valletta
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My personal style signifier is my Vacheron Constantin Toledo watch. It has an art deco feel to it – that’s one of my favourite periods, which is why I love it so. My mother and my partner, David Gill, gave it to me 12 years ago. It’s in gold and I customised it with a red strap. 37 Old Bond Street, London W1 (020-7578 9500; vacheron-constantin.com)
The last thing I bought and loved was an Untitled portrait created this year by the Spanish artist Secundino Hernández, from the Victoria Miro gallery. David and I are big art collectors. It’s a surreal portrait, in shades of blue and grey: I was immediately struck by it. All his work is incredibly strong – both the colour and the composition. 16 Wharf Road, London N1 (020-7336 8109; victoria-miro.com)
The thing I’m eyeing next is a kitchen by Plain English. I have never had a proper kitchen where you can cook, eat and hang out in the same space. I’m renovating an apartment in the Albany, where we live – this one has not been touched since 1959 and doesn’t even have central heating. It’s a tough project, as I need to blend the Georgian architecture and its past with my own style, which is more contemporary – it’s really testing my boundaries. plainenglishdesign.co.uk
The last items of clothing I added to my wardrobe were my summer suits, ordered months ago from Anderson & Sheppard, who have been making my suits for 20 years. I’ve got four for this season, among them a linen one in teal blue. As I mature, I get more wild – they used to always be navy blue. 32 Old Burlington Street, London W1 (020-7734 1420; anderson-sheppard.co.uk)
An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is Mustique, where I’ve been going for 10 years. By November I’m exhausted by the pressure of work and can’t wait to get there. We hire a house, and I get out my watercolours and sketch books. I’m from Malta, which has a British 1950s feel, and Mustique is a bit like that too. I like visiting houses by the late stage designer Oliver Messel, who had a strong influence there.
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is my gondolier slippers. I buy them from Piedàterre in Venice. I have about a dozen pairs in various colours and states of disrepair. Mine are canvas, so they do get destroyed, but they pack flat and are so comfortable. From €42; Ruga dei Ores 60, 30100 Venice (+39041-528 5513; piedaterre-venice.com)
The last meal that truly impressed me was at The Harbour Club in Valletta. It’s one of the most atmospheric restaurants in the world. An outside terrace decorated with twinkling lights looks over the Grand Harbour onto the boats moored below. My favourite dish was the wild boar lasagne. 4/5 Barrierra Wharf, Valletta (+356-2122 2332; theharbourclubmalta.com)
If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose St James’s in London. I’m not a huge shopper, and I’m very loyal. Along with my Anderson & Sheppard suits, for 20 years I’ve been buying my shirts from Turnbull & Asser. On a Sunday after lunch, I’ll often spend an hour or so looking through books in Hatchards – it’s my local bookshop, so I make an effort to buy from there rather than online. I’ve also been buying my shoes from Berluti nearby, in Mayfair, for 15 years. I adore my Andy loafers – I have over 20 pairs, in various shades. Berluti, 43 Conduit Street, W1 (020-7437 1740; berluti.com). Hatchards, 187 Piccadilly, W1 (020-7439 9921; hatchards.co.uk). Turnbull & Asser, 71-72 Jermyn Street, SW1 (020-7808 3000; turnbullandasser.co.uk)
My favourite apps are British Airways, as I’m always travelling; the music app Tidal; and Giphy, where you can check out GIFs of anything from cool closets to Joan Crawford. I also check the Times of Malta app to see what’s going on back home. I’m involved with MICAS, a new contemporary art museum opening in Valletta in 2021, so I need to keep abreast of local culture.
My style icon is Cary Grant. I love his 1950s and 1960s films, such as To Catch a Thief. He had a timeless style. Tom Ford is the only one who has been able to come close to it, maybe because he loves that era too. I have lots of clothes by Tom Ford, from the first collection until now, and I wear them until they fall apart.
The best gift I’ve given recently was a donation to the Serpentine Galleries to help fund the show of abstract paintings and drawings by late architect Zaha Hadid held in the Sackler Gallery last December. She was a very great friend, and I love what the Serpentine does and want to support it. serpentinegalleries.org
And the best one I’ve received recently is a pair of vintage Van Cleef & Arpels cufflinks from David. They are gold with small square sapphires. I love vintage cufflinks. vancleefarpels.com
An object I would never part with is a 1930s chair by the late French decorator Emilio Terry. It came from the estate of Carlos de Beistegui; Terry worked on the redesign of the Château de Groussay at Montfort-l’Amaury for the multimillionaire art collector. I purchased it more than 20 years ago in Paris, from a small antique shop in the seventh arrondissement, for about £3,000. It has no name, and Terry is not so well known, but for me, this chair is one of the 20th-century greats.
