I'm gearing up for my next trip across the pond, and needed to add one more post from my last trip: a visit to Villa Necchi Campiglio at Via Mozart 14 in the heart of Milan.
This was the last stop on our Smithsonian Made In Italy tour, providing us with an insider's view of the style, design and life of an upper middle class Lombardy family in the early 20th century.
The home belonged to the sisters Necchi - Gigina (1901-2001) and Nedda (1900-1993) - and Gigina's husband Angelo Campiglio (1891-1984), members of a famous Italian manufacturing family known for its eponymous line of cast iron and enameled sewing machines.
Constructed between 1932 and 1935 by the Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi, the home is set back from the street and surrounded by a large garden with a swimming pool and tennis court.
It has an Art Deco design, in contrast with the more traditionally ornate homes in the neighborhood, and was modern in both in its style as well as its amenities (e.g., an elevator, dumbwaiter, telephones and intercoms, and the area's first heated swimming pool).
The sisters, who died without leaving any heirs, bequeathed the property to the Italian government for use as a museum.
Stone from Lombardy Italian marble graces the exterior, along with a sundial:
A walnut root and marble stairway dominates the main entrance:
Briar root (walnut) and brass/silver/zinc pocket doors designed to withstand a bomb connect the library, smoking room, and sun porch, and salon.
Most of the rooms remain as they did when the Necchi family and their servants lived there, featuring beautiful architecture, decorative arts, furnishings and collections of the period. Claudia Gian Ferrari’s collection of early 20th century art and Alighiero de’ Micheli’s collection of 18th century paintings and decorative arts were added in more recent years.
The dining room features 16th and 17th century tapestries from Brussels:
As was custom at the time, servants quarters and the kitchen and laundry rooms were located in the basement, with food brought up by hand or via the dumbwaiter. The upper floor is comprised of the sisters' apartments - a large bedroom, bath, dressing room, and sitting area for Gigina and Angelo, plus a slightly smaller (single-bed) version of the same for the unmarried Nedda.
They shared a long corridor of custom closets designed to house their extensive collection of hats, frocks, and shoes.
Also on this floor is a tiny corner apartment for the dressing maid (yes, the woman who pressed, mended, laid out and helped them don their clothing every day).
The home, its contents, and history are simply amazing and worth a visit if you are in Milan. If you can't make it there, the next best thing is to watch the movie I Am Love, directed by Luca Guadagnino's and starring Tilda Swinton. After an exhaustive search for a set location that best represented his vision for the period piece, he landed on Villa Necchi Campiglio, commenting:
“It shows the obsession with perfection and details that the Milanese bourgeoisie have. Old money always comes with great charm. Their real success is making others believe that money doesn’t exist — and luxury, as most people perceive it, doesn’t really exist in this house. It’s very severe, and feels almost unmovable, like a piece of rock.”
And it is that obsession with perfection and details that made this the perfect place to wrap up a week steeped in Italian design. Bellissimo!
The Tortona district is a creative enclave southwest of Milan's city center. It's full of old warehouse buildings dating back to World War I (sounds familiar) that for years housed industrial giants like GE and Nestle. Today, the factories have been refurbished into a lively neighborhood of restaurants, showrooms, and artists studios (the Nestle building was converted to Giorgio Armani's headquarters), thanks to an early move by a couple of fashion insiders back in 1983.
At that time, Italian Vogue art director Flavio Lucchini and photographer Fabrizio Ferri created Superstudio Group to fill a void that they saw in the fashion, communication and creative fields. Not only would their company offer physical space for artists, photographers, and performers to show their wares, but it would also provide all of the related support services - staging, lighting, casting, hosting, production, security, catering, etc. - that might be needed. And they chose Tortona for the location of their business (a move that many of their peers thought was questionable at the time).
Today, Superstudio is comprised 13,000 square meters of large, flexible warehouse space that can be used for events, exhibitions, fashion shows, photo shoots, advertising/television/cinema shoots, parties, and dance performances.
The historic Superstudio 13 in via Forcella 13 is comprised of 13 photo studios with different characteristics (e.g., dimensions, lighting, backdrop) which over the years have hosted some of the world's top fashion and music photographers, videographers, directors, models, and performers.
Vogue fashion shoots, Fashion Week runway shows, and Salone Internazionale del Mobile events are all in a day's work for the Superstudio team. Countless celebrities, models, and artists have worked in the space:
In fact, they had just broken down an exhibit by photographer David LaChapelle, who unveiled his "Land Scape" show here the night before I visited.
Which left lots of empty space for us to have fun in.
To see a behind-the-scenes video of what a fashion shoot inside Superstudio 13 is really like, click through to WhoWhatWear, which has a video of the M Missoni Fall fashion shoot that was done there last Spring.
Arnaldo Pomodoro is an Italian sculptor known for his "Sphere within Sphere" series that graces locations around the world, including the Vatican Museum, Trinity College in Dublin, UN Headquarters, the Guggenheim in NYC, and the Columbus Museum, among others.
I had taken this picture of one of his huge, bronze sculptures in front of the Banca Popolare di Milano building, not realizing that I'd visit his studio the very next day!
