Any colour as long as it's red

He's one of the most respected – and recognisable – figures in architecture. But what inspired Mike Davies' curious obsession?

When the Lloyd's of London building celebrated its 25th anniversary this week, the architect to whom its groundbreaking design is ascribed was there to mark the occasion.

But as Lord Rogers rode one of the famous glass lifts that rise outside its 14 floors, he was briefly upstaged by his business partner, Mike Davies – or, more precisely, by his outfit. Rogers has a taste for lime green or magenta shirts, but Davies's personal style choices are more radical: he wears red, and only red. His shirts are red. His suits are red. His shoes are red. His belt, his watch, his mobile phone holster, even the elastic band he uses to tie his ponytail: all red.

He sketches his designs in red ink, with a red pen. He drives a 17-year-old red Jaguar, with customised red leather interior. An accomplished amateur astronomer, he owns more than 20 red telescopes. "I remember walking around Lloyd's when we were designing the building," he says, "and I must have cost them 20 or 30 grand every time I came through the office, because they all stopped trading to look at me! In fact, I was in the same outfit as they were: I had polished leather shoes, suit, tie, shirt. The only difference was 4,000 angstroms in the colour spectrum."

As a young man, Davies preferred purple, but when he joined Rogers to work on the design for the Pompidou Centre in Paris, he learned that it was the colour code for the Parisian gay community. His bottom was pinched on the Metro one too many times, so he switched. "It's simple," he says of his single-colour philosophy. "The complications of dress code, of matching everything in the morning, disappear completely." If he were to switch again, he would choose yellow. "But if I changed now, it would break me financially."

He may be an extreme case, but Davies is not the only architect with an idiosyncratic approach to fashion. Frank Lloyd Wright always sported a cape. Sir James Stirling, after whom the annual architecture prize is named, wore blue shirts, purple socks and Hush Puppies. Daniel Libeskind is never without his cowboy boots.

Davies was born in Wales, and decided to be an architect after seeing the Skylon at the Festival of Britain in 1951, when he was nine. He studied with Rogers at the Architectural Association in London during the 1960s. He recalls: "The last thing anyone wanted to design was a building. We were all into loose-fit, gypsy living."

Accordingly, he moved to California at the height of the hippie movement. An early convert to alternative energy, he built wind turbines and solar collectors when they were avant-garde. He co-founded Chrysalis, a multi-disciplinary practice dedicated to building lightweight structures, such as the Pepsi-Cola pavilion at Expo '70, which was then the biggest inflated mirror-dome in the world. He also ran a "video van" in the tough Watts district of LA. "We were teaching black kids to use video," he says, "which was almost unheard of."

After returning to Europe to work on the Pompidou Centre, in 1977 he helped to establish the Richard Rogers Partnership. Design expert Stephen Bayley says: "The four original partners were brilliantly complementary: Rogers, the suave, cosmopolitan frontman; Marco Goldschmied, who did the money; John Young, who was bonkers about detail and precision. Then there was Mike, who brought the Sixties California New Ageism; Mike was the visionary."

Davies was project director on two of the firm's most high-profile endeavours, Heathrow Terminal Five and the Millennium Dome. Like the Lloyd's building, both were controversial, but are now beloved. Davies says he's looking forward to watching international tennis at the O2, as the Dome is now known, next week. The practice was recently given planning approval to construct a "skywalk" over the top of the structure. "What drives the thinking on almost all our projects is flexibility, growth and change," Davies says. "Inherent flexibility is part of the formula. As Richard says, you could turn Lloyd's into a fishmarket without any problem."

The firm – now called Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners – is again working in Paris, on two grand-scale urban design projects. Rogers and Davies are the only remaining original partners, though they share responsibility with a further eight directors. The founding principles of teamwork remain intact. "Every Monday morning," says Davies, "we get together and work as a group, so that all the talents of the different directors are brought to bear."

The same mindset applies to Davies's red fixation. "I don't impose it on anybody else," he says. "Only on myself. It's a liberal, not a fascist decision. I don't have a red house and a red wife." His wife, as it happens, is a performance artist, and he also paints and sculpts. "I've become an art object," he says. "Wearing red challenges orthodoxies: our firm has never been orthodox, so it's in the spirit of what we do."

Status Symbol: How to wear it

From the cassocks of Catholic cardinals to the cape of Superman, red epitomises power. Put simply, it commands respect.

And, unlike other bold colours, it retains a sense of flamboyance, which goes some way to explaining why it proves popular with designers. At the autumn/winter menswear shows Raf Simons' red smock coat was nothing if not theatrical, while the red tailored suits at Dolce & Gabbana proved a master class in how to impress.

What about the rest of us who don't have the nerve to dress like Santa Claus? When adding colour to our daily wardrobe, the devil is in the detail. Stick to grey flannel suits but add a splash of red with a tie or a pocket square. Approach red jackets with trepidation, unless, of course, you're applying for a job at Butlins.

Lee Holmes

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

    £300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

    High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

    £70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

    Teaching Assistant

    £50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

    Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments