Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The World Is My Muse

Exciting news! We're in today's edition of the New York Times! Pick up a copy and flip to the Business Section to see a piece about the inspiration that strikes during travel. In the article I specifically talk about our Les Bijoux collection which was inspired by my trips to Paris flea markets. The vintage jewelry I saw there did spur me to create this collection, but the truth is all of our collections are inspired by my travels around the world.

Our Dauphine candlesticks, which have appeared at W Hotel in New York and Urban Outfitters, were inspired by Versailles and the court of Marie Antoinette. Before she became queen of France, Marie carried the title "Dauphine." This classically baroque collection was created with the period of Marie Antoinette's reign in mind.

Darjeeling is a collection inspired by the beautiful textiles of India. The gorgeous cashmere scarves, heavily embroidered and decorated with traditional East Indian motifs like paisley, were the jumping off point for this vibrant collection.

The Beach Cottage line is the result of my many trips to the antique markets in London where English transferware is in abundance. I particularly love the time-faded colors of the Asiatica pattern from the Victorian era. The several hues of blue we used in Beach Cottage to represent the passage of time were inspired by the weathered look of the Asiatica pieces I've found over the years.

The photo montage of the Caffe Italia pattern are collections of actual photographs I took in twenty different cafes in Northern Italy last year. This line is my own representation of the Italian cafe experience.

Pasta Italiana is another line derived from my time in Italy. It is most directly associated with the summer month we spend in Italy every year, the delicious food we cook with fresh ingredients, and the irreplaceable ambiance of the Italian countryside.

These examples illustrate just a few of the places I've found inspiration for our dishes. Each line in our collection has its own story and history. Everywhere I go, there are ideas for new collections waiting to be found. I always endeavor to look at the world through fresh eyes and see the hidden prospects waiting to be discovered there.

1. During your travels, observe the culture that surrounds you and take a bit of your travel experience back home with you.

2. Travel expands our horizons and sheds new light on our daily experience. Whether you apply this new realization in your personal lifestyle, business dealings, or daily interactions, it brings a richness that enhances your quality of life. Draw upon it to break out of your staid routines.

3. We are all globally connected now, and being open to other cultures is a very important part of today's world. Fostering tolerance and embracing all types of beauty allows us to better appreciate all different ways of living.

Bon Voyage, wherever your travels may take you,


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Joy In Nature

Finally, the first hints of spring are in the air! To celebrate the world's natural reawakening, this past weekend my daughter Francesca and I took a walk through the new springtime sunshine.

As I wrote in another post, I try to begin every day with a walk through my neighborhood. Sadly, I find that I'm so used to "my territory" that I sometimes forget to be mindful of my surroundings.

So, on this particular walk with Francesca, we made a concerted effort to pay attention to the changes that are happening all over in the natural world. Once we took the time to look, it was amazing what we were able to find. We saw two baby eagles and a bright red woodpecker. We stopped to observe the emerging flora in its first bloom now that the weather is beginning to warm.

Spring is an exceptional time of the year that truly reveals the wonders of our planet. Taking the time to appreciate the beauty of new life is a simple delight that takes next to no effort to enjoy. All you have to do is pause. Then, look and listen to the organic symphony of the spring.

1. Project for a child: Choose an area in your backyard. Observe it for 3 months. Report on the changes. You'll find they are surprisingly numerous!

2. Take a walk through your neighborhood or a large community park.

3. Gather the first blossoming flowers from your garden and bring them inside to infuse your home with fresh new energy.


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Milan: Shopping Secrets in the Fashion Capital

Milan, Italy is known as the fashion capital of the world. When people think of this city, they think of couture designers-- Versace, Prada, and Roberto Cavalli to name a few. When they think of shopping in Milan, they think of Via Monte Napoleone and Via della Spiga, areas where all the big names of the fashion world have outposts. These streets are fun for window shopping, but most of the clothing is so conceptual I don't think anyone would actually wear the pieces in their real lives. I know I would never spend that much money for something that only lasts for "a season!"

Designer brands aside, there is still some fabulous shopping in Milan. In fact, I think the most interesting shopping to be done in this city is the kind that's off the beaten path. That being said, I wanted to share with you a list of my favorite places in Milan that I've found through the years.

This neighborhood is home to the Brera Academia delle Belle Arti and its attached musuem, Pinacoteca di Brera. Both are places in Milan worth visiting. I love walking by the studios and seeing students sculpting, modeling, and painting.

Also nestled in the heart of this area are two of my favorite shoe stores in the world, which is not an exaggeration in the slightest.

Alfonso Garlando Via Madonina was founded by a ballerina from La Scala ballet in the 70's. The styles are timeless and the shoes are exquisitely made with the best Italian leather.

Spelta is another store nearby that sells handmade shoes. They have what seems like 1000's of ballet flats in every color, finish, and style. All of them made from leather so soft it's like butter.

In a neighborhood across town, I found another one of my favorite stores. It's called My Cashmere. This store sells, surprise, cashmere! The cashmere comes in all different colors, weights, and styles. I wear the things I buy at My Cashmere all year round in the cool Pacific Northwest weather. But, what makes these pieces so special is the fact that they are designed with the female form in mind. Each piece is cut specifically to show off the curves and the line of a woman's body.

