The More You Get

There are times when less is more. But then, there are times when more is exactly what it sounds like, which is precisely the philosophy of Hutton Wilkinson in his new book, More is More. As the successor of legendary decorator and jewelry designer Tony Duquette, “subtle” is not a word Wilkinson often uses. Chatting with Brilliant over a leisurely lunch at the Lake Austin Spa Resort, Wilkinson explains that sometimes even reptile bones make the perfect decoration.

Tony Duquette and Hutton Wilkinson

Throughout his career, the late Tony Duquette was known for his extravagant decorative designs and jewelry. Whether creating a brooch out of seashells and citrines or constructing a gazebo out of deer antlers, the results were always larger than life. Duquette’s child-like imagination and over-the-top works of art garnered him attention from European nobility, Hollywood stars, Hindu Maharajas and the international elite. His lucrative clientèle included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, musician Herb Alpert and cosmetics mogul Elizabeth Arden, for whom he decorated a castle in Ireland.

“Tony always used to say, ‘more is more,’” explains Hutton Wilkinson. “And I don’t think it’s natural to be minimal.” When Duquette died in 1999, Wilkinson was the obvious choice to succeed the master’s legacy. As a longtime protégé, business partner and close friend of Duquette’s, the two men collaborated on countless projects and shared the same extraordinary notion of décor and design for over 30 years. As president of Tony Duquette, Inc., Wilkinson has continued and expanded upon that bold creativity with his own collection of jewelry and exotic home furnishings. “It’s a look that I completely associate with, believe in, understand and I can do it with my eyes closed,” Wilkinson asserts. “It was never strange to me.”

There’s something to be said about the trusty sidekick. It’s an often overlooked but necessary position, operating behind the scenes while the star of the show stands center stage. For Wilkinson, however, it was a role he happily played. The duo traveled the world together, visiting exotic locales, rubbing elbows with fabulous well-to-dos, and, on occasion, saving the world from the predictability of humdrum curtains. According to Wilkinson, who began his career with Duquette at age 18, Duquette’s life was equally as astonishing as the designs he dreamed. “Every day was just eye opening,” Wilkinson recalls. “You never knew what was going to happen. I’d come into the studio in the morning, and [Duquette] would walk in and say, ‘We’re all leaving for Europe in a week.’ But, of course, that meant I had to pay [my own way]. He never paid for anything.” Wilkinson’s first trip to Europe was financed with money he made selling a sofa to a wealthy South American woman. “It was always like that. You never knew what surprises there were going to be.”

As Wilkinson attests, Duquette’s opulent approach challenged the team to constantly push the envelope. It was never enough to paint the wall white. The wall had to be painted white, covered in seashells, layered with tapestry and pictures hung on top. “Then some furniture,” Wilkinson muses. “Maybe two or three pieces—and a mirror so you have depth.”

The Duquette vision, Wilkinson admits, is not for everyone. “This stuff is not for the faint-hearted,” he professes. A wealthy California socialite presented them with a bag full of emeralds and asked Duquette to make a fine piece of jewelry for her. In his own typical fashion, Duquette boiled the meat off a dead rattlesnake and fashioned a necklace by setting the vertebrae with 18K gold and the collection of emeralds. “She hated it,” Wilkinson enthuses, still amused years later.

Detractors aside, Duquette’s influence in the decorating world is still readily apparent in the works of such designers as Kelly Wearstler, Richard Mishaan, and others. For the 2007 holiday season, Bergdorf Goodman celebrated Duquette with a grandiose tribute in the windows of its flagship in New York. For Wilkinson’s part, he cherishes the honor to carry on his friend’s mantel. Under his guidance, the Tony Duquette line of fine jewelry continues to sell through select Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman stores, and his offices in Beverly Hills continue to create unique interior designs around the world. Wilkinson also co-authored the best selling biography Tony Duquette, which was published by Abrams Books in November 2007 and this year penned the celebrated second volume, More is More. “He was nice, kind, and gentle,” Wilkinson reflects. “And, he was important to me. It’s all a labor of love to keep his name out there. He made my life, so I keep his legacy going.”

More than just his legacy, Wilkinson preserves his mentor’s persona. “Just recently, I bought a python vertebrae,” he adds. “And, I’m going to set it with stones. I can’t wait.”

STORY: Jacob Roeschley