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NEW YORK — Standing in front of artist Andrei Molodkin’s “Oil Revolution,” an installation featuring skulls encased in acrylic blocks and connected to long tubes filled with a dark liquid, Peter Marino cuts an eye-popping figure in head-to-toe black leather. It’s hard to top such a macabre work of art, but Marino manages to upstage “Oil” with his 360-degree biker duds that include a black muscle shirt, dark sunglasses, leather biker’s hat, tattoos and Goth jewelry.
The architect of choice for fashion and luxury retailers, Marino, 61, is a study in contrasts. Known for the collection of Renaissance and Baroque bronze sculpture that fills his Manhattan home, he also has an array of edgy art by Vik Muniz and Anselm Reyle rotating through his office. Marino speaks knowledgeably on such subjects as art history and Middle Eastern politics, but mixes in words like “dude” and “ginormous” in a raspy mash-up of a proper British accent and the street-smart patois of his native Bayside, N.Y. Peter from the block is also Pedro from Milan, as in his third-person remark, “A lot of what Pedro does isn’t very glamorous.”
In an industry with the collective attention span of a fruit fly, Marino has enjoyed an improbably long run. Known for creating modern retail spaces with varying degrees of glamour, from understated to full-frontal, Marino has become the keeper of brand identities, reserving shades of gray for Dior, golden chain mail for Louis Vuitton, and glass and blackened steel for Chanel. It goes a long way toward explaining his decades-long relationships with the kingpins of fashion — Chanel’s Wertheimer family, with whom he began working in 1982, and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chief Bernard Arnault, who he linked up with in 1995 — plus the likes of Americana Manhasset owner Frank Castagna, the Zegna family and the Hublot family.
“When they hire me,” Marino says, “I wrap my arms around their legs and never let go.”
“Peter has something that very few interior designers have,” says Sidney Toledano, president and chief executive officer of Christian Dior. “He understands that, in the end, this is a boutique. He gives [a store] the feeling of an apartment through the materials, lighting and furnishings, but at the same time, we need drawers and shelves to do business. Peter is excellent at that. The way you work with an architect is a lot like working with a designer. You have the same sort of connivance. When we meet with Peter, it’s not just what is written on a piece of paper. We explain the expectation and objectives in a given city and he grasps it. This is what happens with Peter. He gets it.”
Marino seems to have a genuine affinity for designers. “They are in the realm of artists,” he says. “A lot of people call it craft. But there’s a huge amount of artistic talent. The Metropolitan [Museum of Art] has given fashion its quasi-mark of approval with the Costume Institute in the basement of the museum. Dude, get over it. Not only painting is art.”