Via Manzoni
Another amazing store called Ventillo is located on this street. This store from Paris specializes in embroidery and embellished silks and fine cottons. The clothing I find there is always unusal and beautiful, drawing on the vibrant color palette the French are known for. This last trip, I found an amazing coral-colored scarf with heavy pink and chocolate embroidered accents.

Via Monte Napoleone
Etro, a fashion company out of Italy, has a location on this street. I went in looking for a pocket scarf to give my husband Mimmo for Valentine’s Day. I found a cool vintage boho/hippy scarf that looked like it was right out of the 1970’s and my youth. It looked beautiful on Mimmo, and gave just a hint of spice to his classic navy blue suit.

Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle
This area, named for King Victor Emmanuel of Italy is located right next to the city's Duomo. I have one more favorite shoe store in this area called Lolita. They sell all types of off-price, surplus shoes from winter boots to flats to slippers. I found two pairs of ballet flats for 18 euros each there (what a bargain!). They're beauful, they fit wonderfully, and they make my feet look petite and feminine.

1. Special clothing often comes from special places. Look beyond designer labels to independent boutiques to find some extraordinary pieces.

2. Incorporate a few singular items into your wardrobe to create a style unique to you.

3. Dress high-low. Pair an expensive piece with something inexpensive. The effect is surprising; the inexpensive item takes on a sophisticated look.

4. Take fashion chances. Don't follow what everyone else is doing....express yourself!


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Portrait a Young Artist

Last May, as we were just getting this blog off the ground, I wrote a post about our children's involvement with Rosanna the company. At the time, Mimmo's son Marco was working in accounting, my older daughter Alessandra was working on our book proposal, and my youngest Francesca was designing a new collection, which I mentioned would be out Spring 2008.

Nearly a year later, here we are! I'd like to introduce to all of you Francesca's very first dinnerware line, Portrait of A Young Artist. The name of this line was inspired by James Joyce's famous novel Portrait of An Artist As A Young Man, but the line itself was all Francesca.

When we traveled to Washington, DC last April, we visited the National Gallery. Francesca went around the whole museum with a video camera, narrating as she saw different works by Impressionists, classical Italian painters, and classical statues from ancient Greece. She especially loved the three paintings by Johannes Vermeer, recently portrayed by Colin Firth in the film Girl With The Pearl Earring.

Francesca was enthralled by Vermeer's work, and when I suggested perhaps she could design a dinnerware line based on her inspiration, I didn't have to say much more.

Francesca's dishes are collaged with a mixture of her own representations of famous paintings, including works by Monet and Renoir.

Here's a shot of the collection.

A photo of Francesca painting a plate in a ceramic factory in Deruta, Italy this summer.

While designing your own set of dishes as a child may seem like a singular experience, with the event of paint your own pottery studios, Francesca's situation is not so impossible to recreate. But whatever sparks you child's enthusiasm, be it painting, drawing, acting, singing, or playing a musical instrument, I encourage you strongly to expose your children to the arts. We often assume that children don't have the attention span for a trip to the museum or a night at the theater or ballet. But, if you choose a show carefully, beautiful art can inspire and enthrall children the same way it does adults.

Arts education is so very vital. Too often, arts education funding is cut from the budget in favor of raising money for a new gymnasium or other "more important" activities. But the arts are just as valuable to raising curious, well-rounded children as the rest. By teaching our children about the arts we are being advocates for the arts, raising another generation of patrons, creators, and performers. And that is something to be proud of.

1. Bring your child to an art exhibition in your community on a weekend afternoon. Buy a guide on the artist or show so you can describe each piece and engage your child.

2. Make an outing to the theater a special event. Have your child invite a friend. Go out to dinner or lunch afterwards and talk together about what you just saw.

3. Take your child to family concerts in your community.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Night At The Opera

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently took in a wonderful opera at Teatro La Scala in Milan, Italy with my husband Mimmo and daughter Francesca. In that post, I wanted to discuss some larger implications of the experience for human connection across the globe. However, I didn't mention something that is one of the most integral parts of going to the opera...getting dressed up!

Especially in Milan, operas are still high couture events. Ladies and gentlemen stroll through the lobby in evening gowns and tuxedos, glittering with jewels and dapper in their cumber-buns. Dressing myself for an occasion is an experience I cherish. But, because our opera adventure was very spur of the moment, I didn't have any of the right accessories with me. So, the afternoon before we went to La Scala, I set out on Via Manzoni, a street filled with beautiful boutiques, to find a few particular items to wear for the evening.

One accessory item that I feel is often overlooked are stockings. Wolford Boutique out of Austria makes beautiful, high-end fashion legwear, bodywear, and shapewear. Fine hosiery is not something we think of often, but a beautiful pair of stockings can add a touch of unexpected elegance to an evening ensemble. I also found a pair of sparkling costume earrings at a store called Bijoux de Paris, and a black taffeta clutch studded with Swarovski crystals that transformed my simple black dress into a perfect outfit for the Opera.

Certainly, appearance is not everything, but taking care and putting extra effort into looking special is a luxury and a joy to indulge in every now and again.