Art world power couple extend empire to Deeside
They are considered royalty of the art world with their international empire including galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Geneva.
Now Iwan and Manuela Wirth have set about redesigning the fortunes of a little village in the heart of Deeside.
It is hoped the couple’s investment in Braemar will create a golden moment in the village not felt since Queen Victoria made the area the most fashionable destination of the day.
The Wirths have bought two hotels in Braemar with the opening of the Fife Arms, due this winter, hailed by the style press as one of the most anticipated of the year.
The couple, who are originally from Switzerland, have also bought the Invercauld Arms Hotel in the village and have supported the arts venue, St Margaret’s, with a £50,000 donation.
The money allows a programme of concerts, talks and exhibitions to run at the Grade A listed church which was built in the late 19th Century to house congregations of tourists from England during summer season at the height of its Victorian popularity.
Indeed, it is hoped the Wirth’s commitment will help create a new buzz around Braemar and encourage those who have headed down the A83 for a view of Balmoral to continue their journey into the village.
“The Wirths are pouring money into the village. It hasn’t had this level of investment since the Victorian times. People are excited,” one source said.
Despite their cosmopolitan credentials, the couple appear to be as comfortable with country life as they are in the metropolis.
After buying a farm in Somerset and creating a world class gallery and retreat for artists, the family lived in a mobile home with their four young children for a year while their new house was being fixed up, according to reports. Fishing and farming are now family pursuits.
The Wirths, who were named top of the ArtReview Top 100 in 2015 and made the seventh spot last year, were keen to move to Scotland and own a Highland estate, according to sources. Mr Wirth had his own tartan designed, calling upon fashion legend Paul Smith for the job, with the registered fabric used to make scarves and blankets for friends and family.
The Fife Arms Hotel will open after a two-year renovation job which will combine luxury, style, tradition and art in the imposing former hunting lodge which will soon feature a heather clad courtyard, cocktail bar and spa.
Mrs Wirth told Gentlewoman magazine in 2016 that the couple bought the hotel to indulge their love of entertaining.
She reportedly said: “We have this house in Scotland, and we had no way to entertain our guests. We love a big table full of guests and family, but there is no possibility to invite these people to Scotland because there is not a single good restaurant or hotel near us. So when we heard about this hotel in Braemar which was for sale we thought, Why not?”
The Wirths want to create a place that is attractive for tourists from all over the world, and “lively and very welcoming” for locals.
The hotel is advertising for at least 10 staff with the revival of the hotel now warmly anticipated, not just by the village but the world’s style watchers. Conde Naste magazine hailed it as one of the 18 top hotel openings of 2018.
The Fife Arms hotel is due to welcome customers just months after the opening of the couple’s Los Angeles art centre, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, in a converted flour mill in the new Downtown Arts District.
In Braemar, the couple are supporting new ventures through the Wirth Family Charitable Trust and their company, Highland Hospitality.
Brian Wood, Deputy Convenor of the Board of the Cairngorms National Park Authority and chairman of St Margaret’s in Braemar, said: “The donation from the Wirths has made it possible for us to run a programme and gives us reassurance that there is money to cover costs.
“We hope to attract an additional type of visitor to Braemar. For many, the heritage, Highland Games and landscape would be attraction. Now, we’re hoping out high quality arts venue will appeal to a wider range of tourists.”
A new Highland Games Centre at the site of the Braemar Gathering is due to open in time for the 2018 games on September 1. Meanwhile, an investment of £1.5m is due to be made in Braemar Castle with public funds now being sought.
Mr and Mrs Wirth were unavailable for interview.