Dan Rubinstein, host of The Grand Tourist podcast

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Breed presents…

Dan Rubinstein, host of The Grand Tourist podcast

In recent times, Dan Rubinstein has been primarily focused on The Grand Tourist, his enormously influential podcast where the listener gets to meet leading tastemakers from the worlds of art, food, interior design, architecture and more. Recent subjects have included the publishing family the Assoulines, and legendary designer Philippe Starck.

Besides being a host, Dan is also a writer, editor, consultant and curator. In the world of magazines, he was most recently Home & Design Director at Departures magazine, and before that Editor-in-Chief of design magazine Surface. He also worked for the US House & Garden, and has contributed to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, Air Mail, and L’Officiel.

Somehow, Dan found the time to talk to us about his life in design.

Was it clear from a young age that your destiny lay in design?

Not at all. I studied business in school, and was working all over the media landscape in my early years, from internships in TV news to blogging at a large tech start-up. But I really wanted to work in magazines, so after some persistence I was given the opportunity to assist the Design Editor at the now-defunct American edition of House & Garden at Condé Nast. I leapt at the opportunity. I definitely learned on the job when it comes to the world of style. I was so lucky to work for Mayer Rus, who’s one of the best design minds, and writers, in the industry. A few years later, I moved from a freelance position elsewhere to Surface magazine, which was an entirely new journey. There, I was introduced to what I call “capital D” design, and I learned how to spell names like Bouroullec and Urquiola without Googling.

Who or what have been the major inspirations in your career to date?

I’ve been so lucky to work with truly incredible editors, and I’ve learned something from all of them. But when it comes to sheer inspiration from those I’ve never met, I’d have to mention the late Richard Buckley. Most know him today as Tom Ford’s husband, but to me he was the real rock star of that power couple. His work on the magazine Vogue Hommes International was so important to me. It was chic, sophisticated, beautiful, and alluring. My only regret is that not only did I not get to meet him, but that I don’t have any of the issues in my library anymore. So there’s that inspiration, and David Bowie’s album Hours, which came out right around the time I moved to New York. I’m a Bowie fanatic. I want “Sound and Vision” played at my funeral.

How did you find your way into podcasting?

The Grand Tourist started as a creative project I was playing around with during lockdown. When Departures shuttered, I already had most of the interviews recorded for my first season. I got encouraging feedback on those early episodes from some very discerning colleagues of mine, so I decided to do a second season. And it grew from there. But if you had told me just a few years ago that I would be running a podcast full time, I’d probably laugh in your face.

Who would you be most keen to see appearing in The Grand Tourist?

As the show grows – I do about 40 episodes a year at this point – the kind of guests I have continues to evolve. And that’s something I’m embracing. I love experimenting with my format, too, so one of my upcoming episodes will be an interview taking place over a catered meal so listeners will feel like a fly on the wall at an intimate conversation. If I had to aim high, I’d love to speak with Iman about her late husband David Bowie on his next birthday.

Do you think your days of being a magazine editor are behind you now?

I think the real question is: What will magazine editing be like five years from now? I ask myself this question every day. I think magazines are an artform, so they’ll never really go away. But I believe the business will continue to morph in ways we don’t understand just yet. I still consult on the side for brands and media outlets, so never say never. And who knows, you might see a printed edition of The Grand Tourist land in your mailbox one day.

How do you describe yourself when you meet people for the first time?

My canned response has changed over the years, but today I just say that I’m a journalist. And I am. While the podcast is brand new for me, most of my working process is the same as working in print, as is the community around me. I’m still in touch with most of the same publicists, writers, photographers, and editors I’ve known for 20 years. A dear friend of mine gave me a piece of advice when I was still wondering if the podcast was the right thing for me. She said, “Dan, the medium doesn’t matter anymore.” And she was totally right.

Do you think there is such a thing as bad taste?

MoMA design curator Paola Antonelli told me on the podcast, “The opposite of beautiful isn’t ugly, it’s lazy.” I don’t take seriously critics who have knee-jerk, negative feelings about particular styles or periods.

Is there one thing you’ve done that stands out for you as your proudest achievement?

I’m most proud of my survival in the business. Like everyone in my generation, we had to deal with the first dot-com boom and bust, 9/11, the Great Recession, and now the pandemic. But for those of us in the media, we’ve done it all while the internet continues to transform our business in the most fundamental ways.

Do you have any advice for someone starting out on a career in design now?

Make a list of the top five people in the world you admire, and then do whatever it takes to learn from them. It’s the same advice I’d have for a young art dealer, aspiring chef, architect, or designer. That, and understand that in design, people hang around. It’s not like the film business, or even fashion. Networking and building a community is fundamental. But you also need an insatiable sense of curiosity. Talent and luck are important, but so is boredom. Like pain, it’s a message from your brain that you need to discover something new.

Do you have unfulfilled ambitions?

So, so many. But at least in my position with The Grand Tourist, I can explore more, learn more, and grow more. Does anyone out there know someone at CNN? I joke with my friends that I’d love to be the Anthony Bourdain of design, another person I admire wholeheartedly to this day. His passing was such a loss for our world. I would have crawled over hot glass to have interviewed him for the podcast.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently writing a book for a major designer that will be out later this year, and I’m hard at work on the podcast’s next three seasons. At the same time, I’m in the process of building a proper site for The Grand Tourist, and thinking of all the ways to expand the brand beyond audio. And lots and lots of travel. I recently just got back from Antarctica, which will become an episode of the podcast shortly. And I’m still collaborating with lots of different magazines and brands, so I’m thrilled with the idea that the best, and most unexpected, is yet to come.