London Design Power Couple Reigns in the Post-Taste Age

They may not be as royal as Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones, nor as bouncy as footballer David Beckham and Posh Spice Victoria Adams, but as far as London “It” couples go, Ashley and Allegra Hicks, who were in New York in June, are a big thing.

Ashley Hicks’ grandparents were Lord and Lady Mountbatten. His mother, Lady Pamela, wed the famous international interior designer David Hicks. Style was the Hicks family milk. At boarding school, young Mr. Hicks decorated his room in a checkered black-and-white motif.

Allegra Hicks also comes from a family with cultivated tastes. Her father, an industrialist in Turin, Italy, designed furniture and collected modern art. He conceived the family’s Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired glass house. As a teenager, Ms. Hicks was introduced to interior designer Renzo Mongiardino and, at his suggestion, studied fresco design and trompe l’oeil at the prestigious Van der Kelen school of decorative arts in Brussels.

It was only natural that the Hickses–who were introduced by mutual friends about 10 years ago and have two children, Angelica and Ambrosia–would pursue vocations in design. He trained as an architect and designs furniture and jewelry. The furniture is available in New York at the Studium V showroom at 150 East 58th Street; his jewelry is represented by Aurora Lopez, who also represents Jade Jagger in New York. Allegra Hicks designs subtle textiles, including a collection of rugs sold by Pucci International Ltd. at 44 West 18th Street. Later this summer, Barneys will sell her line of caftans. For selected clients, the Hickses decorate houses together. Their look is haute casual, the result of intricate planning and editing. Refined colors, textures and patterns whimsically border on an “ethnic” look, but harmony triumphs thanks to the Hickses’ instinct for discretion.

In June, they were encamped at a small apartment kept by her sister in the East 60’s. The decoration included a red beanbag vortex of a chair designed by her father. Mr. Hicks, a self-described New York enthusiast, modeled a new pair of Nikes he had bought during a round of appointments earlier in the day. Ms. Hicks offered her approval not so much in words, but with a purr. Then, in a sunny voice with a romantic Italian accent, she declared, “Ah, the new Ashley.”

Perfectly English to the bone, he said, “I’m really worried they look like high heels.” Actually, he wasn’t that worried.

“I think one of the things my father got absolutely wrong was this business about what is bad taste,” he

remarked, settling next to his wife on a long beige sofa. The late David Hicks clamored against bad English taste. Few Brits were excepted, including his in-laws and some members of the royal family.

“There is no such thing as bad taste and good taste,” said Mr. Hicks. “Some people just have a lot of taste. Strongly different than your own. One of the great things now is how we are able to see, for instance as a magazine like Nest shows us, how extreme bad taste is one of the most beautiful things you could ever see.”

“There’s no fashion anymore,” Ms. Hicks said.

“There is not pressure to maintain any certain trend,” Mr. Hicks said. “Nor is there pressure to make anything new. It’s all been done.”

The Hickses are not trying to keep up with any modernists. “Modern designers look at the world and say, ‘That’s ugly. I can do it better.’ We don’t do that,” Mr. Hicks said. “Instead, we just do our own thing. Creativity is doing what you like. That is heaven.”

“It is our fantasy of how a beautiful thing would look,” he said.

The couple, who travel often to India where many of their pieces are made, live in the Chelsea section of London and share studio space in Battersea. Weekends are spent trying out new decorating ideas at an old carriage house they converted at his family’s place in Oxfordshire.

“We don’t work together,” Allegra Hicks explained. “Ashley is a loner in his thinking. I think we are good editors of each other’s work, but we don’t really collaborate.”

One of the most popular examples of Mr. Hicks’ work is his Klismos chair, an archeologically correct reproduction of what might have been considered an easy chair in Ancient Greece. Its elegant proportions rendered in Burmese teak have contemporary appeal. The seat is made of interwoven straps of saddle leather. His jewelry also feels very modern. In fact, his flexible, 22-karat gold fishnet necklace with rubies swimming in the mesh is, Mr. Hicks said, inspired by an ancient Etruscan design.

Allegra Hicks’ caftans are cut for a slimmer fit than most, without sacrificing any of their comfort zone. “Your clothes should be an extension of your soul. Same with your house,” she said. “In India, the more down-to-earth and simple things are designed, the more exquisite they are.”

The couple recently began designing a Web site to accommodate their expanding enterprises. Asked if the success of Viscount Linley, influenced them, Mr. Hicks responded, “Yes and no. We do such completely different things. I have great respect for David. The way he’s taken, well, you couldn’t have a less promising life, if you’re realistic, and yet he’s made himself a great career. The quality of his work is terrific, but it is really about special order. I’m making production pieces, things to be used, not things that are status symbols.”

How does it work when you hire the Hickses to decorate your house? “The other day, we were talking with a woman in London who asked us to do her house,” said Ms. Hicks. “But I’m scared of your rugs,” the lady told them. She asked if they would do something more traditional! The Hickses weren’t offended. They were amused. They suggested the lady go with Nina Campbell, the well-respected traditional British decorator. “We try to do houses for people who like us and our fabric and carpet,” Ms. Hicks said.

“Besides,” Mr. Hicks added, “We’re actually not very good at the contracting. You know, getting the builder there on time and all that?”

Billy’s List: Quiz time!

1. Who is Clarice Cliff?

a. The new animated Disney character who leaves the barnyard for a career in high fashion.

b. The British potter.

c. The alias for Talk magazine’s society columnist Sally Quinn.

2. For whom did Hermès name a new bag?

a. Lyn Revson.

b. Princess Caroline of Monaco.

c. Stephanie Seymour.

3. Who recently told The Sunday Times Magazine of London, “I really am a different beast these days. When you dye your hair, you have to do the whole thing, you see. About once a month, I mix up a job lot of the beard dye and lather it all over–underarms, leg hair, the lot–and when the roots start to show, I use Christian Dior hair mascara”?

a. Actor Rupert Everett.

b. Photographer Steven Meisel.

c. Interior designer Nicky Haslam.

Answers: (1) b; (2) a; (3) c.