If the walls of Lauren Santo Domingo’s Parisian apartment could talk, they’d tell tall tales. Built around the 1890s in typical Haussman fashion, the building has housed many a star-studded party in its time, a legacy that Lauren is proving to uphold. It was at one of her fashion week gatherings that the late Karl Lagerfeld recognised the apartment, having attended a party there when it belonged to an American ballerina. “There’s a lot of people that come in and have a feeling that they’ve been here before,” says Lauren.
It’s hosting credentials are of little surprise given its good looks and discreet location, reached through an unassuming gate in St Germain. First impressions of the building are of the proportions: the large, sturdy doorways; the tall sash windows flooding the big, square rooms with light; the wide, winding staircase; and the high, ornate ceilings. “A Parisian apartment, with its gracious scale and proportion, is always infinitely better than one in New York,” remarks Lauren, who’s primary home is in New York, where she runs Moda Operandi, the online fashion emporium she co-founded in 2011, that has showrooms in New York, London and soon-to-be Hong Kong when it opens in K11 Musea this November.
The Parisian house is split into two apartments: the ground floor, which is long-time home to Lauren’s mother-in-law; and the upper floors, owned by Lauren and her husband Andres, who flipped a coin with his brother for the place when it came on the market seven years ago. “It was in such a shambles, but it was impossible not to see the potential,” says Lauren, who met her husband in Paris in the late eighties. “It had to be completely renovated from top to bottom but we were so happy.” To help with the initial reconfiguration of the space, Lauren and her husband called upon a local construction firm, the owner of which happened to be related to the man who had originally installed the building. “I couldn’t believe what a coincidence,” says Lauren, who explained how, miraculously, they were able to dig up the original plans of the house at their studio. The walls were uncovered to reveal boiserie in perfect condition, and the original floors, fireplaces and mirrors were also restored.
To decorate, Lauren and her husband commissioned designer François Catroux – a connoisseur of Parisian decor, who also designed Andres’ mother’s apartment downstairs. “For us, it was just about figuring out how we were going to use the space since we don’t live here year-round, but, being here for fashion weeks, we definitely had entertaining in mind,” explains Lauren. “We didn’t want it to be too formal or grand. We wanted it to have a little bit of cool, while also ensuring it would be catastrophe-proof, as a lot of my friends at midnight are more destructive than my children! So it was accidentally well-designed for when my children came along too,” says Lauren, whose two children study at a French school in New York.
Catroux responded with an elegant and contemporary look that breathes fresh life into the beautiful old bones of the building. A grey patina is evident throughout, from the library with its two buttoned sofas upholstered in grey herringbone linen, to the sitting room with its zebra-print sofa and 60s-era goat-hair armchairs, and the salon with its dark grey walls. Bold modern and post-war art by the likes of Man Ray and Robert Motherwell punctuates the rooms with colour, while upstairs in the bedrooms, bathrooms and Lauren’s dressing room, the tone remains largely monochromatic.
“I really wanted the house to have some sort of relation to its location, so we sourced a lot of the furniture in Paris,” says Lauren. “It’s in my nature that if someone shows me something, I don’t like it as much as if I found it myself. If something’s just appearing to me then it’s not part of my story and it doesn’t resonate as much. I imagine it’s infuriating at times for designers.” To this end, special-found pieces include the Giacometti coffee table and Eugene Printz black lacquer table in the library, and objects including Asian antiquity, bronze horses, and her husband’s collection of Japanese netsuke.
“It hasn’t evolved too much, though obviously we add and take away,” says Lauren. “Our primary residence in New York took us four years to finish. This being our secondary residence, I’m giving us 10 years!” Of course, this extended timeframe is partly down to Lauren’s job and the fact that she is constantly on the lookout for new and interesting homeware products and designers, “shopping” for her brand. “Whether it’s fashion, jewellery, art, or furniture, I am constantly looking. I see everything. I don’t miss anything,” she says.
Moda Operandi launched homeware last year, when Lauren discovered that her new-found love of tablescapes was translating well to the sophisticated Moda Operandi customer. In the dining room of her Parisian home, a circular table is set with linens by Loretta Caponi and glasses by Davide Fuin – designers that feature on the site. Fashion still reigns supreme on the platform though, with its “trunkshow” feature allowing shoppers to pre-order an edit of catwalk looks directly after they are presented during fashion week, a concept that will be brought to life in the new Hong Kong showroom, along with current season collections and a fine jewellery gallery. “What we’re really looking to do is to create an experience with designers that aren’t widely distributed in Asia yet, but that have a very distinct fashion point of view,” explains Lauren. “We will show their collections in their entirety, along with exclusive pieces and accessories, and offer one-on-one appointments with the designer.”
With the imminent launch, it’s a wonder Lauren manages any time to herself, but Paris is the place she comes for a month each summer to relax with family, taking long lunches on a pretty garden terrace designed by Madison Cox, who contributed to the designs of Yves Saint Laurent’s famous Majorelle Garden in Marrakech. “We overlook at least five gardens at the back so there’s always birds and sunlight,” says Lauren. “It’s really, really quiet. One almost feels like it’s the countryside, in a way.”
CreditPhotography: Romain Ricard