AN EYE FOR STYLE

AS ONE OF THE MOST IN­FLU­EN­TIAL CELEBRITY PHO­TOG­RA­PHERS OF THE 1950S AND ’60S, WILLY RIZZO IS EQUALLY REVERED FOR HIS SLEEK, SO­PHIS­TI­CATED FUR­NI­TURE DE­SIGN, WRITES JA­SON MOWEN.

VOGUE Living Australia - - Iconic Style -

MY DE­SIGN EPIPHANY, so to speak, took place when I was eight. It was the late 1970s and my great­grand­par­ents were vis­it­ing from the South of France with photos of their apart­ment, nes­tled in the hills be­hind Cannes. Ob­vi­ously I’d never seen any­thing like it — think Mies van der Rohe meets To Catch a Thief. Amid the odd an­tique piece, stream­lined, al­most futuristic fur­ni­ture in highly pol­ished me­tals and choco­late-brown suede seemed to float over traver­tine floors, framed by gera­ni­um­clad views of the French Riviera. Fast-for­ward three decades and I would dis­cover the iden­tity of the cre­ator of such daz­zling fur­ni­ture: famed Ital­ian pho­tog­ra­pher and de­signer Willy Rizzo. Born in Naples in 1928 but re­lo­cat­ing to France with his mother in the ’30s, Rizzo took to pho­tog­ra­phy at an early age. His ca­reer be­gan as a teenager, cov­er­ing the Lib­er­a­tion of Paris in 1944 for Ciné Mon­dial, fol­lowed by the Nurem­berg tri­als, post-war North Africa for Point de Vue ( his poignant photos of burnt-out tanks against the Tu­nisian sun­set were also bought by Life mag­a­zine) and shoot­ing a por­trait of Win­ston Churchill that made the cover of Paris Match in 1949 — the first in colour. How­ever, it’s for fab­u­lous celebrity pho­tog­ra­phy that Rizzo is best known. In 1946, France Di­manche sent the young and charis­matic pho­tog­ra­pher to cover the first Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, where, in a chance meet­ing in the lobby of his ho­tel, Rizzo met Zina Rachevsky. The pho­tog­ra­pher not only con­vinced the young so­cialite/star­let to pose, he gained un­fet­tered ac­cess to the glam­orous elite when in­vited to a party be­ing hosted by the girl’s fa­ther. “All the rich and beau­ti­ful peo­ple were there,” Rizzo re­called. “Di­a­monds, cos­tumes, cars… and I took pic­tures.” The pho­tog­ra­pher’s leg­end would soon mimic that of his celebrity sub­jects, firmly es­tab­lished through an il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer and his 1968 mar­riage to Ital­ian ac­tress Elsa Martinelli. Rizzo pho­tographed many of the great 20th-cen­tury icons, from Au­drey Hepburn and Sophia Loren to Mar­lene Di­et­rich, Coco Chanel, Sal­vador Dalí and Pablo Pi­casso. His 1958 por­trait of Brigitte Bar­dot on her hands and knees on a boat in St Tropez is per­haps his most fa­mous, although his most mem­o­rable sub­ject was Pope Pius XII. His por­traits of Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe are equally un­for­get­table: with Mon­roe in a frag­ile emo­tional state just weeks be­fore she died, what be­gan as a chaotic ap­point­ment trans­formed when she was in front of the cam­era. Rizzo de­scribed the ac­tress as an an­gel. “When she ap­peared, I fell in love.” He was one of the last pho­tog­ra­phers to shoot her. In 1966, dur­ing the years of Italy’s famed la dolce vita, the pho­tog­ra­pher re­lo­cated to Rome and, by chance, fell into his ‘sec­ond ca­reer’. Hav­ing long ad­mired the fur­ni­ture de­signs of Ruhlmann, Van der Rohe and Le Cor­bus­ier, he re­designed his apart­ment over­look­ing the Span­ish Steps, cre­at­ing sleek cus­tom fur­ni­ture that quickly cap­tured the at­ten­tion of his so­phis­ti­cated friends. Rizzo soon re­ceived com­mis­sions (fit­tingly, one of his first clients was Igor ‘Ghighi’ Cassini, who claimed credit for coin­ing the term ‘ jet set’) and in 1968 es­tab­lished his own de­sign and man­u­fac­tur­ing ate­lier in Tivoli, out­side Rome. Over the fol­low­ing decade, 30 of his in­ge­nious de­signs, in­clud­ing sexy mod­u­lar so­fas up­hol­stered in wild boar skin and the iconic ‘ TRG’ re­volv­ing cof­fee ta­ble, were handmade by a team of tal­ented ar­ti­sans — the look was mod­ern but each piece was crafted in an en­tirely tra­di­tional man­ner. In 1978, Rizzo re­turned to his first love, pho­tog­ra­phy. He would re­marry, spend­ing the re­main­der of his life in Paris with his wife, Do­minique, and their three chil­dren. Never one to sit still, Rizzo opened a gallery on the Left Bank in 2010 ( just three years be­fore he died, at age 84), show­cas­ing his ta­lent as both pho­tog­ra­pher and fur­ni­ture de­signer. Which is his great­est legacy? Visit the gallery and de­cide for your­self.

“All the rich and beau­ti­ful peo­ple were there… and I took pic­tures”

Stu­dio Willy Rizzo, 12 rue de Verneuil, 75007 Paris; willyrizzo.com.

clock­wise from right: Rizzo’s Paris din­ing room with Bay of Naples fresco, a 1966 por­trait of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin, and Rizzo’s ‘TP-El­lip­tique’ ta­ble. Por­trait of Sal­vador Dalí (1950). With model Donna Mitchell in Mi­lan, dur­ing a photo shoot for Ital­ian Vogue, 1962.

Rizzo took in­spi­ra­tion from a Rolex watch in 1968 to de­sign his ‘Flaminia’ ta­ble, seen above in his Paris apart­ment flanked by ‘Canapé C Mar­ron’ so­fas and a pair of ‘Love­lamp’ ta­ble lamps.

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