Willie Landels may not be a household name, but in fashionable London circles it is legendary. Born in 1928, of Scots and Italian ancestry, he was brought up “in agreeable circumstances” in Como. After a brief apprenticeship as a scene-painter at La Scala, Milan, he came to England in 1950 to work in the art department of the advertising agency J Walter Thompson.
Fifteen years later, he was at the top of the company and hungry for a fresh challenge. So he jumped ship to join Jocelyn Stevens’s glossy magazine Queen as its art director, and went on to become the greatly loved and revered editor of its subsequent incarnation as Harper’s & Queen.
In the thick of Swinging London, he was an ornament of the cosmopolitan Chelsea set, numbering Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon among his chums. At Harper’s, he was a canny and generous talent-spotter too, commissioning writers such as Bruce Chatwin and Peter York (who, with Ann Barr, invented the Sloane Ranger) as well as the cream of photographers and illustrators.
In 1985, he left Harper’s, since when he has been busy with other ventures in magazines, as well as designing books, furniture and tapestries. A recent project has been the masterminding of the interior of Robin Birley’s private club 5 Hertford Street, where I am told his impeccable eye for elegant detail is everywhere in evidence.
Modest, wise and gently urbane, without illusions or cynicism about his glamorous milieu, Landels is delightful company and an uninhibited raconteur, his speech still marked by a crisp Italian accent. I asked him what he considered his greatest achievement. “I am most proud to say that at last, in old age, I am happy,” he says firmly. “Of course, luck comes into it, too.’