Yes, this is yet another artist we learned about on my recent Made in Italy art and design tour through Smithsonian Journeys (I cannot say enough good things about this tour...we saw and did so much! As evidenced by the fact that I'm still blogging about it two months later...)
On the second-to-last day of the trip, we visited the Arnaldo Pomodoro Foundation at Vigevano 9, an exhibit space originally set up to document and archive his own work, but now also showcases the works of others.
The installation on view the day we visited was made especially for the space by artist Loris Cecchini. Part of it, called "Module and Model," was made up of hundreds of small steel modules assembled into large 3-dimensional sculptures on the wall and floor.
The other part, called "Wallvave Vibrations," consisted of sculptural carvings in the walls themselves. I neglected to take a photo of those so I've included one here, taken by Carlos Tettamanzi and appearing on the Foundation website; in it, you can see nearly the full installation (note the carvings on the back and right walls):
Interestingly, the pieces have a nature-inspired feel to them, despite the austere colors and materials. And despite it's small size, the Foundation offers a great little gallery for viewing contemporary sculpture by international artists.
Browsing through a recent issue of InStyle Magazine today, I was overjoyed to see a reference to Antonio Marras (even though his wild animal runway look was deemed over the top for anyone but a street-style star).
Last month when I visited Milan, I had the chance to visit Antonio's concept store, Circolomarras - and meet the Sardinian-born womenswear designer himself - in the heart of Zona Tortona, on via Cola di Rienzo, 8.
His studio/concept store is absolutely gorgeous, and one of the most memborable visits of the trip. In true Milan fashion, it sits back off the street, through a gate and a secret-garden of sorts.
Inside an old factory workshop with vaulted, unfinished ceilings and walls is a stunning collection of Antonio's designs, mixed in with antique furnishings, books, and gobs of fresh flowers.
It's a warm, inviting space, which is how Antonio likes to live and work:
I have always liked, as a child, the idea of having a space that was not my room or my house, an enlarged and private space, confidential, to stay with friends and unleash our energies. Back then it was the garage, the attic, a small barn in the countryside. As an adult, a huge space, a loft, a multipurpose space, a place not exclusively tied to exposition and sale. A comfortable place, private and open, welcoming, “hospitable” in the sense that this word had in ancient Greece, in Sardinia, in the Mediterranean area, where the stranger, the guest, was sacred and it was considered a crime to violate the laws of hospitality.
- Antonio Marras
Perhaps the most stunning aspect of the space is a collection of dresses hanging from the rafters, their hems tented out over bicycle wheels, and outfitted with lightbulbs to create an enormous, ethereal chandelier:
All of Antonio's clothes are made by hand in his home/studio/workshop back in Sardinia, and can be found at retailers like Saks and Shopstyle. From 2003-2011 he served as artistic director at LVMH's Kenzo fashion house, and over the years he became known for his hallmark "ligazzio rubio" (or, “red thread”).
There was a buzz of energy in the space when we were there, as Antonio's team was feverishly assembling racks of clothing for Fashion Week.
Back outside through the lush garden, we toured an adjacent exhibit by portrait photographer Daniela Zedda. Her collection "Aldilàdelmare" contains eighty-eight pictures of Sardinians (she is from there as well) who have left the island to find new opportunities. Her portrait of Antonio Marras is prominently featured at the entrance to the exhibit:
Her portraits are amazing. I was particularly taken with this one of editorial consultant Colomba Rossi in front of street art by Kenny Random at Torre della Specola, Padova.
Here it is nearly 8 weeks later and I still haven't shared all of the sites and stories from Milan! But seeing reference to the people and places I encountered there gives me a little burst of creative energy. Good way to start the week.
Everyday life has gotten in the way of me finishing my Milan travelogue...but there are a handful of things I still want to share with you! Here's one of them...
After lunch and shopping at 10 Corso Como, we strolled around the Navigli District; meaning "ships" in Italian, the Navigli was once a network of waterways and trade routes, designed in part by Leonardo da Vinci, and now home to restaurants, boutiques, and artist studios.
Oringinally five canals, the oldest built in 1179, they connected the city with the rivers and lakes in the Lombardian region and were used for irrigation and transport - both people and goods - to and from areas as far as the Alps and beyond. In fact, the marble used for the construction of the Duomo was transported via these waterways from the Lago Maggiore near the Alps.
Traffic on the canals dwindled once road transportation took off, and some were filled in during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Only three canals survive today: the Naviglio della Martesana in the north-east and the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese in the south-west of the city.
This area was until recently an impoverished, working-class neighborhood and is still a bit "edgy."
But in recent years, the houses along the canals were renovated, and many are now home to artist studios, restaurants and bars.
Along the Naviglio Grande, you'll also find the Vicolo dei Lavandai, where women used to wash their laundry with water from the canal. There were children playing here on the day we visited:
The Navigli is a fun, energetic part of town. I've had a long-time fascination with Leonardo da Vinci, and it is amazing to see a system of damns and sluices that he designed so many years ago. Like much of Milan, the neighborhood is an eclectic mix of ancient and modern.
