As she curates an edit of lots from Geneva's upcoming Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale, Princess Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis talks about growing up surrounded by art, beginning her own collection and starring with her mother in a T.J. Wilcox short film.
F rom an early age, Princess Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis understood the visual impact of an unexpected pairing. Growing up, she was surrounded by elaborate Rococo staterooms, complex video installations, an 8th-century Benedectine monastery, playful Keith Haring doodles, 18th-century frescoes and challenging contemporary works by the likes of George Condo.
Naturally her own outlook was affected: “I would say it infected me with a sense of curiosity, and spurred me on to discover and see more. I think it also broadened and shaped the way I look at the world - I would like to think with a more open mind.”But her childhood home – the vast, 500-room Palace of St Emmeram in Regensburg, Bavaria, that also houses the exceptional contemporary art collection of her mother, Princess Mariae Gloria – was just Elisabeth’s starting point: “The castle is my roots and it shaped me as such. It made me think and see the world in certain ways but it also inspired me to leave the castle and find my own path. I have lived in so many places and countries. I have found my own voice. I live a very modern, urban life and I feel that inspires me much more these days.”
Right now, that modern life is in Rome, where her days start with yoga or Pilates, before spending her morning writing. Afternoons might mean drinking coffee on a relaxed piazza with a friend or taking in a show, while evenings necessitate a balance between a whirlwind social life and finding downtime for herself: “It really depends...it can be crazy, with several parties in a row – a black tie dinner, gallery openings, or just a cosy dinner with friends. But it also can just be me in PJs and a great TV series. I need it all.”
Her appreciation of mixing influences though, has continued, feeding into her own style as a respected fashion journalist and author, although her inspiration comes less from her stately ancestors than from icons of the 1960s and 1970s: Edie Sedgwick, Romy Schneider and Brigitte Bardot. “I gravitate toward the more playful and feminine aesthetic but then I need to add an edge and toughness,” she says. “I like a bit of rock n’ roll, a touch of punk, a bit of masculinity. I don’t like looking prim or too put together; there always needs to be an element to offset the rest. I love people who dress with a distinct sense of personality and who create their own aesthetic, no matter what fashion dictates.”
She is currently doing just that: Rome is also where her walls display the beginnings of her own art collection, following in the footsteps of her parents but keen to establish her own taste. “I do love my mother’s collection but I personally gravitate towards quite different artists,” she explains. “I also have a very different budget. Growing up with great art has probably made me a much more cautious collector. I’m very, very careful. I haven’t really bought much because I wanted to learn and understand first. “I feel I’m drawn to the stories artists tell, and less to the images themselves. It’s their process that excites me. Sometimes that means the works are more abstract or conceptual. I also feel it’s important to look at the art of your generation. I bought an early piece of Cyprien Gaillard years ago and I still love it. He also became a good friend of mine. I love the work of Tomas Saraceno or Mircea Cantor. His video work at Basel this year mesmerised me. I love a good storyteller.”
One such storyteller who has captivated Elisabeth, is New York artist T.J. Wilcox who, as part of the Princess’s collaboration with Sotheby’s and her curated edit of the upcoming Geneva jewelry sale, has made a short film of Elisabeth returning to the Regensburg castle and discussing art and jewels with her mother, the Princess Mariae Gloria. “It was so easy and organic,” Elisabeth says of filming with Wilcox. “The only issue was that we didn’t have much time, so it had to be quite fast and spontaneous. T.J. and I have been friends for years. I fell in love with his work, and later with him; we have wanted to work together for such a long time.”
For Wilcox, it was an opportunity to explore an extraordinary and unparalleled setting: “I like to investigate, uncover and complicate subjects. Nothing is simple; every thing, every history, every object did not materialise from nothing, but has been constructed from precedent, or mutation, or recombination over time. I like to pull apart these layers and consider history as a subject that is not stable, but rather continuously evolving.”
“As the house has been home to a single family for so long, one sees its successive generations’ collecting passions in the sweep of an eye: a Rococo commode beneath a Koons’ painting, for example. I was struck by the sense that Princess Gloria’s forebears were as interested in the art and furnishings of their time, as she is of her own. And so, in spite of its antiquity, the home can be appreciated as layers of ‘the contemporary’, which interests me very much.”
Although she grew up there, Elisabeth rarely spends time at St Emmeram now, so she relished the opportunity to return: “To be honest, it’s a place of marvel for me as much as for anyone. Walking around the castle for this video felt like re-discovering it myself.” But of course her tastes have evolved. Now, she chooses the opulent four-poster bed that belonged to her great-grandmother Margharete, as her favourite spot but remembers that as a child, she loved the works by Jeff Koons: “To a child’s mind it does not get any better than that. The only thing better would have been for us to actually sit on them, but my mother explained to us that they were grown-up toys so we could only look, not touch.”
And even today, Princess Gloria is protective of her impressive collection of heritage jewels: “My mother does not lend me much. It’s a big responsibility to wear them out. Whenever I have gone to parties with any bigger piece, I seem to remember fretting about not losing the pieces during the night.”
Hence Elisabeth found it “a real treat” to try on pieces from Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale: “I absolutely adore all those diamond bracelets. I liked wearing them stacked; it’s a bold look, but it makes it more modern too. I wanted a range of pieces to play with, but truthfully I was drawn to the very sparkly and ultra-precious ones because when do I ever get to wear all of those?”
Her own taste in jewelry is a little more low-key: “It needs to be stuff I can wear every day. I don’t live a life where I sit in a chauffeured car all day. I walk a lot, I’m out and about. I like delicate but fun pieces. I love gold, I love to stack and mix. I have two custom-made gold bangles with personal inscriptions that I always wear, and a few necklaces that rarely leave my body. At night, I can go for more statement pieces. I love Delfina Delettrez or Jessica McCormack.”
It’s reflective of her approach to being a 21st-century princess, and as Wilcox’s candid film shows, the Princesses Elisabeth and Mariae Gloria have evidently honed their own distinct styles as members of modern German royalty, that both contrast and complement one another. “When I was younger, there was always a bit of a tug of war between us because she wanted me to look a certain way – my hair all brushed and tidy – and I had my own ideas,” says Elisabeth. “I was always very conscious about my style. But these days, I think she likes that about me. I guess without ever verbalising it, her living advice has been to be yourself, sartorially and beyond.”