The way he quietly but deliberately walks across the hard wood floor to fetch my cup of espresso, the way he smokes his cigarette, so aloof and almost as an extension of his spirited mind, the way the cuffs of his shirt sleeves just dangle, no buttons and too long, and the way he calls his wife, Lara, to announce their guest, in his deep, nasal voice – you can never forget this voice – is a nice change of pace from the Milanese world outside the double windows. And I feel welcome here. Instantly. The living room is filled with the softest yellow morning sunlight and if there was heavy traffic down below, I couldn’t hear a single car because I know I’m in for something special.
They used to live in a much bigger house, one where you needed at least one hundred people to fill up the room. Now, the first and only party ever held in the new apartment has been their 15-year old daughter Diletta’s. “It’s our turn now!” smiles Lara when she walks in the dressing room. She’s a pretty woman, with dreamy eyes and a youthful demeanor. And it’s hard to tell who’s more excited about the shoot. Romeo has been showing me some of the garments they selected for today. And the jewelry they’ve been collecting. There’s profound and meticulous influences here, not least his own, with an amalgam of souvenirs from their vintage pilgrimages. “I love traveling,” says Lara, “especially in Asia and North Africa. I collect authentic, ethnic and vintage clothing, which I mix with modern clothes, but also large jewels… Really large jewels!” Their most memorable haunts are “the American market in Sabaudia, the market of resin in Naples, the marché aux puces and Didier Ludot in Paris, Portobello in London, markets in the New York of the 90s, but also the wardrobes of the women in my family, my grandmother Mya, my Aunt Silvia, and my mother who has been collecting vintage clothing for 40 years.”
Lara met Romeo Gigli in 1996. “It was one of those nights, when you just want to stay home and relax but a friend convinces you to go to a party with him. So I ended up at a stranger’s house and there he was. He was very different from how I remembered him in pictures; attractive and seductive, kind and very outgoing. Completely different from how you imagine a VIP to be.” Romeo remembers “she weighed forty kilos when I met her!” which makes Lara jolt to explain it’s always been an aspiration to be thin. “I have been working in the fashion industry since I was a teenager… I love when clothes dance around your body!” She used to be an aspiring actress. “For some time I imagined that my career would be acting – I started at fifteen; I was chosen for a TV movie. My mother was the one who, voluntarily or not, introduced me to fashion when she took me to Milan to meet Giorgio Armani and Sergio Galeotti; that was a start of a stage that lasted twelve years. Then I fell in love with Prada’s project and I was lucky enough to work with them, until I started dating Romeo (in the fashion world you can’t work for a brand and date a fashion designer!!) And six years ago I started running the Fashion branch of the IED (Istituto Europeo di Design) of Rome.”
I am surprised but foremost impressed with Lara’s creations today. She’s daring and funny. While I trail around the apartment soaking up the sea of art, collector’s chairs and endless rows of books, she conjures up outfits that gracefully transcend age, style and era. “I am always amused by those women who dress “for show”, who have to dress in the latest “must-haves” of the season. I mix everything to create my own personal look. I wear clothes that make me feel confident and relaxed but typically I wear big, gipsy skirts (they have to be alive!) and high heels. They make me feel light and dancy!” The majority of Lara’s wardrobe consists of Romeo’s designs. She’s elated when she describes her passion for his work. “Wearing Romeo’s clothes makes you feel special, not because they are excessive, but because they always make you feel better than what you think you are. The shapes give you a sophisticated posture. I wear pieces I’ve had since 1986 and every time in a different way. It’s incredible how this is possible with clothes that characterize you so much!”
It took some time for me to write this story because I never felt ready to convey the sense of humble gratitude and admiration I felt for these two people that day. Romeo comes from a generation of designers that obsessively dictated how to be fabulous and glamorous yet his designs are rich with worldly integrity. He had the kind of signature that didn’t try to push you over; it just grew on you, and remained. I love Lara for sharing my whimsy and showing me that years are just numbers. When I ask her what’s next she whispers, “future is not a topic we usually discuss, but every one of us has a dream and we also have one, and it’s secret; so secret that…”