Inside fashion director James Aguiar’s dramatic Brooklyn apartment

Inside fashion director James Aguiar’s dramatic Brooklyn apartment

Even if American lives don’t, as F Scott Fitzgerald once famously wrote, have a second act, the rooms that house them frequently do. Especially when the owners work in fashion.

When Mark Haldeman, the US regional manager of Paul Smith, and James Aguiar, fashion director of Modern Luxury magazines and former creative director at Nina Ricci, moved back into the Brooklyn apartment they had rented a decade earlier, they knew they didn’t want it to look anything like it had before.

‘It was our first apartment together, and a huge part of our lives,’ says Aguiar. ‘But it’s fun and challenging to change. When we found out that the apartment was available and decided to move back in, we knew we wanted a whole new look. It freaks me out when I go into someone’s house and it’s a time capsule of a certain period of their lives.’

The gallery space, off the lounge, includes work by Hunt Slonem (, Hugo Guinness – who sells prints via John Derian ( – and fashion illustrator Manuel Santelices, whose work is available via CREDIT: MARK C O’FLAHERTY

Their new library space represents the most dramatic change in the two-storey Brownstone flat. Packed from floor to ceiling with fashion and design monograph books, the room has switched from its original Diana Vreeland ‘garden in hell’ red colour scheme to an emerald green, taking its cue from a Fornasetti Malachite pattern that they love, now a wallpaper covering the ceiling as well as the sides of the room.

‘This is a space that’s meant to inspire,’ says Haldeman. ‘The shelves aren’t really organised; it’s nice to grab a book and just sit down with it and discover something. There’s also a TV for the evening – it’s the room we spend the most of our time in.’

«The couple aren’t purists. A lot of the furniture is made up of reupholstered thrifty finds»

There’s plenty of design pedigree in this Brooklyn home. Years before Haldeman was approached by Paul Smith, he worked with the interior designer John Derian, and on the estate of the late artist Tony Duquette. Still one of the most influential names in stage and film design, Duquette was famed for his glamorous, maximalist flourishes.

‘I worked with a variety of manufacturers to get Tony’s designs back into production,’ explains Aguiar. The gold skeleton of a giant toad, sitting on a coffee table in the couple’s lounge, is one of those remade pieces, while the huge, theatrical painting hanging in their stairwell was originally the backdrop for a window display of Duquette designs at Bergdorf Goodman.

The black-and- white photographs are by EJ Camp. The matching, vintage Leon Rosen swivel chairs were found on (‘the poor man’s 1stDibs,’ jokes Aguiar), and are in their original upholstery CREDIT: MARK C O’FLAHERTY

‘The green fabric on the chairs in the library is also something we reissued with Jim Thompson fabrics,’ he adds. ‘It’s Duquette’s Royal Ermine design.’

Aguiar and Haldeman might be well-versed in applied art but they aren’t purists. A lot of the furniture in the flat is made up of reupholstered thrifty finds, such as the headboard in the master bedroom, which was originally in a room at the Waldorf Astoria. ‘We found it in a random loft sale in Williamsburg for a hundred bucks,’ recalls Aguiar.

There is a cupboard in the library that has a cross-hatch pattern of brass rods on its doors. It looks like it could be some Gio Ponti mid-century treasure, but actually the pair found it as a wall hanging in the discount department store Target, had it cut up and attached it to the doors.

Their apartment is all fashion and fun. Aguiar describes his favourite colour as ‘Pucci’, and their dressing room consists of Ikea wardrobes, customised to incorporate cork panels, pinned with invitations and inspirational fashion images.

The wardrobes are all from Ikea, customised by the couple so they can pin an array of ephemera and inspirational images to them. CREDIT: MARK C O’FLAHERTY

‘We add to the collage and take away from it all the time,’ says Aguiar of the expanse of ephemera that looks just like a designer’s mood board.

Predictably, Haldeman’s half of their wardrobe is full of Paul Smith. ‘Actually I have much less than half of the space,’ he points out. ‘I live relatively simply because I wear one label, but James has tons and tons.’

Aguiar admits he continually fails at adopting a one-in-one-out policy with his clothes: ‘Some things I might only wear once, and they go into what I call “the archive”.’ One standout piece in that archive is a white suit that he customised himself with thousands of googly eyes. It’s a look that has appeared in a variety of New York gossip column and party pages.

The antique-store sign on the wall used to belong to Haldeman’s uncle, who had a shop in the West Village. The light fitting is from that same antiques store. The dining table was found in a thrift shop and was originally bright yellow before being repainted in black. The dining chairs are from Time Galleries in Brooklyn CREDIT: MARK C O’FLAHERTY

One of the few things that has gone back on the wall of the Brooklyn apartment after being here before is a piece of vintage signage which used to belong to Haldeman’s uncle. ‘He ran an antique store in the West Village,’ he explains, ‘and had it painted for the shop. When he closed the store, he kept the sign and had it in his apartment.

I told him if he ever thought about getting rid of it, I wanted it, but he forgot and sold it to a dealer. Then he passed away and John Derian managed to find the dealer who had bought it, and convinced him to sell it to him. He gave it to me for Christmas. It’s still one of the nicest gifts I’ve ever received.’

Another huge surprise for Haldeman came when he opened up a small ornate cabinet he inherited from his uncle, which sits in a corner of the Fornasetti-green library.

Mark Haldeman and James Aguiar CREDIT: MARK C O’FLAHERTY

Inside, there are some small antique crowns and tiaras, and a stack of luxuriously printed, vintage black-and-white photographs of his uncle in the bars and cafés of Paris in the 1930s and 1940s. In each shot, his uncle is in remarkably stylish drag, accompanied by similarly bohemian transvestite friends. Très Victor/Victoria.

‘Our family had no idea!’ he says, proving that F Scott Fitzgerald was definitely wrong about American lives having no more than a single act.