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June 27, 2008 5:41 PM

Fashion

Remembering Severin Wunderman

/*photo styles */ .photo-left { width:200px; float:left; margin:4px; } .photo-right { width:200px; float:right; margin:4px; } .caption { font-size:10px;padding:2px; color:#999999; } I was always impressed by Severin Wunderman, the owner of Swiss watch brand Corum, who passed away this week...

I was always impressed by Severin Wunderman, the owner of Swiss watch brand Corum, who passed away this week after suffering a stroke. He was a larger-than-life figure in an industry that can often use a jolt of excitement.

Severin was a "Big Idea" person. When he convinced Aldo Gucci to give him the license for Gucci watches, he knew how hungry people were for luxury branding. When he was bought out -- a deal that reaped him a lot of money -- he couldn't bear sitting on the sidelines as his non-compete clause stipulated. He once told me he knew he wanted to buy Corum the day he sold Gucci back to Gucci Group.

Severin couldn't live without a project and he couldn't live without zeal. Seeing Severin during the Basel watch fair was always my favorite appointment. He would be dressed to the nines -- often with a silver spider brooch pinned to his lapel -- and he would speak frankly on all subjects, which was refreshing. I knew I could trust him to paint a true picture. He loved art. I think it was his path to transcendence after having survived the Holocaust and having had to work his way up from the bottom (I believe he was a taxi driver at one point). It inspired him to think beyond business and his own bodily frailty after having been diagnosed with cancer in the Nineties and, as if through sheer determination, beating it.

Though physically he was diminished, his spirit remained big. I remember a meeting at his pied-a-terre in Paris several years ago. There was a view on the River Seine and Severin had furnished the pad with Forties furniture.

After a long talk, he took me around to see the art. I remember the Tamara de Lempicka and the many paintings and sketches by Jean Cocteau, whom Severin revered. I always reckoned Severin loved Cocteau so much (he had one of the biggest Cocteau collections in the world) because Cocteau excelled in so many fields, whether writing, painting or filmmaking. The last time I saw Severin, in March, he told me he had donated all his Cocteau pieces to a museum that was being built in Menton, on the French Riveria. I remember how excited he was that the museum was opening next year. It's sad he'll never see it. I'm sure he would have been pleased.
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