My favourite room in my house is my TV room, which doubles as a study and place to eat. It’s a major part of my life, as it’s small and informal, and it’s where I relax – curled up on my low sofa in a blanket. When I’m alone, I always need background noise, so I keep the TV on even if I’m not actually watching anything – that way, if a news item grabs my attention, I can turn to it fully.
The grooming staple I’m never without is Acqua di Colonia Melograno from Santa Maria Novella. Since I was 20, I have worn nothing else. I rather love the history of pomegranate: in Greek mythology it was believed to have sprung from the blood of Adonis, which is rather romantic. £90 for 100ml; 1 Piccadilly Arcade, London W1 (020-7493 1975; smnovella.it)
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is the late Francis Picabia. It’s too late now but I love surrealism and the 1920s – and I’m constantly inspired by Picabia’s shapes, forms and colours. My favourites are his “transparencies”, made roughly between 1928 and 1931.
An indulgence I would never forgo is my Ernesto scented candles by Cire Trudon. I discovered the brand 25 years ago, long before it came to London. I have them burning all the time at home and in the office, and even take them travelling with me so that I have the same smell in my hotel room. They provide me with a sense of security. £70; 36 Chiltern Street, London W1 (020-7486 7590; trudon.com)
A recent “find” is the very chic artisan tableware workshop, Laboratorio Paravacini, in Milan. The founder, Costanza Paravicini, and her daughter, Benedetta Medici, handpaint the most stunning bespoke pieces and offer amazing customer service. Via Nerino 8, 20123 Milan (+3902-7202 1006; paravicini.it)
The best book I’ve read in the past year is Sunnylands by Janice Lyle. It documents everything from the building of the famous midcentury house in Palm Springs to the impeccable taste of its former owners, Walter and Leonore Annenberg. They were art collectors and diplomats who entertained everyone from Ronald Reagan to royalty there. I give this book to clients to highlight the levels of sophistication that can be reached. $60; vendomepress.com
In my fridge, you’ll always find pistachio ice cream by Oddono’s. You can really taste the Sicilian pistachios, and they remind me of my childhood. If I’m having a good day, I’ll eat vanilla yoghurt and fresh berries. If I’m having a bad day, I’ll reach for the ice cream. £9 for 500ml; 14 Bute Street, London SW7 (0333-800 0480)
The last music I downloaded was Symphony by Clean Bandit featuring Zara Larsson. I love pop, the current stuff. Sometimes after a tough, disciplined day at the office, I’ll turn on the music, jump off my chair and start dancing. I like tragic opera too, but pop really gets my energy going.
If I didn’t live in London, the city I would live in would be Valletta. I’m going back there more often now, and next year it will be European Capital of Culture. Blitz is an independent contemporary arts space that holds high-quality exhibitions, set within a four-storey townhouse – it will be at the heart of the celebrations next year, and I will be buying pieces from there. A visit to St John’s Co-Cathedral offers a glimpse into the incredible wealth that Malta once had. It was created between 1573 and 1577 – it’s a gem of baroque art and architecture and was built to honour the Knights of St John. It also has a great museum shop. Another Valletta institution, going since 1906, is Rubino restaurant. And Caffe Cordina sells the best Maltese cakes. Blitz, 68 St Lucia Street (+35621-224 992; thisisblitz.com). Caffe Cordina, 244 Republic Street (+35621-234 385; caffecordina.com). Rubino, 53 Old Bakery Street (+35621-224 656; rubinomalta.com). St John’s Co-Cathedral, St John Street (+35621-220 536; stjohnscocathedral.com)
The people I rely on for personal grooming and wellbeing are Limoz Logli who cuts my hair every two or three weeks – it grows so fast – and my personal trainer, Matt Darius. I see him every working day when I’m in London – he knows what a challenge it is for me to stay fit, with my lifestyle. We train very hard at the Akasha spa and gym, at the Hotel Café Royal, which was designed by David Chipperfield Architects. Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre, 50 Regent Street, London W1 (020-7406 3360; hotelcaferoyal.com). Limoz Logli, 78A Chelsea Manor Street, London SW3 (020-7351 1239; limozlogli.com). Matt Darius, mattdarius.com
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be a politician back home in Malta, promoting arts and culture. When I left 25 years ago there was nothing there, but now it has really moved forward. My involvement with various institutions such as the V&A and the Serpentine has really opened my eyes.