WO­MAN of mys­tery

VOGUE Living Australia - - Iconic Style - By Jason Mowen

Gabriella Crespi’s glam­orous fur­ni­ture and ob­jects epit­o­mised jet-set chic in the 1960s and ’70s. Then, at the height of her ca­reer, the so­phis­ti­cated Ital­ian de­signer left it all be­hind.

In con­tem­plat­ing the life and work of enig­matic Ital­ian de­signer Gabriella Crespi, one can­not help but think, at least mo­men­tar­ily, of Greta Garbo. One of the most be­guil­ing ac­tresses ever to grace the sil­ver screen, the Swedish-born Garbo pos­sessed an inim­itable style that won her an in­ter­na­tional, cult-like fol­low­ing through­out the 1920s and ’30s. Then, seem­ingly overnight, she gave up her craft and all things Hol­ly­wood and dis­ap­peared into the con­fines of a New York apart­ment, leav­ing in her wake noth­ing but the echo of a line from 1932’s Grand Ho­tel: “I want to be alone.” Like Garbo, Crespi was also daz­zlingly beau­ti­ful and a bril­liant artist, the reign­ing queen of the Ital­ian dec­o­ra­tive arts scene through­out the 1960s and ’70s. Renowned for mainly one-off ob­jects, fur­ni­ture and light­ing pieces in highly pol­ished met­als, plex­i­glass and bam­boo, Crespi cre­ated sculp­turally formed de­signs that re­flected the in­ter­na­tional, jet-set chic of her equally glam­orous clien­tele — the Shah of Iran, King Faisal of Sau­dia Ara­bia and Princess Grace of Monaco to name a few — and was a key fig­ure in the dec­o­ra­tive arts re­nais­sance that took place in her na­tive Italy, and be­yond, at the time. Then, in the mid-1980s, at what must have been the zenith of her ca­reer, she aban­doned Mi­lan and the world of de­sign to em­bark on a spir­i­tual journey through In­dia that would last al­most two decades. Many years later, Crespi would re­flect: “I have al­ways con­sid­ered my in­de­pen­dence in my work as well as in my life as one of my big­gest achieve­ments.” Born into a cul­ti­vated and open-minded fam­ily in Mi­lan in 1922, the young Gabriella was im­bued with a love of French cul­ture from an early age that would greatly in­form ››

‹‹ her work as a de­signer. She grad­u­ated from the Br­era Academy of Fine Arts and then stud­ied ar­chi­tec­ture at the Polytech­nic Univer­sity of Mi­lan, one of just a hand­ful of women to do so at the time. In 1948 she mar­ried Giuseppe Maria Crespi, whose fam­ily, prom­i­nent tex­tile in­dus­tri­al­ists, owned the na­tional daily, Cor­ri­erre Della Sera; they had two chil­dren, Gher­ardo and Elis­a­betta, but sep­a­rated in the late 1950s. Crespi re­lo­cated to Rome and be­gan her ca­reer, sketch­ing and mak­ing wax pro­to­types of dec­o­ra­tive ob­jects that were then brought to life by skilled Ital­ian ar­ti­sans. “At the be­gin­ning, it was cer­tainly more dif­fi­cult for a wo­man and I had to sum­mon up all my courage to over­come the ob­sta­cles,” she said. “For­tu­nately to­day, pas­sion and cre­ativ­ity are no longer hin­dered by the same lim­i­ta­tions.” In the early ’ 60s she be­gan what was to be an im­por­tant twodecade col­lab­o­ra­tion with the House of Dior, which com­mis­sioned table­ware, ac­ces­sories and, later, fur­ni­ture from the Ital­ian de­signer. She opened her first show­room, at the 15th-cen­tury Palazzo Cenci in Rome in 1964, and a sec­ond, at Via Mon­te­napoleone in Mi­lan, in 1973. Elis­a­betta, who be­gan work­ing in the busi­ness in the early ’70s, re­calls her mother was con­stantly sketch­ing: “She cre­ated ev­ery day, hun­dreds of ideas. She was like a foun­tain.” Crespi’s foray into fur­ni­ture de­sign be­gan with the first Plurimi series in 1970, with sub­se­quent Plurimi col­lec­tions launched in 1976, 1980 and 1982. Iconic de­signs in­clude the Magic Cube bar cab­i­net; Z Ta­ble and Z Bar; El­lisse cof­fee ta­ble; and the Yang Yin desk. The Lo­tus Leaves side ta­ble and other pieces from the Ris­ing Sun col­lec­tion re­call the straw mar­quetry used by Jean-Michel Frank in the ’30s, while the Fungo Lamp ref­er­ences its Tif­fany pre­de­ces­sors from the Art Nou­veau pe­riod. Sleek and fu­tur­is­tic at times, or­ganic and even whim­si­cal at oth­ers, a Crespi de­sign was al­ways pure glam­our in the truest sense of the word. The de­signer, who passed away ear­lier this year, main­tained only one ves­tige of her old life — an apart­ment in the cen­tre of Mi­lan — dur­ing the years of her self-im­posed ex­ile. A ver­i­ta­ble cab­i­net of Crespi cu­riosi­ties, it was here to which she re­turned in 2005, at age 83, al­most as sud­denly as she’d de­parted two decades prior. She was also to re­turn to the world of de­sign — a col­lec­tion of shoes for Ser­gio Rossi and lim­ited-edi­tion jewellery based on de­signs from the ’60s for Stella McCart­ney, not to men­tion new and rein­ter­preted fur­ni­ture and ob­jects — al­beit more qui­etly and, in true Garbo fash­ion, as an el­e­gant recluse.

“At the be­gin­ning, it was cer­tainly more dif­fi­cult for a wo­man and I had to sum­mon up all my courage to over­come the ob­sta­cles” — gabriella crespi

this page: Gabriella Crespi in 1970. op­po­site page: the de­signer’s Yang Yin desk at the 15th-cen­tury Palazzo Cenci in Rome, her first show­room.

3 1 4 2 5 1. Tre Pin­guini sculp­ture lamp in gilded bronze with Mu­rano blown glass eggs (1970–74). 2. Cubo Magico brass cof­fee ta­ble/bar cab­i­net (1970). 3. Fungo bam­boo-and-brass floor lamp (1973–75) and brass-and-plex­i­glass ta­ble lamp (1970). 4. Airone...

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