Everything about Carla Sozzani’s house has a story, including her cat
It was the night the lights went out that Carla Sozzani realized how influential she had become. That day in March 1999 – nine years after founding 10 Corso Como, arguably the world’s first concept store, on an unremarkable thoroughfare on the northern outskirts of Milan – she was putting the finishing touches on an exhibition in space when the neighborhood has darkened. . “I called the town,” Sozzani remembers, “and they said, ‘Carla, you’re going to be very happy, the power is cut off because construction has started. Corso Como will now be a pedestrian street. By taking root outside central Milan, Sozzani had forced his fashionable shoppers out of their comfort zone, and like-minded businesses had followed suit. Suddenly this part of town was the most exciting place to live.
Almost 25 years later, Corso Como, the avenue, has become a hub of fashion and nightlife against the backdrop of newly erected skyscrapers. “There was a greengrocer there and not much else,” she says of the area upon arrival. Her plan at the time was to open a gallery that would display the work – including images from photographers like Paolo Roversi, Sarah Moon and David Bailey – whom she had fallen in love with during her 20 years in magazines. (She became the founding editor-in-chief of Italian Elle in 1987, then the director of special editions of Vogue Italia, where her younger sister, Franca Sozzani, was the editor-in-chief until her death in 2016.) But small Little by little she kept adding: in 1991, she opened a boutique on the gallery floor selling avant-garde fashion lines like Maison Martin Margiela, Comme des Garçons and Alaïa; the same year, just upstairs, a bookstore devoted to art and design is set up; in 1998, she opened a cafe serving simple Italian cuisine; and in 2003, she took over a stack of apartments in a building across the yard from the store and turned them into a three-bedroom hotel. Sozzani likes to compare 10 Corso Como to an Italian place. “Everything you need is inside,” she explains. “You just need a drawbridge to lock you in.”
From the start, the concept and visual identity of 10 Corso Como has been the brainchild of Sozzani and American artist Kris Ruhs, to whom Sozzani was introduced on a trip to New York in 1989 and who is now his partner for 31 years (his work was the subject of the gallery’s first exhibition in 1990). Ruhs designed the store’s hand-scribbled logo, and its interiors are filled with his playful sketches, elaborate wall hangings in the form of painted plexiglass curtains, and black-and-white cloud-like paper mobiles. He also helped shape the apartment the couple share on a leafy boulevard in northwest Milan.
Sozzani tells me the story of the power outage on a scorching July afternoon as she sat on a gray and white Osaka sofa by Pierre Paulin, surrounded by stacks of art books and catalogs exhibition, in his cavernous salon and that of Ruhs. A former office from the 1930s, the house features herringbone parquet floors and crisp white walls contrasted by a real crush of art and objects. When she bought the U-shaped unit in 1986, Sozzani demolished most of her compact rooms to create a single open plan living room. space, punctuated by the occasional load-bearing partition. On this day, she is, as always, impeccably dressed in a crisp white Alaïa shirt dress, ironed black pants (“Dior, from the Galliano era,” she says) and sandals. studded in leather, also Alaïa. With a pale almond-shaped face and a smirk, her face is part Modigliani muse, manga heroine and framed in long blonde waves tied at the nape of the neck with a velvet ribbon.
In the living room, which overlooks a lush private garden, the walls are covered with monumental mixed media reliefs by Ruhs constructed largely from found materials such as metal, rope and black and white paper with occasional stains red or blue. In the adjacent dining room, a glass top table with an interlocking carved wooden base of Ruhs design sits under a cluster of his ceramic raku pendant lights, which resemble bulb lanterns. And in the hallway, which serves as an informal gallery space leading to the couple’s bedroom and private quarters, there is a slender black chair, a chrome concave seat, and two wavy plexiglass lounge chairs, all made by Ruhs and arranged next to a Joe Colombo and-white tube chair. Ruhs even had a carpenter build the kitchen to his specifications, using wood planks painted in his signature polka dots and hand-drawn looping shapes instead of a conventional backsplash.
Sozzani describes his decorating philosophy as combining “layers and layers of life”. Thus, the house is also a palimpsest of his long career spent at the crossroads of the worlds of fashion, art and design, and almost everything there is a story to tell. As we talk, a spotted Bengal cat jumps onto the couch, snuggles up against my knuckle, and announces itself with a loud meow. “She was in Azzedine,” Sozzani tells me, referring to designer Azzedine Alaïa, who was one of her closest friends. “I took her after she died. Her name is Lola, after [Julian] Schnabel’s daughter, ”she adds, stopping to stroke the cat’s skinny tail.
Most of the furniture has equally rich stories. The Pierre Paulin sofa, for example, which she found in the 90s at the Clignancourt flea market in Paris, is the exact model on which subsequent reissues are based. “Pierre came here in the 1990s to take the measurements,” she recalls the pioneering French designer, who died in 2009. “His own version had been lost over the years.
In the 1980s, Sozzani met Ettore Sottsass, the founder of the Italian postmodern design collective Memphis Group, among whose members she discovered another of her favorite creative talents. “Ettore, his wife Barbara and I spent so many nights together singing and drinking. That’s how I met Shiro Kuramata, ”she says, referring to the Japanese industrial designer. She keeps in her locker room. “I use it every day,” she says. “When I put on my socks, when I put on my shoes. It reminds me of that time. She also owns a rare prototype of Kuramata, an early version of her sinuous Side One drawers in raw and unvarnished plywood instead of the usual black and white ash and blackened steel, which she also owns a set. When Giulio Cappellini, the artistic director of the Milanese design company Cappellini, took over the Kuramata archives, she said to me: “I convinced him to sell me the original.
But his first love for furniture will always be mid-century Danish designer Arne Jacobsen. “Her Cylinda tea set was the first piece I collected in the 1970s,” she says of the 1967 stainless steel set, which features a large cylindrical pot with a spout jutting out from the base like the arm of a Saguaro cactus. “It’s very beautiful, but totally unnecessary. She then amassed an army of her fluidly shaped chairs (a smooth, curved white Egg chair, designed in 1958, sits in the corner of the living room, offsetting the rough surfaces of Ruhs’ reliefs). “I think the purity of form is what attracts me,” she says. “They are very sensual. There is nothing forced. His zeal for his work even led Danish design brand Fritz Hansen to hire Sozzani to collaborate on a relaunch of Jacobsen’s Series 7 bent plywood chair last year. Perhaps surprisingly, given her home’s understated palette, the collection includes 16 new colors, ranging from pale pink to forest green, inspired by a vibrant storefront Sozzani saw on a trip to India.
These days, however, most of her Jacobsen collection lives in her office at 10 Corso Como where, as our conversation ends, she plans to return for the rest of the afternoon. Thirty years after opening its doors, Sozzani is still attached to the store and is still planning its expansion. She is currently preparing, for example, to add space for pop-up design exhibitions, which will open at the Salone del Mobile furniture fair in September, to the already sprawling precinct. “10 Corso Como is where I spend most of my time,” she says. “This will always be my first home.