Zoe Shapiro - Objects and the spaces they live in

Zoe Shapiro, Rome right now. Toronto and London before.

Founder & CEO of Stellavision Travel. Also a Marketing Consultant.

What do you collect? Do you have more than one collection? Do you have a favourite? You can talk about all of them if you would like!

I collect a lot of things. Cool or weird or beautiful bottles of gin. Miniature things for the Printer’s Tray I was given in childhood. I collect art & records & coffee table books. Vintage/antique books too, I’m beginning to amass editions of ‘Little Women’ specifically. I have Royal Wedding condoms from both of this decade’s royal nuptials. Some ceramics. Matisse inspired textiles. I’m sure I’m forgetting things.

How did your collection start? What is the first thing you acquired?

It’s probably the Printer’s Tray. I think it was in my parents’ Edinburgh house before I was born and around the time I was 7 it got hung in my room with much ceremony. There are many little slats and slots, where printers would put the letters for their letterpress. When I got it, it had some things from my parents on it: some tiny clowns with porcelain heads and a piece of boondoggle from my mother’s childhood. South African coins and other little objects from my dad’s travels. Then I added my child self’s objects to it; a little dolphin from Disneyland, a ceramic ‘Z’, etc. And then I moved to the UK for years, so my teen and 20-something selves aren’t well represented. But when I moved back to Toronto at 25, I took it from my childhood bedroom and hung it in my apartment and added vintage matchbooks, small perfume bottles… anything that would fit really. There are too many things now, it’s precariously balanced.

Did you start it yourself or did someone start it for you?

My parents started it.

Was there a moment you realized it was actually a collection? Was this a conscious decision?

That one was a fully formed collection even though the Tray wasn’t full when I was given it.. But take the gin. One or two bottles is just a bar. But when you start ‘curating’; selecting things that aren’t just accessible to you but you go out of your way to find and procure? That’s a collection in my mind. For the gin, it was bottles that weren’t available in Canada.

Why do you collect?

I definitely have compulsive tendencies. And I am nostalgic. And I can be materialistic. I think collecting is the venn diagram of those traits! They’re organized little worlds that reflect and broadcast your taste, that you exert full control over. A therapist should probably help me unpack that sentence.

In your opinion, how many objects do you think it takes to make a collection?

I mean, the royal wedding condoms are just 2. One for Kate & WIlliam and one for Meghan & Harry. I think they’re funny, all the bullshit pomp and ceremony distilled into a rubber. But they’re such an obscure thing that I deliberately bought that I think of them as a collection. So maybe I think of a collection more as the intention behind the objects rather than the number of items.

Where do you house/store your objects?

Right now, I have things with me in Rome, I have things in storage in Toronto. And I have 1 or 2 sainted friends who let me mail them things. And it’s really only collection things that they get mailed, because that’s a long term purchase that I don’t mind not having in my hands immediately.

Do they serve a purpose? Are they functional or purely decorative?

Most of the things I collect are decorative. I play the records and read the coffee table books… but I still enjoy them as much as objects as I do as music and books.

Do you think about your collection beyond acquisition?

I did have a thought that some day my niece and nephews would get their hands on some things that would have some value. Or other things that don’t, but carry a lot of family sentimental value. Or even, who wouldn’t want to be handed a well curated library of 300 records? That is a cool thing to receive.

How has your relationship to your collection changed or shifted since Covid?

Well. I started a new collection during Covid that sort of directly speaks to the statement I made before about having a little world where things are within your control. I’m enjoying it (and it’s nothing untoward) but for the first time, I wonder how it would change or shape someone’s perception of me. I don’t think I’m ready to broadcast that one yet!

Anything more you would like to share?

It’s funny how a collection becomes a thing. There’s a weird tipping point when you realize you are collecting. And then maybe another tipping point where you transcend collector to superfan or obsessed or whatever the less passive version is. I feel like I’m at the first tipping point of starting a new collection but it would also be good to punctuate it here, lest I suddenly look around and have a million ceramic dogs??

When I was growing up, we had two Staffordshire dogs which are so quintessentially British. I always felt connected to my British roots (I was born in Scotland) and when my mum was redoing her house and getting rid of tchotchkes in favour of a modern vibe, I asked for them and they came to live in my Toronto apartment. Which I was thrilled about. Then in 2015 I think, Gucci’s relatively new Artistic Director, Allesandro Michele, did a collection very inspired by Anglophilia. And my absolutely dream luxury item, something totally out of my financial reach, was a tartan coat that Vanessa Redgrave modelled at Chatsworth House, and it featured a Staffordshire dog motif. In 2019, I was visiting old haunts in London and literally, recognized the arm of it on a mixed rack of vintage clothes. It was one fifth the price, a size I would never normally fit into but somehow it fit and it was mine. It was probably the biggest surge of retail adrenaline I’ve ever had and I excitedly relayed the story to the shop girl and she CRIED. She was so emotional about my perfect find! So my affection and connection grew. And then in Rome, during quarantine, I was on etsy and found a pair of minutuates Staffie dogs, for a dollhouse I guess. And I impulsively bought them, missing home and my original set. And then a British artist I follow on instagram was finding old ceramic ones, wiping them clean and tattooing them. So I bought one. And now all of a sudden, I collect Staffordshire dogs. That’s a very me way into a thing. Nostalgia to emotional connection to compulsive behaviour : )