Before I had even arrived in Milan, I had read about 10 Corso Como and was dying to go there. Located near Porta Nuova at the address from which it takes its name, it's a stylish art gallery, bookshop, fashion store, cafe, terrace, and boutique hotel all rolled into one.
It's founder, Carla Sozzani, spent the early part of her career working as an editor for various Italian fashion magazines (including Vogue Italia, where her sister Franca is currently Editor in Chief) and American Vogue. Over the years, she worked with famous photographers including Herb Ritts, Bruce Webber, Robert Mapplethorpe, Juergen Teller, and William Wegman, publishing several books and photography catalogs along the way.
But it was in 1990 that Sozzani used her years of editorial experience to create a "living magazine" in a former mechanic's workshop at 10 Corso Como. Beginning with the Galleria Carla Sozzani, the concept space eventually evolved into a multi-level shopping and dining complex selling art, fashion, music, contemporary design objects and more.
The indoor/outdoor cafe on the ground floor is in a quiet courtyard surrounded by plants and flowers:
We sat outside and enjoyed a decadent lunch in between browsing the various floors.
Also on the ground floor is a large retail space featuring an assortment of apparel, jewelry, and accessories from high-end designers:
Heading upstairs, there is a bookstore with an extensive collection of fashion, design, art, photography, travel, and food titles:
Turntables for the DJ:
And 3 hotel suites overlooking the courtyard, each with it's own private entrance and all furnished in homage to mid-20th and 21st century designers so that visitors can live the 10 Corso Como experience.
The top floor houses the original Galleria Carla Sozzani art gallery, which was exhibiting the winners of the 2014 World Press Photos contest, including this haunting image of blind Indian albino boys by Brent Stirton.
Last, but not least, there is a beautiful rooftop terrace, full of brightly tiled furniture, metal and stone sculptures, lush plants, and great views.
We headed over to Piazza Castello to visit the studio of industrial designer Achille Castiglioni (1918-2002), considered one of the greatest designers of the 20th century.
He worked in this space for nearly 60 years, and the rooms remain exactly as he left them, packed floor-to-ceiling with all manner of knick-knacks, memorabilia, sketches, books, magazines, models and films.
His heirs entered into an agreement with La Trienniale di Milano to create a foundation and keep the studio open for archiving and tours.
We were lucky enough to have Achille's daughter, Giovanna, as our tour guide, and she shared wonderful stories about her father and what led him to design several of his most popular products.
What's interesting is that he was inspired by everyday things, and used a minimum amount of ordinairy materials to create forms with maximum effect.
Most of his products are now considered design classics, and many are still in production.
Giovanna spent about an hour walking us through the cluttered rooms and explaining the genesis of a variety of products: a collapsible tin cup, the Mezzandro portable stool borne out of a desire to sit while talking on the hall telephone, an ashtray inspired by a Slinky.
A 1968 light switch designed for electrical component company VLM that is still in use today:
His famous Arco floor lamp with the long, curved arm extending the light out from a heavy marble base (Giovanna's holding up his original sketches), now prominently featured in the Flos store window near our hotel:
And this ingenious resin spoon for jars, perfectly designed to scoop out the last dollop of peanut butter, mayonaise, or jam. The red version is only available in the studio, and I bought two - one for me, and one for my Mom.
On the edge of Parco Sempione sits the massive Sforza Castle, originally built in the late 14th century, but transformed (and renamed) into a ducal residence in 1450 by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan. It is a massive, sprawling structure that is now used primarily as a museum and exhibit space.
The day I visited there was an outdoor exhibit from Cracking Art Group, which specializes in innovative use of plastic materials to evoke a relationship between the natural and the artificial. This particular installation, "Nido di Rondini" (swallow's nest) consisted of huge plastic, multicolored birds throughout the courtyards.
On the street outside the castle, I browsed through a market with all sorts of food stalls (Italian cookies and candies, nuts and spices, cheeses, even a pig on a spit...) as well as jewelry, art, and crafts.
As you can see, it is hard to go anywhere in Milan without getting exposed to some sort of art or design!
After exploring the Porta Nuova district, we headed over to the Trienniale Design Museum, inside the Palace of Art building on the edge of Parco Sempione. It's dedicated to capturing the essence of Italian design, with a focus on the relationship between art and industry. The museum includes exhibits on architecture, urban design, media arts, music, and more.
These three periods were chosen to illustrate that years of economic decline tend to stimulate design creativity.
It emphasized how design opens up multiple worlds to us, and how everyday items can be beautifully designed to deliver emotion as well as utility. I liked this chair because it reminded me of the Bowdoin sun:
And these are former detergent bottles, turned into vases/growing kits:
The last room of the exhibit had floor-to-ceiling glass shelves housing all of the various design artifacts from these decades (with a mirrored ceiling; if you look closely you can see me capturing this photo from the ground below).
It became clear through the museum, as well as everything else we've seen on this trip, that even contemporary Italian artists are truly Renaissance people, moving freely between art, design, and storytelling in a variety of media.